It’s World Communication Week (November 1-7) and a good time to think about the challenges of communications in today’s working environment. Many more people are working as freelancers and working offsite, presenting communication issues that don’t arise when everyone is working in the same office together. 

Some things to consider about communication as a freelancer:

Time Zone

If you are working offsite, you might be in a different time zone or even a different country from your client. Either one of you might have expectations of prompt responses to emails or calls which seem unreasonable to the other. I have one client in Central Time, which means he takes lunch right when I’m working. If I send him an urgent email, he won’t respond until it’s too late for me to make my deadline. I know I have to text him to get a quick answer. Talk to your client about your working hours and the best ways to communicate with each other.

Get it in Writing

Phone calls are great for saving time when exchanging small pieces of information or asking a question or two. However, having detailed instructions or answers in writing proves invaluable when you sit down to actually work on your project. An email can serve as your checklist, ensuring haven’t missed any important elements. Even when I have a meeting by phone with a client, I take notes and write them up clearly when it’s over. This might seem like a bit of extra work, but the wasted time over mistakes or having to clarify is much more significant.

Updates

Clients can get nervous if they haven’t heard from you in a while during your project. Even if you haven’t finished anything, regular updates, about what you have accomplished so far and what your next steps will be, are essential. For some clients – this means a morning and evening update. For other clients it might be every few days. Confirm with your client ahead of time how often you should be in touch. Services such as Basecamp can be a great tool for managing your project, timelines and updates.

Ask Questions

We all want our clients to feel like we “get it” right away and are off and running. But we’ve all delivered a project we thought was complete only to find that it needs significant reworking. Sometimes this is because the client doesn’t really know what he or she wants until they see it. But often, it is because we failed to ask key questions throughout the process. If in doubt, check it out!

Use Collaboration Technology

With the amount of technology out there to improve communication – there is really no excuse not to be better communicators. Skype and Chat services (AIM, iChat, etc) allow for instant, free communication. You can even share send and share small files. Services like Dropbox, box.net or Google Docs make it easy for you to share files with your clients and get their feedback, no matter what time or place you are working. Google Docs even allows you both to edit and track changes to your documents in real time. These tools are just another way to allow clients to monitor your pace of work and deliverables.

As we talked about last week, freelancing has a lot of good points: flexibility, choice, environment, independence. Successful freelancing, like any other work situations, thrives on good communication.

If you put some thought into the best ways to keep the lines of communication open, your freelancing relationships will not only bring you monetary rewards, but also more clients in the future.

Wendy Stackhouse, Consultant for Artisan Creative

Wendy has worked as a freelance singer, transcriptionist, legal assistant, writer, web designer, choral conductor and web content development instructor. Right now, she is freelancing full time for clients in recruiting, environmental services, public relations, web content and music, and will be teaching a workshop in Website Content Development next month.