Effective Communication for Freelancers - Four Easy Tips

If you decide to switch from a full-time office job to freelancing you need to be prepared to alter a few things in the way you do your job. Those things are not directly related to your specialty. Say, if you are a web designer, you would not have to change anything in the way you create new designs for websites or you will not have to learn new techniques (unless you want to, and surely you always learn something new for your job anyway).

What can become pretty stressful in your new undertaking as a freelancer is communication. It is true that you already know a lot about this aspect of your job, but now your ability to get work will almost entirely depend on your communication skills – and your ability to adapt them to a slightly new environment.

I will elaborate on my own example. I used to work as an interpreter/translator at a large company where I mostly had to translate emails, contracts, user manuals for industrial equipment, etc. I would receive these translations either directly from my boss or from co-workers who needed to get something done but couldn’t due to the language barrier (I would still have to report to my boss on what I was busy with).

Back then my communication involved providing updates on different tasks to my boss, sometimes asking questions to the specialists about the subject of the translation (when translating equipment manuals) and less often I would serve as a means of communication between the company clients and managers who did not speak English (interpreting).

When I started working for myself, the essence of my communication process did not change much. At least it looked so on the surface. I would find projects, bid on them, discuss details with prospective clients, get hired and work on the translation providing updates to the project manager who will also be the client – all in one, just like me.

And there I figured out – sometimes by trial and error – that there are some differences in communication when you are sitting in the office as apposed to when you don’t see your customer in person and do most of your communication via email or IM (I intentionally avoid any phone talks – this is my no-no (with very few exceptions)).

First and most important – effective communication skills are equally important as your actual professional skills and qualities. I am a translator, and quite often I have to do a lot of guesswork when translating a text. There are many circumstances when the author of the source text may be unavailable and there is no one there to clarify some idea so there I am trying to convey someone’s thoughts into a different language. While this type of guesswork is inevitable, I am 100% sure that there is no room for guesswork in communication with your client.

If you are striving to effectively manage your workflow – guesswork is the least desirable situation you will want to find yourself in. So always ask questions. However, be consistent. Try to ask as many questions in the first email during the initial stage of the project. The words “if, when, how, what” are of great help at this time. Tip: make a template of those first emails that you send to your client trying to clarify the scope of the project. I guarantee that this will save you tons of time and eventually money in the future. The projects you will work on will be different, but the initial stage is pretty much the same for every single one. Those templates will help you make sure that you did not leave anything important out while trying to get as much detail about the work as it is possible.

Now take a look at your work from your client’s perspective. He/she obviously has some guesswork to do, too. Spare him this time. Send regular notifications and updates on your project to the client. Even if they seem like a little excessive – still send a short, two-sentence update email letting your customer know that everything is going on as planned or you are a little behind. You do not need to start this “friendly emailing back and forth” but regular and consistent updates are greatly appreciated by all clients.
Never disappear for several days in a row just to pop up later with an email asking your customer for a few extra days to finish something up. Even if your client is not pressed for time, this will most surely make him look for new, more responsible service providers.

Again, this may sound a little too much, but I also have some templates for those types of short notifications/updates. Thus I don’t have to waste time thinking of what I should write in the email – instead I already have some outlines that require a few relevant details on the project – and there goes a timely and important update to the client.
And probably a less important rule but still a good one to follow. Set the time to reply on emails – do it according to the schedule, this will greatly add to your reliability as a service provider. And of course be polite and courteous. In no time you will start working just off leads and references.

For those of you who do not have time to read the whole thing, here’s the gist:
- effective communication is equally important as your professional knowledge and skills
- eliminate guesswork out of your communication
- ask questions at the initial stage of the project – a lot of questions
- send regular updates throughout the project – don’t make your client do the guessing
- reply to your emails regularly – be reliable
- be courteous and polite and enjoy your freedom of being a freelancer