The one rule you need to follow to win at freelancing
If there’s one rule every freelancer needs to follow, it’s this one. Find out why Paul and Kaleigh swear by this principle and how it’s helped them grow successful freelance businesses.
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Kaleigh Moore: So Paul, what do you think if there’s one rule to win at freelancing, what do you think that rule would be?
Paul Jarvis: This feels like a clickbait blog post. Like, ‘The one thing you need to do to rule freelancing. Number one will shock you.’
Kaleigh Moore: Exactly, give it to me, what is it?
Paul Jarvis: I think … and it’s so funny because I feel like this always like, the biggest letdown of an answer, because people ask me this all the time. And my answer to win at freelancing if there was only one rule, and I don’t think there’s only one rule, but I think if there was one bigger rule it would be just to do what you say you’re going to do every time.
Kaleigh Moore: Oh, yeah, that’s kind of a letdown, but it’s so true. Kind of expand on that, tell me more. Like what do you mean by “Do what you say you’re going to do?” What do you mean by that?
Paul Jarvis: I think people are always like, “So what’s the growth hack or the tactic,” or like, the super sexy answer. I’m like, “No, it’s just this.” So I think what I mean by that, is that I treat every conversation or every agreement that I have with people in business, clients or whatnot, as a legally binding contract. Because on a societal level, I think it is.
If you’re like, “Hey Paul, can you build me a website?” And I’m like, “Yeah Kaleigh, it would be a couple grand and would take me like four weeks to do.” If I come back to you on week six and I’m like, “Still not done, it’s going to cost double.” Then it’s like, it doesn’t matter how good that website is that I built for you, you’re not going to be happy with me.
So even if it’s things like people asking ‘can you send me this file?’ I make note … Like whenever I’m talking to somebody on the phone, I make notes. If there’s anything I say in that conversation where it’s like, okay I got to follow up on that, or this is like an actionary, or this is a to-do thing for me. It’s like, it’s in my notes so that as soon as I’m done the call, I go and I do that thing. And I think that this kind of helps.
I don’t think I’m the best designer, or the best writer, or the best anything, but where I think I am the best … Have you seen Nacho Libre?
Kaleigh Moore: Yes.
Paul Jarvis: Whenever I say “the best” I’m trying to think I’m Jack Black in Nacho Libre. Anyways, I think where I’m the best is that, I keep my word with clients. And that makes for happy clients, and happy clients make for repeat clients, and repeat clients tell everybody else to hire you. So I think it just kind of … I think the reason that I think this is the number one rule is because this kind of expands out in all directions.
Do you agree or disagree with this one rule to rule them all?
Kaleigh Moore: I think it’s a great rule and I think it’s … I have to agree, I think it’s the number one rule because I have been on the receiving end of people not following through or not doing what they say they’re going to do and it drives me crazy. I hate it. I actually kind of get offended because it feels like whatever I asked for or whatever project we were working on together just isn’t a priority, and it makes me feel less valued either as the other person on the project or as the client, whatever it may be.
I feel like it really makes a big statement about the working relationship or just the friendship, if it’s somebody you’re just kind of trying to build a relationship with and you don’t have any project tied to things. I think it just kind of illustrates your character and even if you don’t mean to hurt the other person’s feelings or to … You know, maybe you actually just forgot. I think doing things like writing it down, or I have a white board. I put everything on my white board every day that I need to do the next day. I think taking that step saves you from those moments where that happens and it just sets you up for success.
It’s kind of a process thing too really, I mean, it helps you stay on track with steps one, two, three, four, five, as you’re moving through a project. It’s good for deadlines. It’s good for a lot of different things, so yeah I totally agree.
Paul Jarvis: I’m glad you brought that up because I think that having a process, or process, depending on where you’re from, is a good way to not … Like nobody enters into any agreement verbal, contractual or otherwise, being like, “Oh I’m totally going to flake on this.” I don’t think that happens to … I don’t think that ever happens, unless you’re like … Nobody even listening is going to do that.
Kaleigh Moore: No.
