Most freelancers work from home, which provides a lot of convenience. Those who don’t live the freelance life think we just sit around doing nothing all day. This can be incredibly frustrating when you’re trying to convey yourself as a true professional. Snide, snarky comments are uttered in our presence often, like:
So, you’re freelancer, huh? What do you do all day?
And this one is a personal pet peeve:
But how do you make any money? I mean, it’s not like you have a real job.
Talk about grating at your last nerve! Unfortunately, sometimes us freelancers do things that play into this lazy stereotype. Getting to set your own hours is great, but if you’re always off on an adventure and not putting in a lot of desk time, it’s easy to see how people might get the wrong impression. And how can you bring in excellent referrals and build a reputation in your industry if you’re giving off a vibe that doesn’t demand respect?
So how about I help to lay that age-old myth that “working from home = not really working” to rest for once and for all?
Here are five things you can do if you want to get more respect for your business, whether you’re a bookkeeper, a web designer, or anything in between:
Go to Work
If you value flexibility above all else, the idea of needing to establish a set working schedule can be off-putting. I mean, you’re working from home for a reason, right? To set your own hours? To enjoy some daytime sunshine on days besides Saturday and Sunday? Still, if you want to demand true respect for your freelance business it’s vital that you create a schedule and stick to it.
Do you have to work from 9 till 5 like the old Dolly Parton song says? No. But you need to pick hours that make it so you’re available during regular business hours at least some of the time. You also need to allot for enough time to actually complete your work. It’s great if you want to go hang-gliding on a Tuesday. Go for it! But if you’re also going out to dinner that night and meeting with a friend Wednesday morning, chances are good you’re not clocking enough hours to complete your projects in a timely manner. And that means you’re not providing a high quality service to your customers or clients. In short, you could be doing better.
Once you decide on a work schedule, let everybody and their mom know about it. Post these hours on your Facebook page. Tell your friends and family. Do everything within your power to let people know that during those hours, you’re at work, even if you’re sitting in your living room in a pair of old PJs.
Break the stereotype by resisting the urge to become it. Will there still be a few family members (why is it always family?!) that just don’t get it? Of course. But by taking what you do seriously and publicizing your schedule, you build a rep as a professional.
Prioritize Like a Pro
When you’re freelancing, it’s normal for your workload to ebb and flow. This can be very frustrating. The term “feast and famine” is prevalent to all self-employed folks. It refers to the tendency for the amount of work you have to either pile up all at once or disappear. Why it never seems to be slow and steady eludes me, but it’s a fact of life many of us will have to deal with at one time or another. This is why setting priorities is essential.
Establishing a set of priorities for how you run your business and acquire new clients or customers will help to prevent the feast or famine scenario. Let me give you an example.
When you first get a new client, what do you do? Get started immediately on the assignment? Or, do you evaluate how this new project fits in your schedule? Going for the latter option shouldn’t take you more than a few minutes but it’s important to consider how a new project fits in with your current priorities. Immediately jumping into something new just because it’s new stands to irritate your existing clients and leave them feeling dissatisfied with your services. How will a current client know you’ve taken on new work?
- You suddenly become non-responsive
- The quality of your work goes down
- Your turnaround time lengthens or you blow past deadlines
While it’s normal to have something come up in your personal life on rare occasion that you must address, chronic lateness or inaccessibility will leave a bad taste in your clients’ mouths and could negatively impact your professional reputation in the long run.
Don’t make this mistake. Instead:
- Evaluate how new projects can fit into your schedule as soon as they come across your desk.
- Schedule time for looking for new clients and establishing marketing efforts.
- Make time each day for correspondence so none of your clients have to wait more than 48 hours for a response.
By following these three tips, you stand to improve overall operations and build your brand’s respect.
Business Hours = Your Hours
Being able to work wherever and whenever you want is one of the biggest draws to the freelance lifestyle. However, there is such a thing as too much flexibility. Just as I mentioned at the beginning of this post about the freelancer going hang gliding, allowing your work schedule to be dictated entirely by your social schedule is a recipe for disaster. At the end of the day, work still has to be a priority.
While you don’t have to work from 8 to 4, 9 to 5 or any other 40-hour work week schedule, you should make yourself available during these hours in your timezone (or in the timezone of your primary client). So yes, it’s okay for you to take a day off so long as you’re keeping your deadlines and have enough work in the pipeline to keep everything running smoothly. But you should keep your phone on and try to check your email every couple of hours to answer questions as needed.
Other than planned vacations where you go on a complete technological blackout, you need to be available to your clients, even when you’re off having some impromptu fun.
Your level of dedication will be appreciated by your clients and will go a long way toward dispelling any negative ideas people have about your role as a freelance professional.
Watch What You Post on Social Media
Getting more respect for your freelance business means being respectable. This especially applies when engaging in a public forum like social media sites. What you post on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and other social sites has the potential of being seen by current and future clients, alike. This means you need to steer clear of controversial topics, flame wars, and offensive content.
Here are a few things you should avoid if you want to convey a professional image to your colleagues, peers, and the public at large:
- Posting explicit content (violence/nudity) and anything else labeled NSFW (not safe for work)
- Getting in public arguments
- Airing your “dirty laundry” in public
- Talking about religion
- Talking about politics
There are exceptions to all of these “rules,” of course. Just make sure everything you post on your social profiles is becoming of your professional persona. Ask yourself this: would you be embarrassed if a potential client brought up that tweet during an interview?
If you answer “yes,” you should probably skip that post and think of something less controversial to put out there.
Confession time: I’ve totally broken some of these rules before. Life happens and social media can act as an excellent source of support sometimes. Still, it’s a good idea as a general rule of thumb to avoid controversy as much as possible.
Learn to Say No
When you’re first starting out, it’s completely understandable why you’d say yes to every new project that comes your way. However, as you build a client roster and start to see some success, you’re actually doing yourself and your business a great disservice. By saying yes all the time, you prevent the growth of your business.
“Wait,” you’re probably thinking, “How does saying yes to new projects (and new income opportunities) slow business growth?” I haven’t lost my mind, don’t worry. Saying yes all the time robs you of the opportunity to be selective–an opportunity only afforded to those businesses who have seen some measure of success and respect.
Let me put it this way: If you accept every project that’s presented to you, it’s likely many of them will be low paying, just as they were when you first got started. When a high paying project comes along, your schedule might be too full of smaller gigs to dedicate enough time and effort to it. Which means you do a poor job. Which means you could actually lose work and lose respect. All because you didn’t have the heart to say no!
Evaluating Your Respectability
Once you’ve got a handle on the five tips outlined here, why not take a step back and see how you’ve done in terms of bolstering your company’s reputation? A few qualities well-respected freelance businesses possess include:
- A high number of referrals
- Customers/clients eager to leave testimonials
- Positive feedback and interaction on social sites
- Bloggers/website owners want you as a contributor
You get the idea. With respectability comes increased responsibility. But by putting in the effort now, your company stands to see a long-term increase in profits. So many freelancers get stuck in a financial rut because they don’t demand respect. Don’t be one of them!
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