4 tips for freelancing on-site

Oct 26, 2015

Most freelancers – even those comfortably ensconced in the coziest work-home-nest situation – occasionally have to work on-site with clients.

Sometimes, this is a perfectly lovely situation: who doesn’t like free coffee and snacks?

By following a few simple tips, you can create a path to smooth, productive on-site visits… even if you have to get out of your pajamas.

1. Make sure you have information beforehand

I once infamously showed up on-site for a new client and discovered that the person who had hired me had been unceremoniously fired the day before.

Nobody knew whom I should report to, or what exactly I should be doing; indeed, they had forgotten to expect me. I discreetly played Minesweeper for the first two hours, while they figured it all out.

Save yourself the fate of mindless Minesweeping by doing a little prep work.

Once you get on-site, who should you check in with? Who will be issuing approval of projects? Will you need to bring special ID to get in the building / fill out paperwork, or bring your own equipment to work with? How long will you be expected to stay on-site?

You don’t need to overwhelm your client with questions. Feel out the vibe a little bit.

If it’s a mom-and-pop operation, you probably won’t need to cart your passport to the location in order to get past security.

But foreknowledge of your client’s organizational structure is really helpful; you’ll feel less lost, and more confident.

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2. Make sure you have your own goals (and boundaries)

The best way to feel anchored in a new environment is to have your own goals – no matter how small.

Maybe you want to get some practice leading teams or maybe you just want to get the project done with as little muss and fuss as possible.

Set a couple of objectives for yourself before you ever set foot in a client’s office. It’ll help you feel focused and self-empowered.

Setting boundaries goes hand-in-hand with this tip!

While you’re working on-site, you’re still a freelancer – and that means you set some of your own parameters.

For instance, salaried employees might be expected to work late hours; that’s the downside of making more consistent money than you do.

If YOU’RE not cool with staying late (or similar workplace expectations), politely set your boundaries ahead of time.

3. Dress the part

NOBODY enjoys “business casual” less than I do. Left to my own devices, I tend to look like a Dickensian steampunk orphan who just stumbled out of a pajama party.

But when I visit clients on-site, I bust out the ol’ button-down and black pants.

I’m not trying to limit your self-expression or creativity!

Some offices are perfectly casual. But start out dressing neutrally/professionally until you’ve absorbed some of your client’s onsite culture.

It’s way easier to transition down from a simple, clean style to band t-shirts than it is to dress up after you’ve made a grungy first impression.

4. Avoid office drama

It’s been my experience that as the weird alien who migrates into the client’s office – the unknowable and unknown freelancer – you will occasionally get drawn into office dramas.

People view you as a new entity to enlist, and that means you’re privy to all the gossip.

Some of this can, honestly, be sorta fun!

I don’t mind hearing people’s complaints about Stan X from marketing, because I don’t know Stan X, and thus am not invested.

But there’s very little benefit in becoming actively embroiled in back-biting or minor office tensions.

Listen all you want – it’s hard to make friends without being a little receptive to other people venting – but try not to join in with gossip just for the sake of “belonging.”

As the new person on campus, you rarely know your audience. That same person who’s venting to you now may be indiscreetly quoting your nasty little jibe at the next in-office meeting.

Complain all you want to your friends or family at home, but keep it a bit discreet on-site.

A modicum of wise silence can mean the difference between more lucrative on-site visits in the future… or a lost client.

Kate Shea lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily. You can catch up with her on Twitter at @katerone.

Kate Shea

Kate Shea lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily.