Eight ways to be more assertive with freelance clients

Do you often find yourself losing contracts or working for less than you’d like? Discover eight ways to be more assertive with new freelance clients.

If there’s one trait that is the most damaging to a freelance career, it’s a lack of assertiveness.

If you’re not assertive, you’ll struggle to convince a potential client you’re the right person to trust with their job. And even if you do land a project, you risk being walked over, disrespected and even working for less (or free).

Eight ways to be more assertive with freelance clients

With some basic assertiveness skills, you’ll find it easier to win over new clients, enjoy a happier working relationship with them and even negotiate your rate successfully.

To help you, Ben Richardson, CEO of Acuity Training, has put together eight assertiveness tips to use with freelance clients.

1) Be true to yourself

It’s all very well learning how to be assertive – but your new assertiveness skills should never come at the expense of your own personality.

The worst thing you can do is to get an idea of what ‘assertive’ means and try to demonstrate it with new clients, without practise or refinement.

If you force assertiveness, you risk not coming across as a confident person, but rather as an unfriendly individual who may be difficult to work with – or even possibly aggressive!

The easiest way to sound authentic while asserting yourself is to believe what you have to say. If you genuinely believe you’re the right person for the job, and know (and respect) your boundaries, you’re well on the way to convincing a client of the same.

2) Don’t be too available

If a potential client calls you out of the blue, don’t feel obliged to immediately drop whatever you’re doing and give them your undivided attention for as long as they want.

If you do, you give the impression that you’re not busy right now (and if not, why? Are you perhaps not that good?), happy to be side-tracked from the task at hand (and if so, will you treat their work with as little regard), or don’t value their business (if you’re happy to chat off the cuff wherever you are, how much importance are you placing on their potential work?).

Instead, politely thank the client for calling and ask to arrange a time when you can discuss their needs properly, and give them your undivided attention.

The same goes for email. Reply at a convenient time that you have set aside for answering emails, rather than getting straight back to a client. People don’t usually expect immediate replies to email, although it is courteous to at least acknowledge it if a full reply is going to take more than a couple of days.

3) Watch your body language

It’s not what you say, but how you say it; your tone of voice, body language and even how you dress are just as important as the words you speak.

Telling a client that you’re the best person for the job, while looking down and twiddling your thumbs isn’t exactly going to instil confidence.

Similarly, if you mumble, or you are constantly having to pause for thought, you won’t convince a client that you know your stuff – even if the right words are coming out of your mouth.

So research and practise confident body language. If you need tips, you’ll find some helpful advice here.

4) Dress to impress

First impressions count, and dressing appropriately is another important way of asserting yourself. Even if you’ll work from home once you have secured the job, when you meet with a client make sure you’re dressed to impress.

Potential clients will judge you and your abilities (even if it’s unconsciously) based on how you look, so it’s important to take pride in your appearance.

You also need to take into account the appropriate dress code for the job and meeting venue. A personal trainer, for example, wouldn’t be expected to meet with a client wearing business attire. Equally an accountant would probably get a cool reception they were to turn up to a meeting wearing a tracksuit.

5) Don’t stop once you’ve secured the job

Don’t abandon the new assertive you once you’ve secured the job. It’s even more important to maintain your boundaries and keep respect once you enter a working relationship – especially if you find yourself having creative differences with a client.

If you’re not careful, you could . If you could find yourself doing several hours of unpaid extra work, or even being forced to abandon a project without payment.

If a client changes their mind about something you have already started work on, take control, and tell them it will take you additional time and therefore incur an additional cost. If you let one thing slide, you may find yourself in a position of weakness, where the client makes increasingly unreasonable requests. It can then become difficult to know where to draw the line.

If you need help in this situation, learn the giveaway signs of a difficult client – and how to handle them!

6) Put the job in writing

Unfortunately, breakdowns in the relationship between freelancers and clients do happen sometimes. So, to protect yourself should things go wrong, it’s important to put any agreements in writing.

By fully costing and specifying any work before you begin, you are putting yourself in a position of strength should anything be brought into question at a later stage. It is much easier to assert yourself if you can back up what you are saying with a signed agreement. (Find out how to quote for freelance work properly here.)

Equally, if a client makes changes to a brief, or asks you to take on extra work during a project, make sure you get it in writing too. If their request is verbal, insist they follow up by email before you comply.

7) Don’t overstep the line

While it’s certainly important to be assertive with clients, new and old, always remember that there’s a fine line between being assertive, and being a nuisance or overly aggressive – and ensure you stay on the right side of it!

When working with a client, it is important not to overstep this line if you want continue to work together on future projects. You are unlikely to be told outright that your level of assertiveness is a problem, so look out for signs, such as the client suddenly becoming overly assertive or defensive themselves.

8) Get comfortable talking about money

Last but very far from least, as a freelancer you need to get comfortable talking about money. And this includes setting – and asking for – an appropriate rate for your work. It also includes chasing late payments, and ensuring your legal rights regarding payments are upheld.

If you struggle with the subject of money, you’ll find plenty of advice in these articles:

Ben is an ex-investment banker and venture capitalist. Most recently he ran the new investment team for MMC Ventures in London. He now combines freelancing for start ups and early stage companies with running Acuity Training, which is focused on offering high quality management and IT training.