The 9 Keys to Winning in a Freelancer World

By David Hardwick

As part of an organization, managing multiple projects, I regularly needed to reach out to the freelancer world for some project work to fulfill commitments that my team either did not have the time or the expertise for.

Below is a list I compiled that kept some of the best freelancers on my list handy to call back at the next project opportunity.  Believe me, there is another list that I won't touch in this post of reasons I wouldn't call some freelancers back.  I guess, you can read between the lines or wait for another post!! 


So, let's jump into it.  At a high level, here is what made these freelancers winners in my little world:


  1. They are professionals with great expertise
  2. They work until the job is complete
  3. They are ready when the call comes in and love project based work


But here is what sets the best freelancers apart from others in their industry and the reason why, even with the same or lesser skillsets, they stand out above the rest!


1. Always Make the Client a Super-Star.

Yes, your role is a support role and one where you need to make your client look good! When you display your work, it's because the client had the insight to want to move forward with this bright idea.  You helped solve the problem and you may have come up with things they never would have thought about.  Bottom line, they chose you and now you have the honor to promote them and they quickly end up on a winning team.  


2. Never Care Who gets the Credit!

Don't shy away from sharing the credit with others.  You will be surprised how many times this simple act will come back as more work.  Understanding that people love to hear how they have been part of a successful journey gives you even more credibility.  Harry Truman, the 33rd President of the United States is quoted:


“You can accomplish anything in life, provided that you do not mind who gets the credit.”


 Believe it, live it and watch it happen.


3. Never Point Fingers.

One of the most difficult things to do, but one of the most noteworthy, is understanding a problem needs to be resolved.  Typically, you are not to "blame", however being a problem solver, you take on the issues head on and work them through to successful conclusions.  

If you have subcontracted out part of the workload on this project and they have created a blunder, it really doesn't do any good to share with your client that your subcontractor failed you.  Instead, take the blame and have a conversation with your subcontractor at a later time.


4. Improve Their Process, Not Your Bank Account.

You have been called because you are the expert. You know how to resolve this problem or at least you have made a pretty good case that you can. The key to making this a successful venture for you and your client is to focus on the problem.  

Negotiate your rate up front and your billing cycle. Once that is done, get after it and take care of the issue.  Don't hold fixes over the client's head until you get paid. Don't rip out code as retaliation for failure to pay.  You are your clients partner and you want to be one of his best. Treat him well and he will continue to call you back!


5. Don't Micromanage the Minutes.

Choose your rate well.  You know that there are going to be times when you will be "on the bench", searching for work and waiting for the next phone call.  But what happens when that client calls with a question? What happens when you have to do a little code research?  

If it takes you 15 minutes and you can get back to the client with an answer - do it! Count the time as customer relationship building. If you find within that 15 minutes that there needs to be some coding done and it will take you a couple of hours to complete it, contact him and share with him what you have found.

Give him the option to have you fix the issue and get the issue resolved for him. Many times, the expectation is that there will be a fee for work to be completed. The phone calls will cease though if they believe that every time they need to talk about an issue, it becomes a billable.  

Please note here that we are all aware of clients that don't follow the rules of freelancer etiquette and desire "something for nothing".  Choose wisely!  Keep your best clients happy, and work with your worst clients to make them your best.


6. Choose Your Associates Well.

Occasionally, you need to ask for help from other freelancers.  Build your network.  Know your best assets and use them when the time is right.  When they need some help, they will reciprocate.  This is a great way to fill in the books for time when you know you won't be working and also for expanding your base of work.  

By the way, never try to take away your associates clients.  That always ends badly!  That being said, if it is a multi-developer project, you could get your own exposure.


7. Ask for Feedback and Recommendations.

Your best asset is a happy customer.  At the end of a project, ask what he liked most about the process.  Ask if he has some feedback on how you could get better in what you do.  Also, don't hesitate to ask him for a recommendation or to be a reference for future business.  

If he has negative feedback, take it as constructive criticism and then find out how to resolve that issue.  If he has positive feedback, ask him to help you understand how you might even be able to improve that.  You should always be on the journey of continuous improvement.  Don't settle for what you know, reach for the undiscovered.


8. It's All About RELATIONSHIPS!

If for one minute you think this is all about how good of a coder you are, you have missed the opportunity.  If you believe your skills will keep you coming back and you can't even hold a conversation, you will soon find out it's not about your skills or your coding.  If you never return phone calls but are the best technical resource in the world, you will wonder where your clients went.  

Become a member of the team.  Know your client.  Contact them by phone or email regularly and let them know you are out there.  You don't have to take them to lunch or buy them cookies but whenever you are around them, use one of the most amazing techniques ever discovered.  Smile!! It will go a long way!


9. Stay Abreast of Emerging Trends.  

When you are contracted, the expectation is that you know your stuff.  If you are a java developer, you should be in tune with the latest greatest.  If you do UX, what are the latest trends.  If you are a web developer - you better know SEO!  Feel free to check out our free EBook resource the 10 SEO tips for your next redesign


Enjoy the Freedom of Freelancing.

So, I hope that these pointers have given you something to think about and consider.  One of the best assets a manager has is a freelancer that he can call for overflow work.  As time goes on and employees move to other endeavors, the freelancer is the one that the manager can call on to supplement his business in an interim situation.  Every opportunity you have to make a positive impression gives you one more chance to win!! 

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