Paul Jarvis: I think where the problem is, is when you have the best intentions to get stuff done, and you don’t. And I think that having a process can really mitigate that because if you have … And processes can be built … And I don’t want people to be like, “Well I don’t have a process, oh crap, I’m done for.” It’s like, processes can be built over time.
And this is part of … A massive part of the teachings in the course grader class, but like, you kind of build your process from previous projects and from looking at, “Okay, how long did this take me on the last project or the last five projects? Maybe I need to adjust my time accordingly or maybe this didn’t take as long. Or maybe every single time a client is taking longer to give me something and they’re breaking their word.” Which spoiler alert: clients can do this to you just as much, and you can’t get super offended because they’re the ones paying you.
But you can work to mitigate this by a lot. It’s like, having a process in place is super important, and I think having like … There’s the schedule that we wish we had or the amount or productivity that we wish we could accomplish, and then there’s like, the realistic schedule that we have and the realistic amount of work that we can accomplish in a day. I think a lot of times it’s like, for me especially, if I think something’s going to take like an hour to do, I’m going to double or triple that just because.
I now never actually give deadlines for myself or I tell other people, of like, the same day. It’s always, “I’ll get you that thing first thing tomorrow,” because sometimes … What if I need to take my rats to the vet? Or like, what if I need to go get groceries? And I live in the middle of nowhere, and it takes an hour to drive to the grocery store. But that means I’ll get my work done later in the day, but if I said it’s going to take me four hours to do something and those four hours are mostly spent driving because something comes up, then I miss that deadline.
So I always try to triple … Double or triple the timeline, and I always try to be like, “Tomorrow.” Unless it something that’s super important, oh my God, everything is breaking right now, then it’s not going to be like, “Oh, I’ll fix that tomorrow.” That’s not going to go over well. But whenever I can, it’s always tomorrow, or it’s always in the contract where the process is laid out and it’s like, “This step takes this amount of time, and this step takes this amount of time.”
Kaleigh Moore: Yeah, I think that that’s really smart to kind of give yourself a buffer because life happens and also, I don’t think you ever want to immediately be available to a client. Because, you know, if they shoot you an email and they want you to do something on their schedule, I feel like that’s setting a poor precedent for yourself, for the working relationship. So I really have to be good about this.
I always want to respond to every email as soon as I get it, but I have office hours that I try really hard to keep, and even though I might read the email I won’t respond to it until the next day. Or I won’t do the thing that’s being asked until the next day when my office hours start again. So it’s not only just smart because things happen, things come up, but it’s good for healthy boundaries, too.
Paul Jarvis: I’m so glad you brought up boundaries because I think that’s really important, because if you, and I realize this from experience, if you’re replying to clients at like 11 or one in the morning … I don’t even stay up that late.
Kaleigh Moore: Me either.
Paul Jarvis: That doesn’t work for me. But if you’re replying that late, and even if it’s a one or two time occurrence, clients are going to start to expect that and you’re going to get … If you’ve done this a few times for clients, responded outside of your office hours, and I think having office hours is a great idea, then they’re going to start to expect it. And then you’re going to wake up one day when you weren’t available at that time, and you’re going to get that email at 11, then one at 12 saying like, “Hey, where are you?” Then one at like three in the morning like, “Hey, why haven’t you done this?” Right?
Kaleigh Moore: For sure. It will happen.
Paul Jarvis: Exactly, and I’m the same as you. I feel like I get some things, like I need to jump on that. But what I do for this, is I use something for Gmail. I think it’s called Right Inbox, pretty sure it’s called Right Inbox. Where they have a ‘send later,’ so if somebody has a question for me, I’m going to answer it right away if I’m available, even if it’s realistically at 9:30 at night because past that I probably am in bed. But I’m going to answer the email but I’m going to click ‘send later’ and send it at 9 am the next day.
Kaleigh Moore: I like that!
Paul Jarvis: So that person sees that I responded to the email the next day but I got that off my plate and I can go to sleep being like, “Okay, I’ve got this. I’ve handled this. It’s okay.”
Kaleigh Moore: I like that, that’s smart. I’m going to steal that.
