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.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.