• Advice

What your clients are secretly thinking (but won't say)

How are your mind-reading skills?

If you want to be a successful freelancer, you’re going to have to learn to read in between the lines (and behind the polite faces) of your clients.

Understanding what your client really means -- and then delivering on what they’re looking for -- can make the difference between a project that runs smoothly and one that never gets off the ground.

Here are some things your client is thinking that they aren’t telling you:

1. “Freelancers are unreliable and/or not committed to projects.”

There are plenty of crummy freelancers out there, and chances are if you’re facing an experienced client, they have met some of them. If your client is new to hiring freelancers, they may have heard some horror stories or read angry blog posts about freelancers (yikes).

If you don’t communicate your value, these clients will feel cheated by your fees, try to micromanage you, and never really trust you to do your job.

Trust is essential to a healthy freelancer-client relationship. If your client seems condescending, nervous, or guarded, you need to reassure them.

How to reassure a client: Become a reliable freelancer by following these tips, including:

  • Checking in regularly
  • Communicating your value from day one
  • Delivering everything on time (by setting long deadlines)
  • Being very thorough about specs and deadlines in your project proposal

2. “I can negotiate.”

New freelancers don’t feel confident enough to negotiate on price or terms. However, many clients are used to negotiation -- and expect it. Never take a contract or budget estimate at face value.

How to overcome your own fear and get negotiating:

3. “I have no idea what you’re talking about” or “I have no idea what you do.”

Getting a blank stare when you start to talk about your work?

If you work in a field with hard skills that most people know nothing about (especially design, programming, UX, film), you could be hired by clients who have no clue what it takes to do what they want done.

Heard some of these before? “So that should only take you a couple hours, right?” or “I want my website to be an app too. That won’t cost more, right?” or “The last freelancer charged me $50 for 4,000 words. I was like, what?” You've got an uneducated client on your hands.

How to overcome this:

  • Learn to speak in their language. They don’t need the technical jargon, so put it in terms of a business goal. Don’t explain what it takes to build a website, explain how certain features boost search traffic or increase on-site purchases, etc. Tie your work to the core project goals.
  • Speak clearly about how long it takes you to do those things.
  • Some freelancers choose to not hire these types of clients. Up to you.
  • Break down each step of the project in the project proposal. This way they’re not balking at a huge project fee (when they think what they’re asking is “simple”).

4. “Are you going to make me look good?” or “What will my coworkers think?”

Your client may be more concerned with what other people will think about the work you do than what they think about it. So while they may like the business cards you designed or the tool you’ve used, it’s possible that they a) will choose something “safe” or b) will really want you to copy what someone else did.

If you’re client seems like they’re always looking over their shoulders, you need to convince them with your past experience and hard stats.

Try something like this: “In a previous job I’ve done, we got a 30% higher clickthrough rate when we used this format,” or “Three quarters of your competitors are already using this system.” These are the kinds of statistics that are reassuring.

This is also an effective method when you do work for a business and your point-of-contact seems very concerned about how you make them look to the higher-ups. They can relay these statistics directly to their bosses to support their own decisions.

Have you confronted any of these unspoken challenges?