5 Dumb Things Freelancers Say to Clients (and What to Say Instead)
As a freelancer or any other sort of frontline entrepreneur, success and growth are directly linked to the quality of service you provide, but also how you approach, and respond to clients. There’s no hiding behind a line manager. If you say the wrong thing, or even something innocuous but from a sideways angle, both you and your reputation are in for a sickening drop.
Here are five really dumb things freelancers should never say to clients (current or potential), with tips on what to say instead.
1. "That’s nothing to do with me."
This one often comes out in other ways, too, including: ‘No, I don’t do that,’ and ‘That’s not my job.’ It’s great that you have a specialist skill, and while as a graphic designer, for example, you might not be a copywriter as well, blowing off a request for related work in this way makes you seem unhelpful and moody.
Example: You’re designing a brochure for a luxury travel company, when the account manager asks if you can take care of the copy, too.
Your first thought is, "No, of course not, I’m a designer." But the account manager isn’t necessarily asking you personally to handle the copy. It may be phrased that way, but what they mean to ask, is whether you can help connect them with someone who can handle the copy.
What to say instead: Instead of saying, "No, that’s nothing to do with me," or "Sorry, I’m not a writer," try to solve the problem. Say, "I’m not a writer myself, but I do know one. Let me put you in touch."
The amount of extra work for you: zero. The impression you give: priceless.
2. "With all due respect."
Sometimes, clients say things or act in ways which you think are counterproductive, or even harmful to the project. When that happens, you want to voice your opinion, maybe challenge the point they’re trying to make. That’s fine and a perfectly normal professional reaction. Kicking off your concern with the phrase, "With all due respect," on the other hand, is not only not OK, it’s just not necessary.
When you say, "With all due respect," to anyone, let alone a client, you immediately get their back up. They’re expecting an attack, and when the person you’re paying to help you starts attacking you instead, it becomes very tempting to drop them.
What to say instead: Any professional relationship where things are getting done will run into challenges. As a freelancer or entrepreneur, it’s up to you to uphold the highest possible levels of respect and courtesy, even when you’re in disagreement. The next time you’re tempted to say ‘With all due respect,’ reframe the problem.
Wrong: "With all due respect, you’re not a graphic designer."
Right: "I see your point. May I show you what I think would work, based on my experience?"
3. Radio silence.
When a client or potential client emails you, or messages you on Slack, common courtesy demands you at least acknowledge that you’ve read and understood what they’re saying.
Many freelancers and business owners say that they just don’t have the time to respond to every email a client sends. If you’re so overloaded with work that you can’t find ten seconds to say, "Great, thank you. I’ll take a look soon," then something about your process is drastically wrong.
These people are paying you money, so finding just a few seconds to acknowledge them isn’t just polite, it’s actually an investment.
4. "Can you believe Trump?’ or "Brexit, eh?"
There are very few instances where it’s relevant or necessary to bring up politics during regular business talk. More to the point, it’s important to remember that just because you’re working with someone, that doesn’t mean they hold the same political or religious beliefs as you.
You might think Donald Trump is a fool, but your client might have voted for him. Once you knock over that house of cards, it’s very difficult to rebuild.
What to say instead: Nothing.
5. "Cheers, buddy" etc.
Unless you really are buddies or pals (in which case you ought to be careful about your professional relationship for different reasons) there is no need at all to refer to your client with these terms.
Not because it’s disrespectful, it’s not, you’re trying to communicate friendliness. What you do by using labels like pal, buddy, dude and so on, is bed yourself into a zone where your professional courtesies begin to slip. Don’t forget that you’re in a professional relationship, where money, jobs and reputations are on the line. Keep it tight, keep it on track.
What to say instead: Use their name. If their name is Michael, call them Michael until they sign an email as Mike.
As a freelancer it can be easy to develop a rogue persona ("Nobody’s the boss of me!") and while that might be true, throwing away perfectly good opportunities, or sabotaging professional relationships by saying plain dumb things, is well, dumb. So, if your mother never told you to think before opening your mouth (or hitting reply), then let Entrepreneur do it on her behalf. Now go get some business.