Employment has its share of issues, but it also has a ton of lessons for freelancers. This is especially true on the communication front, since you’re likely working with people who are employed themselves and/or working in an employed environment.
Learning how to shape our styles and habits to meld with the employment standard can be incredibly helpful.
- You’ll avoid miscommunication (which can be costly).
- You’ll keep things running at an efficient pace.
- You’ll have an easier time enforcing and maintaining your boundaries.
So here are a few freelance-friendly lessons I learned in my 12-ish years employed in a 9-5.
Assumptions can be the death of even the best project.
When I worked in hospital SaaS, I saved myself multiple times by sharing my reasons for making decisions or additional information that added context. This was in working with project managers, developers, hospital leadership, and my own managers.
As a freelancer, over-communication can also be as simple as reminders of your work hours, terms of your contract, or scope of your responsibilities.
If anything feels off, rushed, or frustrating, there’s a good chance it’s an opportunity to take a step back, think of what might be going wrong, and add additional color or context to a situation.
Pro tip: This is why the skill of concise communication is so important. Lead with the main idea and remember to keep things short and tight so you’re not wasting people’s time and attention. (i.e. short sentences, bullet lists, etc.)
Do it in writing
I learned this from one of my first managers as a self-preservation tactic (because people are shady). But even in situations where there’s little threat to your professional well being, writing (or any recorded communication) can be ridiculously valuable.
This can mean clearly laying your thoughts out in a Slack message or following up on a call with a quick email recap.
These days especially, people are distracted and their attention is scattered, so having something in writing can be helpful down the line.
I’ve found people are more open to this from me as a freelancer, but it was helpful even back in my office days.
If you don’t feel like you fully understand someone’s roles, objectives, or even something as simple as why they’re using a specific tool, ask. As a freelancer with less insight into an org’s history or day-to-day operations, the right question can add a ridiculous amount of context to your work.
For example, a basic question I ask around all the content I create is how it will be used.
Finding out that a blog is going to be used for an upcoming conference sponsorship package means a client might also need case studies, articles, or thought leadership pieces. Learning that an email template is going to be used for a sales team working in Salesforce means I can suggest longer sequences for Pardot.
Questions slow things down, which can be tricky on the employment side, but as a freelancer, part of your job is to take control of the pacing of a project to improve outcomes…so ask away (and don’t be afraid to rephrase and clarify).
Get multiple perspectives
The difference in perspective between someone outside a project and someone working on it up close can be as far as east from west. Back in my office days, I’d hear about some hot new initiative that, when you started talking to the people doing the work? Was a complete wreck.
The same goes for freelance interactions.
I’ve started work on a writing project that seemed straightforward, only to find out later that it was just the tip of the iceberg of much bigger content issues.
And that’s fine! It’s part of the discovery process and the reality of working with a client over time. As long as you’re always listening (and proactively asking questions) to get perspectives from multiple angles, you’ll be in the best position to deliver the results and value your clients expect.
So what communications lessons and skills have you been able to translate from employment to freelancing? What freelance communication issues do you need help with? Drop them in the comments!