Paul Jarvis: Totally, and it’s like … I think it’s $3 a month or something, the service is ridiculously cheap. But you can do things like schedule when the email should be sent, you can also … And why I initially bought it … That’s become my favorite feature but why I initially bought it is because I wanted to be able to snooze emails, because I’m one of those people who I like to keep my inbox as short as possible.
But sometimes I can’t deal with something right away so I’ll snooze this email ‘til tomorrow then it disappears from my inbox and it shows back up the next day, or in a week. Or if I need to follow up you can set it to only show up in your inbox if you haven’t received a reply, which is really good for following up with clients, which hint: I think you should do. Totally off topic, I know.
But, so what do you think that people can do if they find themselves in … Because life and freelancing isn’t perfect, right? So what do think people should do if they find themselves in a situation where they have not done what they say they’re going to do?
Kaleigh Moore: I think you really just have to kind of own up to it and be upfront and say, “Hey, I’m sorry.” Don’t make excuses, nobody wants to hear your excuses, but just be upfront and say, “Hey, I take ownership of this, what can I do to fix it?” And really be proactive about problem solving from that point on whether it’s giving them a deadline that they can expect the work that maybe they were expecting earlier, or just really working with the client to figure out what you can do to fix things as quickly and as efficiently as possible without sacrificing the quality of the work. You don’t want to just rush through something to get it done because you messed up and now you’re scrambling, that’s not going to help things at all.
But yeah, just own up to it and see what you can do to fix the situation. I mean, what do you do? What would you do … I mean, I don’t think you’re ever in this situation but if you were, how would you handle it?
Paul Jarvis: It probably happened once or twice, I can’t remember off the top of my head, but I think I don’t have anything to add. All the things you said were awesome. I think what I do want to touch on though, is what not to do, because this is what I see all the time. Because I hire a ton of freelancers now, and the majority of the time I hire the best freelancers in the entire world. But if something comes up like that, the worst thing that you can do, and what your body’s going to be screaming like “Why don’t you just do this!?” is to just ignore the situation. To stop being communicative.
And I’ve had this happen with contractors working on the house where it’s like you said, “I’ll be there tomorrow to get running water working again.” Kind of important. And then I don’t hear from them. And then another day goes by and I don’t hear from them. I’ve called them, voicemails, emails, stuff like that, and I don’t hear from them. And then like three or four day later they’re like, “Oh yeah, blah blah blah, excuses.” I can’t eat excuses. I can’t even boil water for excuses because I don’t have any running water.
So I think the biggest thing there is to just not ignore it, because if you ignore it, it’s not going to go away. The problem is always going to get substantially worse if you don’t deal, like you said, if you don’t deal with it, own it, and propose a solution. I think that that makes it so much better if you can come back and say, “Hey, I 100% did not do what I said I was going to do, but here’s what I can do to fix it and here’s how long it’s going to take.”
I think that’s the perfect … Like, if somebody came back to me with that, I’m human, I know sometimes things come up for people or sometimes there’s emergencies. But if somebody owned the situation and had a plan to fix it, or had a plan to fix it so it wouldn’t happen again, I’d be like, “This is pretty good. It sucks that you missed it but I’m pretty happy with it, with the way this turned out.” As opposed to like, just ignoring it and not replying to emails or pretending to be an ostrich and just sticking your head in the sand. No, that’s not going to work.
Kaleigh Moore: That’s not good.
Paul Jarvis: Not going to work.
Kaleigh Moore: Not good.
Paul Jarvis: Yeah, so I think … So I’m surprised we had this much to say about this one rule, but-
Kaleigh Moore: It’s a good one though. It’s important.
Paul Jarvis: … it is. Do you have anything else to add before we wrap this up?
Kaleigh Moore: I don’t. I think it’s a pretty simple lesson. I think it’s just a matter of, do what you say you’re going to do every time, and set yourself up for that too. I think that that’s the best thing that you can do when you’re working with a client, when you’re just getting started, if you’ve been doing it for years, it’s just something that should always be a core part of your business.
Paul Jarvis: Yeah, be realistic with how much time you actually have because it’s never as much as you think or want to have. So yeah, thank you for listening.
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