I’m often asked about the important skills that someone would need to start their own freelance business. The two that I’ll discuss today are “managing up” and “managing peers.” Freelancing has an odd dynamic. Unlike staff employment where your manager and peers are distinctly different, in freelance life your client is simultaneously your manager and your peer.
Managing up is about managing expectations. This includes:
- Sticking to the deadlines you’ve agreed to
- Setting realistic budgets
- Proposing solutions instead of simply voicing problems
I think that the first two are self-explanatory: If you commit to something, stick to it. Let them know that you can be trusted to deliver on time and on budget. I can’t emphasize this enough. If you simply do these two things, you’re already a step ahead of your competition.
The third part is more complicated. Sometimes problems will inevitably arise. The instinct can be to point out the roadblocks to your success — especially as an outsider who doesn’t have visibility into the internal corporate dynamic. Problems are rarely malicious. Usually they’re due to staffers who are overextended and under-resourced.
If you raise an issue, you also need to propose a solution. Here are some examples:
- I still have not received some of the source material for the project. I know that you’re busy. Can you connect me to [person] so I can get the material directly?
- I haven’t received the purchase order. Can I have the contact information for the Purchasing department so I can get to work as soon as possible?
- The project has been in your hands for review for longer than what we scheduled on the timeline. Let’s break it down into smaller sections. If you can review elements A and B, I can keep things moving forward while you review elements C through F.
Your job as the service provider is to make the client’s life easier. Your solutions may not work for them, but they will appreciate that you made the effort.
Managing peers isn’t easy. It’s always difficult to exert influence when you have no authority.
Peer management — managing your colleague on the client side — is all about collaboration and empathy. You’ve been brought in to make this person’s life easier. Understand their pain points. Empathize with their pressures.
Look for ways to become a valued partner by anticipating their needs and addressing their concerns. Work with them to strike a balance between “I feel well-informed about where the project stands with my freelancer” and “I trust my freelancer to work independently and not bother me.” This balance is different in every relationship. I have some clients who want regular check-ins by phone, others who want brief email updates, and still others who just want it out of sight and out of mind until it’s their turn for reviews. Be upfront at the start of the project and understand the intangibles that they expect or need from you, beyond what’s covered in the scope of work.
Putting it together
If you put these elements together, you’ll be in good shape for developing your business. If you become a partner that your client can trust, you’ll build a solid pipeline of work.