How many of us can relate to this:
Reason number #___ (fill in appropriate number here) why I became a freelancer: To work in my pajamas.
Admit it people. The lure of having a job where dressing up is optional—where dressing at all is optional—is pretty strong. Nothing says “I am my own boss” like rolling out of bed every morning, pouring some coffee down your throat, and settling on the couch with your laptop for several hours next to a plate of toaster waffles. I know you do it, and you know you do it, but do you really want your clients to know it, too?
Sure, somewhere in the dark recesses of their minds, all clients know that the freelancers they hire could very well be the biggest slobs on the face of the planet. However, as long as their freelancers present a professional front, it is easy for the clients to pretend that all their money is going towards a highly organized business filled with people who wear three-piece suits every day.
Appearances — even online appearances — are incredibly important in the freelancing business community. Your clients want to feel confident that not only are they getting the desired final outcome, but that all aspects of their projects will be handled with professionalism. I think that’s pretty fair. That’s why it might be necessary to take a step back and re-evaluate the image you present to the world.
How Clients Reach You
Email address – [email protected] might be a cute address for your friends and family to use, but no client wants to feel like they are working with someone associated with a chocolate confection. Keep it simple and relevant to your business. Using a generic email provider like Yahoo might also give the wrong impression; scams and spam often travel through these same avenues.
Phone number – Do you use the same phone number for personal and professional communication? This is a definite turn-off for clients. Not only might they dislike hearing little Jimmy answering the phone and screaming for Mom, but they might not feel comfortable leaving a message on what is obviously a family line.
Physical address – Many work-at-home freelancers avoid giving out their business address because they want to keep their families and homes private. While that is commendable in and of itself, a business that refuses to give out an address looks pretty shady. One of the first thing the Better Business Bureau will tell you is that if a business won’t give you a physical address, they might be trying to hide something.
How You Market
Website – Do you get the bulk of your freelance work from online traffic through your website? Having a professional-looking website that is free of grammatical errors (hire a professional freelancer if you aren’t one!) will go a long way in inspiring confidence in your abilities.
Direct Mail – Again, professionalism is key here. If you are going to go through the trouble of creating, printing, and sending out brochures or other marketing items, make sure that you are presenting your best self. An overly simplistic flier will not do nearly as much for your professionalism as a glossy pamphlet.
In Person – This is one of those times when the PJs just won’t cut it. If you have a face-to-face meeting with anyone—client, editor, design team, Kinko’s guy printing out your business cards—it is always best to dress correctly for the occasion. For freelance parents, it is equally important to leave the kids with a sitter for even casual meetings, since you never know when or where it will end up.
How You Get Paid
Online – If you are getting the bulk of your work through internet clients, you need to make sure that you have a quick and easy way for them to pay you. No client wants to keep working for a freelancer who makes it difficult to get through the financial paperwork. PayPal, while a cheap payment method that most people have used in the past, isn’t the most professional venue. Accepting credit cards or direct payments through your website might place a burden on you, but it will also look much more professional to your clients (assuming you take the steps necessary to do it securely).
Mail – If you are working locally or simply wish to rely on the good, old-fashioned pay-by-check method, your invoice needs to mean business. Miscellaneous fees, an unstructured form, or a hard-to-distinguish template might detract from what’s really going on with an invoice: the exchange of money.
Taxes and Licensing
Business Licenses – Would you rather work with Jane Jones, a freelance business owner with the proper license and EIN, or John Smith, work-from-home freelancer who avoids all discussions of W9s and 1099 forms? Larger firms that are accustomed to working with freelancers on a regular basis will expect you to have all of the proper documentation before they will even consider doing business with you.
Business Structure – Are you an LLC? A Sole Proprietor? A Corporation? Believe it or not, these may make a difference to your potential clients. Having a Sole Proprietor structure might make you look a little bit more like someone who is just dabbling with the idea of freelancing. Having a Corporation, even if you are a single individual working alone, demonstrates that you know how a business runs at a deeper level.