Management January 22, 2014 Last updated September 18th, 2018 1,785 Reads share

How To Give Your Freelance Operation The Appearance Of A True Business

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Before I begin, let’s clarify that I’m not purporting to be Rico Suave of the freelancer scene. I work for several clients and am lucky enough to be able to stay employed through connections I have built working in the SEO industry, especially here in Seattle where the community is very tight knit. That being said, I have always been fascinated by how appearances can go a long way in convincing someone of your professionalism, and by extent, your worthiness as a business partner. What follows here are several tips and tricks I’ve learned either first hand or vicariously for wooing clients as a one man operation.

When you are seeking out new clients, impressions based on appearance are sometimes nearly as important as your actual background and skills. While speech and dress are crucial elements in presentation, there are some less subtle ways to boost your image as a legitimate business. Whether intentionally or not, potential clients may make a decision on your worthiness based on more subtle factors than your experience and body of work. Sometimes it’s not what you say, but how you say it.

Which brings us to our first tactic.

Learn the Power of Language

The power of language is not to be underestimated. While it can be subtle, choosing certain words and expressions can go a long way towards influencing attitudes and perceptions. Consider how in the US the majority of talking heads now refer to government backed services as ‘entitlements’ and ‘handouts’, which carry a much different connotation from the previous descriptors of ‘benefits’ and ‘assistance’. Regardless of your political leanings, this small shift in language invites a skewed perception on the subject of government aid.

The same power of perception can be applied to how people view individuals companies.

Take the previous sentence for example. Individuals and companies bring with them very different connotations (although the Supreme Court may disagree). An individual is someone striving to achieve success alone, while a company has support and backing. As a freelancer, even if you work alone, you should present yourself as a company.

Language is one of several methods to do this, and usually the easiest. The challenge lies simply in remembering to apply this viewpoint to all correspondences. Here are a few simple ways the solo freelancer can imply they are indeed a professional outfit and not just Joe Graduate at home on his laptop:

  • Refer to yourself wherever possible as ‘we’ rather than ‘I’.
  • Come up with a great business name.
  • Utilize a branded company email account as opposed to a generic gmail account.
  • Create a title for yourself within your ‘company’ and affix it to all profiles, signatures and promotional materials.
  • Speak of your past employment history as your company’s history and background rather than just your own.
  • Avoid terms of familiarity with those you aren’t familiar with. A marketing team is ‘your team’ not ‘you guys’.
  • Learn the business language terminology specific to your client’s industry. Talking shop with a client can assure them you are a good match for their specific needs.

Optimize Your Online Presence

In today’s digital world the first place a client is likely to find you is going to be online. It goes without saying that anything you place online has the potential to be seen by anyone and everyone. In order to keep up the appearances of a professional business it’s best to separate the personal from the professional. A client will undoubtedly be interested in your LinkedIn profile, your blog/website and, depending on your industry, your Twitter.

However, it is much less likely they will be interested in what bands you like on your (personal) Facebook or the cool sunset photos you’re uploading to Tumblr. Anything that is client facing should be primarily focused on business. Sure, you can take a stand or political viewpoint online, but be sure to realize the potential impact it might have on clients with an opposing ideology. Just like at a family dinner, avoid diving into politics, religion and economics

Transform Your Place of Business

We’ve covered a bit on online appearance, but what about client’s that are local? Often times clients will want to hire a freelancer that is local, in order to be able to regularly meet face to face. A good number of freelancers work from home, or from a coffee shop, but there is no reason that your potential client needs to know that. There is an alternative solution, and one that is growing in popularity in certain cities as more people shift to freelancing and contracting.

Virtual offices can be seen as the business equivalent of a timeshare or an upgraded version of a PO Box. Renters pay a fee to have a mailbox at an office location and can also arrange to use the office for a set period of hours. When a meeting needs to be held, a conference room or similar environment can be reserved.

Services like these reduce the overhead of freelancers and startups while also maintaining professionalism. All for a fraction of the cost of a traditional office setup. A typical service setup will be broken down into communications, meetings and address (mailbox) services, with communication service often being the most expensive element.

Get A Business Line

Included in some virtual office setups are virtual receptionist services. However, in the spirit of entrepreneurialism, there are cheaper methods for setting up your own office reception service.

Numerous options are available for free or low-cost conference call services online. Even more for free or reduced cost digital voice services (i.e. Skype). However, to present yourself as a business, especially one seeking new clients, it may benefit to upgrade to a business class service. The best options here are via VoIP providers as they offer many more business featuresthan those available through a basic landline phone (and usually at less cost).

When someone phones your operation, they will be treated to the standard options and features that they would expect from an established business, including; call waiting, forwarding, menu options and messaging services and, in some cases, even your own hold music! Set up is relatively easy, even for the tech challenged. For a single line (and varying levels of features) the cost will likely run you $20-$50 monthly.

Employ Your Friends

We all know someone who’s unemployed. Sometimes these people are skilled artists, other times they might have more technical skills. While this option isn’t a fit for every type of work, there is usually some lower level activity in any business that requires little training. Bringing on a friend to temporarily help with a project can be a good short term boost to productivity. However, there are some additional benefits beyond economics.

Having to train someone on how to perform a task is one of the best ways to learn more about the process yourself and valuable feedback can be gained on your efficiencies (a good test for future scalability as well!). If you’re really looking to improve your appearance, you can even bring your friend to a client meeting as ‘an intern’, which will imply that you are indeed an expert in your field and, frankly, a bit of a catch (just remind them to take notes and keep quiet).

An additional benefit, and one that is often overlooked in freelancing, is the positive influence of interaction with other humans. Even if your friend isn’t contributing immensely to your business efforts (perhaps they’re simply hanging out while looking for jobs themselves), having them around can reduce your own stress and isolation as a freelancer working alone from home. If your friend can find some way to meaningfully contribute their skills to your enterprise that’s all the better. Of course, the usual disclaimers about working with friends apply here. It’s best to not imply a long term arrangement or allow them to grow into a critical role in your process without careful consideration.

Keeping Up Appearances

Not all business relationships for the freelancer will require this level of keeping up appearances. It largely depends on the industry you’re working in and the client you’re going after. Those in the tech and startup scenes are typically of the younger generation and may be used to hoodies and flip flops and meetings via Skype, but even they will be impressed by a freelancer who comes off as an experienced business person.

After all, in the eyes of a prospective client, if you can wade through all the muck required to run a successful and independent business operation and still come out smelling like a rose, that’s all the more reason for them to trust their project in your capable hands.

Images: ”Cloud for business concept, Freelance /


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Nick Nielson

Nick Nielson

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