How to be all things to all people

Knowledge base from Boox

By Jonathan London on 22nd September 2015

How to be all things to all people

External sounding board? One of the team? Expert in a niche area? Switch on switch off facility? As a freelancer or contractor, you have to be all things to all people.

When you have a permanent job, you have one job description. What’s expected of you is written down and understood (and often signed) by you and your employer. When you’re a freelancer or a contractor, things aren’t so simple. While every new customer will need your skills, rarely will two relationships develop in the same way.

Some want a simple injection of outside help, some want the ongoing perspective of an outsider. Some will see you as the answer to everything in your area of expertise, others will have most things covered and come to you only for a specific part of a project.

Often all in a single day’s work.

Developing and managing relationships with diverse clients is challenging and rewarding because every client is unique.

However, there are some characteristics common across different client types. We’ve listed them here, along with the expectations on both sides.

The small business

  • What to expect – small businesses stay loyal to good suppliers as they don’t have the resources to build formal supplier lists, etc. They offer opportunities to build close relationships and make your mark on the project. They’re usually good payers, too (but run a credit check if you have any concerns).
  • What they’ll expect – mission creep. You’re hired for one job and soon become the client’s go to person for everything in the wider remit. Endless off-topic calls can affect the profitability of these relationships. Clients not familiar with your work may ask, quite innocently, if you can ‘tack that on the end within the same price’ not realising it’s an extra day’s work. Explain clearly if you’re not prepared to stretch that far.

The large business

  • What to expect – bigger clients (including public sector organisations) are where the large-scale, high value assignments are to be won. They’re a great way to get involved in major projects. This in turn will boost your personal portfolio and do wonders for your burgeoning network of contacts. Payment terms can be lengthy, though.
  • What they’ll expect – patience – slow lead times from initial quotes to starting work aren’t unusual in big organisations – and, possibly, adherence to complex procedural guidelines. You may be required to purchase costly insurance and certifications to meet demands of client procurement policies.

Other freelancers

  • What to expect – working as a subcontractor to other freelancers is a great way to work on interesting (and often large) projects without having to manage the client relationship. As time goes by, you get to understand your freelance intermediary and the end client. With this, it gets easier to deliver work that delights both. On the other hand, you’re at the mercy of a relationship you can’t influence. If that breaks down, it’s almost impossible to approach the end client without antagonising your paymaster – who may be a source of future work.
  • What they’ll expect – consistency in the quality of your work. In some cases, they may not tell the client they’re outsourcing, so they’ll be passing your work off as their own. Time consuming checks or amends to what you provide will defeat the object of hiring you in the first place. They may also come to you for guidance in both the specifics of your work and how to maximise new business opportunities with existing and potential clients.

The freelance employment agency

  • What to expect – a regular flow of work without the hassle and expense of selling, advertising, networking, etc. Often for recurring clients, so you build familiarity.
  • What they’ll expect – agencies will expect you to be available at short notice, flexible and able to hit the ground running with a minimum of briefing time. You’ll be representing them in the eyes of the client, so they’ll want you to make an excellent impression.

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