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Trust - the stuff that makes or breaks your freelancing career


January 2021
Ever heard of the saying, "Business runs on trust"? No? Well it's about time you understand this well

Ever heard of the saying, "Business runs on trust"? No? Well it's about time you understand this well, because if you're a freelancer, you're a business yourself, working with other businesses. Let's break this down.

Being trustworthy helps you land better clients faster, have more pricing power, and makes sure that your relationship with your clients don't falter when things get heated because of deadlines. Clients prefer to work through referrals because they get access to the trusted freelancers that way. Good client-freelancer relationships are deeply rooted in mutual trust, and this is usually evidenced by the outcome of the collaboration.

Also, trust is a two way street, so if you're a business who employs freelancers regularly, this is for you - having a good reputation makes it much easier to get work done through freelancers, long term. Hiring freelancers becomes easier, your standard operating procedure gets codified, and freelancers feel safe working for you. It's a massive win-win for both parties, and that's the dream, isn't it?

Now that you understand why trust is important, how do you really build trust?

First, let's get the basics right.

  1. Contract - trust is the higher intention, legal protection isn't
  2. A contract is not always useful in ways you might expect it to be. A piece of paper, unless enforced cannot have any power in business transactions, and getting it enforced isn't a cakewalk either. However, what a contract does facilitate is a conversation about all the important stuff and a clear articulation of those points on paper. Above all, it brings a level of seriousness to the conversation so that both sides are confident of not wasting the other's time.
  3. Decide early on the payment method
  4. You're in the freelancing business to earn money, and being clear, early on, on how you'll get paid is important. With the explosion of fin-tech and alternative payment methods around the world, the status quo (expensive methods) may not work for you, whereas your client may be adamant about using PayPal. You don't want these details to haunt you later when you've committed time and effort to the project, so sort them out early. Doing this also saves you from a lot of anxiety when it's time for the client to pay you what you're owed!
  5. Respect working hours / maintain a schedule
  6. Avoid messaging or calling at odd hours. Everyone's timeline works differently and just because you're the master of your own time as a freelancer doesn't mean that you expect other people to work at odd hours. Decide on a schedule with your client, on when you can meet to clarify requirements, pick their brain or even to present your work.
  7. Use the right tools
  8. This is an underrated aspect that not many in freelancing understand. In a business environment, the faster you can do things, the better your reputation. This includes introducing your clients to ways of doing things that will obviously be better for them, even if they don't realize it right off the bat. Using tools that save your clients' time makes working with you that much more delightful for them.
  9. An example of a tool that saves clients' time is a good design proofing tool. If you've ever had to attach files to an email, and go back and forth for weeks, only to see the conversation to come out looking entirely different and leave everyone confused, you would understand why I'm stressing on this.
  10. Here's more about how Turtlewig is the perfect design proofing tool

Now for the harder stuff.

Never assume bad intent. There are times when you need to keep your guard up to make sure that your time isn't being wasted. However, if you look at every potential opportunity or client interaction from a negative sense, you'll never be successful in freelancing. Sometimes you just have to trust people to treat you right, and take the first step to that. Obviously, how much rope to extend changes on a case by case basis, but it's something you learn over time.

This is business, and business isn't always fair and rosy. Not all interactions or opportunities will be positive, or work out right. The trust you extend may get broken, what you expect from a client and vice versa may not really work out, but on the positive side of things, this happens to be one of the benefits of freelancing. You're no longer tied to the same employer for long periods of time. Iterate thoughtfully and find the best sort of employers to work with. Eventually you'll find the sort that you can trust with your time and energy.

This stuff takes time, a lot of it. But when you establish yourself, you are truly the master of your own time and there's not a single doubt about that.

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