On any given day, freelancers wear a lot of hats. They're so busy handling their work, clients, finances, marketing etc. that they don't have the time to stop and think anything else.
Every freelancer knows what it's like to be so distracted and busy that small, simple mistakes fall in the cracks and go unnoticed.
Unfortunately, they don't go unnoticed by your clients. There are some practices that may seem completely normal to you, but to your client, they look unprofessional.
Not responding to emails in a timely manner
Responding to your client's emails is a professional courtesy that shouldn't be ignored. You've taken the responsibility to complete their project, it's your job to keep them in the loop, answer their questions and respond to their emails in a timely manner.
If you don't, they'll wonder why you aren't responding or if you're even working on their project. Prospective clients generally want to find a freelancer as fast as they can. They want to hire someone who will take the responsibility and give them a completed project. Because of that, the freelancer who gets back to them the fastest has the most chances of getting the work.
It's so easy to read and email and ignore it when you're busy with work. But can you afford to offend a client? Or let a prospective client slip through your fingers?
Even if you're busy, check your email every hour or so and make it a point to respond to emails from clients immediately. If you're very busy, give your client a date when you'll get back to them with updates.
You don't have to be at your client's beck and call 24/7, but not responding to emails in a timely manner seems unprofessional to a client who is (if not more) as busy as you.
Being lazy on social media
Just as companies check their employee's social media accounts and updates before hiring them, so do clients. Have at least one social media network where you're regularly active.
Imagine linking to your social media accounts in your website or email signature and not being active on them. It's like inviting clients to an empty and unfurnished house for dinner.
If you're not active on any social media network, don't link to them from anywhere—even if you have an account.
If you have no times for this, you can always use online social media management services such as buffer. Just spend a few hours to schedule ahead some informative tweets and shares, and they will be published automatically throughout the week.
Not doing your research before talking to a prospect
When a prospective client contacts a freelancer, they expect him to take a few minutes to research them. After all, if they took the time to go through your website and work, it's the least you can do.
Asking your client what their company is about—when it's all there in their email with links to additional information provided in their email signature, is extremely unprofessional.
It may seem like the most natural question in the world to you, but for the client it's a red flag.
No one wants to work with a freelancer who expects the client to spoon feed him.
Not sticking to your commitments
A freelancer's commitment isn't just a deadline. A commitment is anything you've agreed to. So if the client has asked for an update every Monday and you send them one later in the week, you're not sticking to your commitment.
Similarly, if you've said you'll get back to them at a certain date or time, you must get back to them then. It's unprofessional if you don't. You never know, your client's work may depend on the update you give him.
Lack of a contract
Working with a contract seems like such a basic thing but you'll be surprised at how many freelancers work without one. Simply depending on trust alone isn't enough. All it'll take is one client not paying you to make you wish you had taken the time to draft a contract.
Clients also perceive freelancers who don't have a contract as unprofessional. If you're not serious about protecting your own business, how can you be serious about theirs?
You don't need to have a formal contract. At the very least, get everything in writing via email and mention it to your client that you'll consider the email hammering out the details of the project as a contract.
However, if you want a well-written and generic sample of reusable contract agreements, you can use Docracy. You can get web design and development contract templates.
They get too friendly
Being friendly and approachable is a freelancer's secret weapon. The friendlier you are, the easier clients will feel about working with you.
Unfortunately, many freelancers cross the line and get a little too friendly. Adding your client on Facebook, or talking to them about personal stuff just isn't professional.
If you want to connect with your client on a social network, do so via LinkedIn. And never discuss something with a client that you wouldn't with a stranger on the road.
Yours isn't a personal relationship, it's a professional one. Never forget that.
They call themselves an expert
Here's the thing: There are too many "experts" in the world today. Which is why no one takes them—especially a freelancer who claims to be one, seriously.
Clients are very wary of any freelancer calling himself an expert.
Instead of calling yourself an expert, talk about your experience and how long you've been working in your field.
Oh the lure of promising your clients concrete and fast results!
It's so easy to fall in the trap of over promising in an effort to impress clients. It doesn't take long to realize that getting the promised result is unrealistic. And when you can't deliver, your reputation suffers.
Think carefully before committing any result to your clients. It's always better to elevate your reputation by under-promising and over-delivering instead of being labelled unprofessional because you over-promised and under-delivered.
The fine line between professional and unprofessional
On hindsight, it all seems like common sense. Of course we would never do any of the above stated things. That's unprofessional! But because we're distracted and caught up in our business, we don't even realize we're making these mistakes.
Have you made mistakes that made you look unprofessional to your clients? Seen anyone make them? Let us know in the comments!