Sir Topham Hatt’s Advice to Freelancers
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Congratulations on being a freelancer!
Welcome to the life of setting your own hours and charting your own destiny. With this freedom however, comes additional responsibilities that a typical employee doesn’t have. After all, you’re not getting paid a flat salary!
In this post, I’ll share some tips for knowing when it’s appropriate to discuss your personal life with clients.
When you’re invited to interview for a job opportunity, the client is hoping to gain a better understanding of both your professional and personal interests. It is therefore logical (and highly appropriate) to reveal certain aspects of your personal life.
Granted, you won’t want to go into details that are irrelevant – such as what you ate for breakfast or why you and your high school sweetheart broke up back in the day. However, you can and should provide necessary context that helps create a personal connection with the prospective customer.
An approach that seems to work involves asking about the prospective client’s personal interests first. In most cases, even in a virtual environment, you’ll at least learn about the city in which the lead resides. Use this information to launch into a personal discussion of some sort. For example:
You: Hey, John. I see that you’re located in St. Louis. Have you lived there very long?
John: Yup. Born and raised.
You: Oh, cool! Well I’ve been in St. Louis many times, and I have really enjoyed attending baseball games and visiting the cathedral basilica.
John: Oh, yes. The cathedral basilica is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. Did you stay for mass while you were there?
You: Yes, I did. We went to mass, and it was one of the most enjoyable masses I’ve been to.
John: Oh, so you’re Catholic? I attend the parish just down the street. I’ve gone there for my whole life…
As you can see, even knowing someone’s location can help you find common interests. In this example, neither party would outright ask, “What religion are you?” However, simply just having a friendly discussion can uncover this information and create a common bond.
You’ve probably been in dozens of meetings that start out something like this:
John (the client): Hey, Matt. What have you been up to lately?
Matt (the freelancer): Oh, not much. We went to the county fair last night and played some games, while the kids rode rides.
John: That sounds fun. Does your county fair have a queen?
Matt: Yes, we do have a queen. She is involved with a lot of the activities at the fair, and then, at the end of the summer, she goes off to the state fair to compete against other counties.
John: Oh, that’s interesting. My wife was the fair queen in our county way back when.
Matt: That’s cool, my wife was as well. I’m sure that they would have a lot in common to talk about…
One could reasonably argue that this discussion offers no value to the business relationship. However, the client initiated the conversation and is showing interest in your life’s happenings. Therefore, in this circumstance, it’s certainly wise to respond and engage. Use this opportunity to connect with the client as a human being. In doing so, you’ll renew the client’s affinity for you and add another layer to your relationship.
Let’s imagine that your wife is about to go into labor. As a freelancer, who bills time for a living, having a baby can be a challenging situation.
Of course, nothing compares to the joy and excitement of holding that new baby in your arms. On the other hand, your clients’ businesses are still moving forward – with or without you. Failing to properly plan for your absence is not only irresponsible, but it’s actually a dumb business move.
As your life happens, there will be times (such as the birth of a child) that will require flexibility from clients. Communicate proactively and set realistic expectations when possible. (Some life events happen with short notice, so being proactive buys additional flexibility for unexpected situations.)
Remember, most clients do not view business as a sterile one-sided relationship. Therefore, your clients will likely be interested in celebrating your joys and even consoling you in your sorrows. You just have to do a good job of providing the necessary context when appropriate.
Clients want to hire well-rounded individuals. Sharing your interests, your dreams, and your personal life in a professional way is an important part of demonstrating your well-roundedness.
Just don’t overdo it or spend too much time on non-value added things.
It’s a balance that you’ll just have to maintain for yourself.