Developers: David Colgan helps you escape 9-to-5 employment by building an effective freelance business you'll love to run.

I recently brought on a new client to build their webapp.  After having studied the ways of the high powered consultants over the last few months, I was eager to try out what I'd learned about positioning, new ways of billing, fancy tools to ease the process, and all that good stuff.

The client and I had been emailing back and forth for a few weeks and we had a video call scheduled to get the ball rolling.

I made several goofs.  I accidentally messed up the timezones causing my scheduling to be an hour off and the client had to catch it for me.  I was a little unclear in my billing methodology and confused them a little in explaining it over email.  I was somewhat awkward on the call, as I still am recovering from social anxiety and could have been more confident (I guess?) in my speaking.

But none of that seemed to matter because of one thing I did really well: Communication.

My fancy new half-correctly implemented techniques and tools did help add an air of professionalism, but the thing they commented on the most was how responsive I was in my communication.  How during the call I was upfront about everything.  How I was responsive to their need to slightly reschedule the call to be a little later the day of.  How I listened to their needs.  They said it made them have a lot of confidence in my ability to not only take care of them in communication, but also in the service of building their app.

It is a deep human need to feel heard.  If you make your friends, your family, your partner, and also your clients feel heard, you can mess a lot of other things up and still do well.

And here's the fun part: most people are so bad at communication that it really doesn't take that much to seriously stand out from the competition.

Apparently some freelancers consider it reasonable(?) to do things like:

  • Go on vacation and not tell anyone
  • Go dark right after a problem happens
  • Get sick (that's fine) but then not tell the client and be unreachable until they get better
  • Wait weeks on end before responding to messages

When I first heard business owners talking about their bad experiences with freelancers who do things like this, I was mystified.  How could this be considered okay?  But as I've talked to more business owners who have hired freelancers, I've realized that this is not an uncommon experience.

Consider it from the client's perspective.  They are taking a major risk and making a large investment to hire you.  How can you make them feel more at ease, that you've got their back, and make them feel heard?

There are a lot of people out there who can write code, write words, design graphics, and all the other knowledge worker activities.  But the set of people who can do those things well and also communicate well is surprisingly small.

So go forth, and be excellent communicators in a world where the bar for "excellent" is so low that putting just a little effort into your communication skills makes you better than most.


I first sent this article as a letter to my mailing list. New letters go out each week!

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