Communicate Better as a Freelancer

Working as a freelancer has its benefits: flexible hours, autonomy, and the ability to work remotely with clients. But because there’s not always the chance to interface with, well, a face — it’s challenging sometimes to establish reliable and smooth communication with your long-distance clients, colleagues and supervisors.

Here are 6 tips for establishing effective communication while working remotely:

Streamline Your Inbox 

Most people prefer email correspondance these days.  So update your email etiquette and give yours a professional look with a signature that lists all the ways to get in contact with you, limited to a standard four lines of text.  You can also organize your inbox by labeling your emails so they go directly into a folder created just for each client. And if you receive a lot of inquiry emails, create templates for your most common responses.

Get Everything in Writing 

Ask your clients what the preferred method of  communication is for them, and be willing to accommodate different needs. However, for anything important (contracts, project expectations, fees, etc) always have an email back-up of offline conversations.  “The project will be done in 3-4 weeks” could easily get construed by a client later on as “It’s due in three weeks” versus the way you remember it: “We still have a month!”.  Use email as your way of confirming anything important with a written record, even if you follow up with a, ‘In summary, per our conversation the project will be ready on or before (date),”  so there’s less room for miscommunication or error.

Use Online Tools 

Share documents, meeting notes and presentations by using collaborative tools like Zoho or Google Docs. This will allow you and your client to view and manage one master copy online. Or if nothing else, make sure to be using Track Changes in Word (essentially, what used to be ‘version control’) to assist you with multiple drafts. Another online tool to take advantage of: your web cam. Video chatting via Skype or Google Chat are great for holding virtual conferences, particularly when a project is first starting up.

Be Consistant 

Establish regular business hours, publicize them, and then stick to them so that your clients know when you may be reached.  Make sure to respond to emails in a reasonable amount  (“reasonable” in most instances = no later than 24 hours, preferably within 6-12 hours).  Delayed or unresponsive communication does not bode well for instilling confidence in your clients or employers.

Keep Time  

Don’t neglect to pay attention to time zones when you’re working with clients on different coasts or from around the world.  As the freelancer in this scenario,  if a client is in a different time zone, offer to be the one to contact them during their regular business hours.  It might mean working extra late or early on your end, but it’s simply smart business etiquette. Even if it seems obvious, always know what time zone everyone is in and confirm before coordinating conference calls or meetings.

Get Paid

Be clear with your clients about what you are, and are not, invoicing for.  Do you plan to charge for meeting times like additional conference calls?  Make sure you’ve agreed on this before you schedule any of these.  To help with tracking your hours on a project or create goals or to-do lists, check out the project management software, BaseCamp.  You can also find discounted billing services at  Freshbooks and Harvest.

Most importantly, make sure you understand the payment terms on their end: many clients only offer net 30, 90, or in rare cases, net-120 days, which could be a hardship for many freelancers.  And before you invoice, help expedite payment by making sure you have all necessary information beforehand such as applicable purchase order numbers, tax identification and other details.

Finally, know that the longer a dispute about an invoice drags out, the less likely you are to get paid. Make responding to your clients’ questions and concerns about invoices a priority, and waive the late fees if you don’t get paid on time due to your own non-response.

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