If you’re a member of the Freelance Kickstarter Facebook Group, you’ve heard me say it over and over again: you beat most of your competition simply by showing up. Stick to deadlines, be responsive, and be clear in your communications. Many freelancers just don’t, so it’s not hard for you to be the better choice. However, by only doing what you’re supposed to be doing, you’re merely living up to the expectations. How will you get your clients to become your fans? To ask you for more services? To be OK with a price increase? To refer you to their friends and professional network? That you do by exceeding their expectations. Here comes the tricky part: how do you exceed expectations without selling yourself short?
Flexibility is what most clients love about working with freelancers. Some things may need just that bit more time and effort than initially estimated. A meeting can run a little bit longer, a text could turn out to be a few words more, or a graphic may need one more round of editing than agreed upon. Michael Katz suggests in his article ‘You delight up my life: Make yourself memorable to your clients‘ to be flexible when the situation allows for it. ‘Offer more time, more scope, more availability,’ is his advice. I agree that as a freelancer you need to be flexible. It’s the big advantage of working with freelancers instead of with big agencies. However, there will always be people who will abuse your flexibility and usually, it’s the clients who you’re already charging on the low end of your pricing spectrum. It will make you feel unappreciated and reluctant to go the extra mile.
So how can you offer that flexibility without feeling undervalued? Build in a bit of ‘wiggle room’ in your pricing. Charge just that little bit extra that allows you to happily let that meeting run late, have an after-hours conference call to accommodate for the difference in time zones, and to make those final small adjustments at no extra cost. Clients who understand the value of your work don’t expect to be at the lower end of your price range anyway, so by charging a fee that you feel genuinely good about, it also allows to exceed their expectations.
Play to their human side
Sure, your clients are your clients, but they are also human. In the same article, Michael mentioned a few other ways to exceed expectations: ‘Did your client just have knee surgery? Send him some brownies. Was your client featured in a trade magazine? Get the article framed and send it to her.’ It has nothing to do with your work, but it plays to their human side. This way, you’re clearly exceeding expectations and making yourself memorable, but you avoid performing services you’re not getting paid for. After all, the unfortunate truth is that when you’re ‘being flexible’ as described above too often, you’re resetting the level of expectations. After a while, it becomes normal for your client that you’re doing more than you agreed upon. By making these kind gestures like described in this section, you’re doing something very nice without changing the expectations when it comes to your work.
Listen to your gut
In the end, it all comes down to this: when doing favours starts leaving you with a bitter taste, you don’t have to do it. When your client isn’t appreciating your work, when they don’t recognize that what they’re asking is not in the agreement and you’re simply doing it out of goodwill, or when you know that the project is being underpaid and you can’t afford to spend even more time on it, it’s ok to charge extra even for the small requests. However, if you feel valued and appreciated by your client, it will be easy and worth it to do them a favour once in a while.