How to Make Yourself Indispensable as a Freelancer

I approach my work in a way that makes me indispensable to my clients so that I become an integral part of their team. And becoming an integral part of their team makes me indispensable because they don’t have to re-explain branding or context to me with each project and they know the quality and speed of my work. Plus, the quality and speed of my work only increase the more I work with them because I understand what they need and how best to work with them.

This type of client relationship isn’t for everyone but if you want to build some staying power with your clients, and maybe just date them longer instead of marrying them, here’s how I make myself indispensable. 

 

I hear what they need, not what they think they need

Often freelancers, especially new ones, will say yes to whatever a client wants. When I work with clients, I wear my freelancer and consultant hats simultaneously. This means that I’m asking upfront what the end-goal is, using strategic questions to get at what they really need, and pushing back when they start asking for things that won’t actually achieve their goals.

You’ll find that clients actually appreciate a critical eye and willingness to ask questions more than someone who just says yes to whatever they want. It positions you as an expert and external thought partner who can often see their work differently from the outside.

There are ways to build this into your process for all clients including standard project initiation questions and utilizing brainstorming processes. This also becomes easier as you work with a client repeatedly because you understand their historical context and build relationships that allow you to be more direct with your input and feedback.

They come to see you as an advisor and not just hired help.

 

I never, ever drop a ball

This may sound like a no-brainer but I’m always surprised by the number of freelancers I work with and coach who drop balls….constantly. For me, there are three keys to always delivery on your promises for clients:  

  • Draw your boundaries from the beginning and stick to them (see caveat below). This starts when you decide to take on a client and write your first proposal for them – get super clear on what you are doing and what success looks like so there aren’t any (or at least minimal) surprises.
  • Know your ideal workload. I never take on more than four clients, or commit to more than 40 hours a week because I know the workload that allows me to deliver quality work and I don’t go beyond it.
  • Build replicable systems for your work. This is true for all projects, but these systems only get better and more efficient when I’m working with repeat clients because I have standard systems just for them that seamlessly fit their context. We all know it takes longer to do something the first time. If you’re only ever taking on new clients you’re always having to create/adapt your systems to some extent and learn theirs. When you work with repeat clients you can be more efficient because you’ve done it before.

 

I strategically and carefully allow scope creep

Scope creep, the dreaded words that keep freelancers up at night. You start a contract with a distinct scope and before you know it, you’re running a whole team, designing a whole system, or fielding all of their tech issues. I’m with you. One of the biggest things I coach freelancers on is defining their work for clients instead of letting clients define it.

When I first start with a client, I’m very careful about how I position my expertise so that I can deliver what I promise and never drop balls (see above). You need a period of time to feel out the working relationship to understand their context and expectations, and make sure you’re positioning yourself in a way that plays to your strengths. Once I’ve done that, usually after I’ve completed a distinct project, I listen for ways that I can add more value in other areas.

There is a tricky balance you have to strike here. You never want to position yourself as an expert at something that you don’t know how to do, but once you understand the larger context of the work, it is easier to see where you can branch out. This not only allows for you to position yourself as more valuable to your client it also allows you to stretch yourself and learn new things.  

Here’s one example from my work. I started managing the programmatic side of a training program and as a result, became very familiar with the content. Now I not only manage the program, but I also help drive the strategy for content creation and delivery.

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