When you’re miles away from your employer—or even halfway across the globe—never discount how communication plays a crucial role, even when doing remote work.
Freelancers make money online while offsite, and even when you’re communicating through a screen, you should strive to improve their communication skills consistently, which could result in better work compensation and benefits and score more clients to add to their roster. Cover photo by Kristin Hardwick.
How important is communication?
Communication is a soft skill—a non-technical skill, trait, or attribute that helps one succeed in the community—that anyone in any profession and stage of life should be developing in their early years.
A study from the International Journal of Business Communication showed that communication skills, including listening, conversing, following instructions, and giving feedback, are the most critical skills managers look for in potential employees.
Communication and freelancing: How they benefit each other
Good communication is the name of the game for people working offsite, especially for freelancers.
Freelancers who are great communicators save time and money for themselves and their clients. When freelancers know how to communicate, get their message across, ask relevant questions and give feedback properly, workflow is more streamlined, and employers feel more assured of the work progress.
According to Colin Palfrey, CMO of Crediful, “We’ve had several freelancers work with our website and our content, and one thing we place the utmost importance on is taking in freelancers who can give and take instructions well. These freelancers are usually halfway across the globe, so their ability to listen and understand our operations saves us time and increases our efficiency.”
Tactics to improve communication skills as a freelancer
Here are some not-so-secret tips and habits you can do after getting noticed by potential clients and preparing for that interview if you want to improve your communications skills:
Prepare ahead of time
Communicating with new clients can get pretty nerve-wracking, especially when trying to score a great deal with a good client.
Good communication begins even before you talk to your client. Before the meeting, you can do any or all of the following:
- Read any specifics of the job post or offer beforehand, and take note of them and any particular items you may want clarification on later.
- Research the company or the client. Visit their LinkedIn or social media pages if there are any.
- Prepare for any possible questions they might ask and how to answer them.
- Be prepared with your proposals, i.e., proposed rate, working hours, etc.
- Practice by talking to the mirror.
Learn who you are talking to
Clients appreciate it when a freelancer is well-prepared, and one of the best ways to manifest this is by showing your client your interest in their organization.
A quick search through LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram will show your client’s profiles or social media accounts. You can almost always tell someone’s branding and identity through their social media, and taking all the info you need from them to show your client how your skills align with their brand identity will help you score the deal faster.
“Learning about your client’s profiles before getting into business is an important part of the deal, albeit not explicitly stated. This helps you prepare for the best—or the worst—case scenario so you can take emergency measures and not get hit too hard by the fall,” says Jim Pendergast, Senior Vice President of altLINE Sobanco.
Make eye contact
The eyes are the windows to the soul—even through the screen.
People often discount how the tiniest changes in body movements speak so much more than words can, most especially eye movements.
Maintaining eye contact gives an impression that you are prepared, confident, and polite when communicating or conversing. You have to show your client that you are listening and paying attention. If your eyes keep roaming around the room during a conversation, your client is most likely to think that you are not interested or that you cannot fully keep your attention on them.
If you can’t keep your attention on one person for a few minutes, how can you focus your attention on a task for the rest of the week?
“Law enforcers often use behavioral cues to tell whether a person is lying or telling the truth. One of these behavioral cues is eye movements, particularly eye contact. As in all cases, observing eye movement is an important detail to note on the interviewer’s part to assess the interviewee’s focus and attention,” says Mark Pierce, CEO of Cloud Peak Law Group.
Get straight to the point.
The two most valuable things a human can spend: money and time. You can get your money back, but not time.
One of the most important things you need to develop as a freelancer is speaking straight to the point in dealing with your clients. Here’s how to do that:
- Keep it short. Unless asked, don’t tell your clients about how your breakfast bacon burned while you were finishing up your task. They don’t need to know that.
- Avoid jargons. Unless you speak with a knowledgeable audience, ensure your client understands your words by speaking simply and accurately.
- Do not ramble. This often happens when we get too excited or nervous. Before any meeting, try to calm down and pace yourself for the conversation.
- Don’t talk too fast, and talk clearly. As most freelancers speak through a microphone to communicate, double-check to ensure the opposite party hears you.
- Clarify. Ask your client if anything important needs to be sorted out or clarified.
- Summarize. Before the end of the meeting, it helps to summarize essential points of the conversation.
When needed, jot down notes
Most clients can record the meeting; however, freelancers cannot do the same in the client’s meeting room unless given permission.
If needed, jotting down notes throughout the meeting is an important communication skill to develop. This shows that you are enthusiastic about your work and don’t want to miss any important detail about the job.
Jotting down notes also helps you organize your thoughts, look back on conversation details and raise necessary questions before the end of the meeting.
Practice written communication
There are different forms of communication, and written communication is just as important as spoken ones. Your ability to write and get your message across in a straightforward manner to your clients gives you helpful conversation trails.
If you don’t have perfect grammar, don’t worry! The basics should get you through. The most important thing in written communication is delivering your message correctly without your audience having to piece puzzles together.
You can exercise written communication through chats, DMs, workspaces, or emails. Organizations have many ways to optimize email communication within the team. If you are a freelancer, it is important to note how team emails are set up and learn from them.
Be clear and concise about your work.
Flexibility, or the ability to work anytime and anywhere, is why freelancers have been rising over the past years. However, this flexibility must also be met with the promise to keep deadlines with your clients clear on the table.
When meeting with old or new clients, both parties need to discuss terms and discussions of the job. This includes the scope of work, pay rates, and work schedule. Most clients and freelancers often fall out after a few weeks or months because expectations about the job are not clearly laid out or adequately met.
Freelancers should properly communicate the terms they require for the project and, if possible, lay out a schedule to commit to specific tasks or assignments. Creating a freelance schedule, you can stick with is very important for you and your clients, including setting expectations on when you’re available for a meeting, your usual working hours, and communicating necessary schedule changes in advance.
“Communication is an important marketing tool for insurance providers like us,” says Shawn Plummer, CEO of the Annuity Expert. “We always say that it’s never too late or too early for insurance because the best time you need one is when you don’t need it yet. Getting your message across to your client or interviewer is the most important part of our job.”
Why is proper communication with the client important as a freelancer?
Communication is a two-way street.
To be a great communicator, a freelancer must know how to speak and listen. When freelancers can develop and improve this soft skill, they can provide better service, which translates to better job opportunities, pay raises, and more clients.
The most in-demand freelance skills aren’t just hard skills—skills gained through practice, training, or work experience. Some skills are just as, or even more important, than the skills we learn in schools. Being able to communicate well and getting the message across properly is a skill that doesn’t only help us through our job, but life in general as well.