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Summary:

Freelancers often don’t have much time to make a good first impression on potential clients, so you need to make sure that everything you do leaves your prospect seeing you as a professional who can be trusted with their business. Here are a few simple tips. […]

Freelancers often don’t have much time to make a good first impression on potential clients, so you need to make sure that everything you do leaves your prospect seeing you as a professional who can be trusted with their business. Here are a few simple tips.

  1. Get a professional email address. Most clients aren’t likely to take you seriously if you are using an address that contains “hotmama23,” “sexydude12,” “ilovemykittycat,” or anything similar. Your best option is something like yourname@yourdomain.com, or in a pinch, you can use some variation of your full name on Gmail (avoid Hotmail, AOL, and other consumer services that have ever targeted newbie internet users).
  2. Have a professional web site. Your web site doesn’t need to be complex or extensive, but you need to have something for potential clients to see, and having a simple, professional site lends credibility to your services. At the minimum, it should have your contact information and an overview of your services presented in a professional manner. If you have a little more time to devote to your web site, a portfolio page with examples of your work and a blog where you can highlight your professional expertise are great additions. Some of the popular blogging platforms are a good choice to act as a content management system for your web site, and most of them can be used with no programming or design work required. I also recommend having your professional web site at the same domain as your email, which should ideally be something like businessname.com or yourfullname.com.
  3. Always use clear, concise, professional communications. The most important thing that you can do to have better communications is to carefully proofread every client email. I have a hard time taking someone seriously if their email is littered with mistakes. Your initial communications should be extremely professional with no SMS abbreviations, no smiley faces, no profanity and no other unprofessional language. You can start to relax some of these rules as you get more familiar with your clients. You should also remember that people are busy, so concise and clear communications with clients are important. I always include a descriptive subject line and try to keep my emails as short as possible. Another tip is to put any really critical information in the first couple of lines, along with any requests that you are making of the client. The harsh reality is that if your email is long, most people will start skimming after they get the gist, and any critical information that is buried near the end is more likely to be missed.
  4. Dress like a professional. When working from home, pajamas and sweatpants are perfectly acceptable, but when you are meeting with new clients, you need to look like a professional. The definition of professional varies depending on the location and industry; for example, a meeting at a Silicon Valley startup is going to be less formal than a meeting at a financial institution in New York or London. Oregon, where I am based, tends to be much more informal, so I can easily get away with khakis and a nice shirt in most situations. When in doubt, err on the side of being slightly over-dressed rather than appearing under-dressed. Will’s recent post has more tips for surviving client site visits.
  5. Use social media wisely. Take a few minutes to look at what your client sees if they search for you on Twitter, forums or other social web sites. Is your client going to see a professional that they can respect? I’m not suggesting that every post be professional. I spend quite a bit of time talking about interesting goings-on in Portland, food and other non-work topics, and I encourage you to show your full range of personality. However, if you are bashing your clients, are often negative or complaining, or are engaging in questionable activities, this can reflect on your professionalism as a freelancer. This is one of those gray areas where you have to balance how you want to behave online with how you want people to see you in your professional career.

These are my top five tips for making a good first impression as a freelancer. What are your tips for making a professional impression, or what are your pet peeves for unprofessional first impressions?

Photo by Flickr user yngrich, used under Creative Commons.

  1. Great set of tips. Regarding email addresses, I’m very surprised in 2009 when anyone in any sort of web, social media, or freelance business isn’t using their own domain name. With domain names being a few dollars and lots of affordable web hosting options, it screams unprofessional for someone to not take the step of a custom domain name.

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  2. Hi Dawn pro tips clear, concise, professional communications wins all the time along having all the tools of your profession

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  3. If you do not have a professional web site at least have a good LinkedIn public profile

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  4. I personally have a very simple website and blog that I created through WordPress, and I often get commended on it, for looking good, so it just proves that you certainly don’t need to pay a fortune for one!

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  5. need to some work…..

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  6. uglywomansguide Thursday, December 17, 2009

    I’m a writer, so my opinion may be a little prejudiced but I’d say that the third point that Dawn makes is the most vital. It seems that too many folks are fast losing the ability to speak (and write) the Queen’s English. As a small business owner, nothing is a bigger turn-off than an email/letter that’s rife with errors (grammatical and punctuation). There’s also the stylistic element. When you’re composing a business letter, don’t use conversational English.

    I regularly communicate with folks who claim to hold a Master’s Degree and yet their writing skills are abysmal. I have a friend who teaches freshman level writing classes (101) and she tells me that today’s “college freshmen” spell like 3rd graders who’ve eaten a few too many of their lead-based crayons.

    If I were queen of the world (and it shouldn’t be long now), I’d insist that everyone sit through (and pass) a six-week primer on basic writing skills.

    Rose Thornton
    http://www.uglywomansguide.com

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    1. I’m a writer too, and I completely agree with you Rose. What really bugs me though, is when you see an advert looking for a writer, making all these demands for a perfect writer, and the advert is just full of errors! The most common, ironically,seems to be the word “writter”!

      I will say, however, that sometimes, especially when typing, it is hard to be perfect!

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  7. Dear Dawn I LOVE your Tip but
    “When working from home, pajamas and sweatpants are perfectly acceptable”
    I don’t agree 100% with that because if you are sloppy in your look you will have a sloppy conversation on the phone,actually I would like to add a Tip # 6 When you pick up the phone Smile even if the client can’t see you he can feel the energy
    Try and let me know
    Best
    Giusi

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  8. [...] 5 tips for making a good first impression [...]

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  9. I read the article and… I think I make good first impression.

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  10. Dawn,

    Excellent tips. We were just talking about this in a business networking meeting. You’d be suppsrised, maybe you won’t be, how many email addresses we get that are not only not professional, that are just plain stupid.

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