How to Freelance the Specific, SMART Way

And she’s back, folks! Please welcome Elizabeth Fayle.

Not long ago, I wrote about the concept of freelancing the SMART way:

• Specific
• Measurable
• Agreed Upon
• Realistic
• Time-based

You can read more on that introduction to SMART freelancing by clicking here. It’s a good read; I even suggested that James needed some SMARTening up.

“Yes, and we figured you’d be fired.”
“Hard to believe you’re still here!”
“Huh, maybe there’s something to this…”

There is something to it, and it’s something I’ve noticed that many freelancers aren’t paying attention to. They’re freelancing using methods that cost them hundreds of dollars in misunderstandings, frustrations and lost clients.

You lucky readers, you. Since I’m going to teach you more on the importance of freelancing the SMART way, you’ll be able to kick the competition and rock your business.

Keep reading, and you’ll discover each step of being SMART , learn more about how it applies to your freelancing and know how to be SMARTer every single day.

It All Starts With Being Specific

Specific. As in, not vague.

As in, not ambiguous.

As in, stating your exact expectations.

Because when you’re vague and ambiguous or hard to understand, you waste valuable time and money. You lose clients, too, and you have to work harder to gain new clients . You also have to grovel and try to patch things up with people when misunderstandings crop up – your clients, your coworkers, your peers…

It takes effort to regain a person’s trust – a lot more than it does to blow it.

Let’s do a little role-playing, shall we? It’s way more fun.

Has This Ever Happened to You?

A client asks you to write an article for his business. You agree to deliver the article Friday afternoon. You’ve planned it all out in your head – you’ll write on Wednesday, you’ll have it edited on Thursday and your client will have his fantastic article in his hot little hands exactly when he wants it.

Now, you recently hired an editor, because you’ve come to realize the value of having a pair of fresh eyes look over your work before it leaves your desk. (Work with me, here.) So you contact the editor and your conversations go something like this:

You: I need this article back by the end of day on Friday.

Editor: No problemo.

Well, Friday’s end of day rolls around, and there’s no edited article in site. Great. Now what? This is terrible. Boy, are you cranky! You don’t have your article, it’s late, the client is angry, and your silver reputation starts to tarnish before your very eyes.

You: Hey! Yo, dude! Where’s my article?

Editor: What? I still have 3 more hours.

You: What?! No, you don’t! It’s 5 pm. End of day. I promised my client I’d have the article to him by 5:30 p.m.!

Editor: What do you mean, it’s 5 pm? Maybe where you are, but it’s only 2 pm here.

That’ s right; welcome to living with the challenges of freelancing. We live in a global business world and have to deal with different time zones. Your end of day is not the next guy’s end of day.

It gets worse. What if your client lives in Europe? Now you’re really late on delivering that article, because his 5:30pm was hours ago. Man, are you in trouble now!

It’s a very simple example, but you can see where I’m going with this.

You can’t assume people know what you mean. They don’t. You can’t allow other people to just figure it out. They won’t. And you can’t be too busy to be specific.

How to Be More Specific

We all think we’re very specific in what we say and what we expect from others – everyone thinks this way, by default.

But we aren’t very specific, in most cases. We make huge assumptions about the message we convey. We assume people know what we mean because we know what it means. Ever said to someone, “What do you mean, you don’t understand? It’s perfectly clear!”

Being specific means that you clarify exactly what you want and need up front – and not because people are dumb. Simply because in business, you need to cover your tracks so that you save time and money – and a bunch of frustrations.

Here’s what you need to spell out to be specific:

• Exactly what you expect the other person to do. No one can read minds. Tell them what you expect, as clearly as possible. Be detailed, but be concise.
• Exactly when you expect them to do it. If it’s Tuesday, is it Tuesday morning or night? And what time does your morning start and end? And do you have limits on what time in the morning you expect the task to be done?
• Exactly the consequences of not following your specific instructions.

Let’s use an example to demonstrate how important that last bullet point can be to your business.

Imagine you’ve been hired by a client to blog for him. Would you write up a post, send an email and say, “Here you go; pay me!” (Ask James how many times he’s seen freelancers do exactly that.)

Of course not. You’re smarter than that. You’re specific. “Here’s your blog post – I hope you enjoy it! As agreed, payment of $100 is now due. You can send that via PayPal to . Please note there’s a 5% late payment charge added to outstanding balances every 10 days.”

Alright, that’s not the best wording and you writers would be far more eloquent than that, but do you see the difference? Now your client knows what to pay, when to pay it and what happens if he doesn’t pay within 10 days. It’s going to cost him!

While it may cost your client, it’ll save you time, too, because you don’t have to send a bunch of emails clearing up when the payment was due or what your PayPal account is or your business terms. It’s all there.

And these minutes you save? They add up substantially over a year.

So What About the Editor Who Flubbed?

That’s the thing. The editor that blew the deadline didn’t flub – you flubbed, because you weren’t being specific in your expectations. And if you had been specific and the editor still blew it?

Well, you just don’t work with that person anymore. He’s not good for your business . He costs you money and clients. You don’t want that.
You want to rock your business, and you want to deal with reliable and SMART people who can help you make your clients happy.

That’s how you stay calm and sane, and ready to take on the world.

Your turn: Have you ever had something go wrong because you weren’t specific? What did you change so that it never happened again?

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.