How to Show that You Mean Business in your Freelance Business

One of the biggest challenges with a freelancing career can be getting others to recognize that you’re running a business. Friends, family, colleagues, and, yes, even clients – because they haven’t ventured down the path themselves – often have a difficult time grasping that like any other business, you have processes, procedures and boundaries. If you don’t yet have any operating principles for managing your business – and your time – you should really work on getting some in place. The first step in convincing others to take your business seriously is for you to take it seriously.

Your business. Your way.

Though you might not need a fully-documented operating procedures manual for your business, you should have some general guidelines set for how you’ll go about your work. That’s not to say that you won’t sometimes want – or need – to bend your own rules at times. But having a plan for dealing with leads, clients, projects and administrative duties can help your productivity and keep you on track toward your goals.

Some suggestions to consider as you define your freelancing M.O.:

  • Avoid emailing or making business phone calls after hours and on weekends. Why? Because you’ll give the impression that you’re a 24/7 shop and clients and prospects might start to expect that you’ll get back to them at all hours of the day and night. I admit that I do at times email clients when I’m “off the clock,” but those clients are people who I have a strong relationship with and who I know won’t unnecessarily infringe on my personal time.


  • If you can take care of it with a phone call or email, don’t spend time commuting to an off-site meeting. Though it’s nice to meet face to face with clients, doing too much of that can pull you away from your work unnecessarily. Besides the actual time you spend meeting, you’ll also spend precious time dressing for the occasion, packing up your notes and electronics, driving there and driving back. Unless you’re meeting about a new project or have other important business that can truly benefit from an in-person collaborative session, push to take care of business by phone or by email.


  • Cluster your out-of-office meetings and appointments to save time. When you do need or want to meet with clients or prospects in person, try to schedule your meetings on the same day and at nearby locations. Though you might be forfeiting a full day of in-office work, overall you’ll save time by consolidating some of the commute and other aspects of preparing for out-of-office meetings.


  • You’ve got voice mail. Use it! Unless you really do have the time to talk on the phone, resist the urge to answer it every single time that it rings. If you’re in the throes of working on a project, grabbing a phone call will set your productivity back a heap. Not only will you lose time, but you’ll also lose your concentration. I have yet to find a prospect or client who seemed inconvenienced or angry about leaving a voice mail message. Just be sure to respond as promptly as possible – that’s the key!


  • Have a work plan every day.  Before any given day arrives, have a plan set for it. Know what work you’ll need to accomplish and block out time to do it on your calendar. When you’ve got multiple clients’ projects, marketing, plus administrative tasks that need attention, setting dedicated time aside for all of it will help you stay organized and efficient.


  • Don’t let unpaid work go without a reminder that it’s unpaid. Unlike larger businesses, freelancers usually don’t have the volume of customers and steady stream of revenue to give them the luxury to wait until clients’ invoices are 30 days or more overdue before sending reminders. I usually send a gentle, polite email reminder to clients after an invoice is a week overdue. I’ve never had a client take unkindly to my reminders – and I think that has a lot to do with using an approach that’s not in any way confrontational or accusatory. Usually, there was an oversight or the invoice simply got lost in the shuffle – keep in mind that you’ll probably work with some clients who simply don’t have a system in place for working with freelancers. Again, a simple and friendly reminder will keep your cash flow flowing.


  • Provide a way for clients to pay electronically. Some clients will want to pay you by credit card. An easy way to allow them to do that is by having a PayPal or Intuit account set up. That way you won’t have to establish your own relationship directly with credit card companies, but you will enable your clients to pay with credit or debit through those electronic payment systems. I use PayPal – and find that invoices issued through PayPal to clients get paid much more quickly than those that I email and receive checks for later. Yes, there are transaction fees attached, but to me they’re worth it. Plus, they’re tax deductible.


  • Don’t undervalue – and don’t let others undervalue – what you do. Business Strategist for Solopreneurs, Michele Christensen, recently shared some tips for handling situations when people are looking for you to provide your billable services for free. Sometimes it is appropriate and beneficial to give your time away for nada, but be wary of doing too much of it and setting a precedent that makes others believe you’re willing to do it for everyone all of the time. Saying “no” doesn’t mean you don’t want to help. It demonstrates that you know your services are worth something. If they weren’t, you wouldn’t be building a business around them!

Of course, the list could go on and on and on when setting up your own ground rules for how you’ll approach your freelance business to make others realize that you mean business. Stay in tune with what’s working and not working for you, build your M.O. – and get your business the respect it deserves.

Do you have any ground rules for how you do business? How have they helped you get others to take your freelancing business more seriously? 

12 comments on “How to Show that You Mean Business in your Freelance Business
  1. blogjunkie says:

    Good tips! I practice #1 a lot. I even put up a weekend auto responder saying that their message has been received and will be attended to on Monday. I also set every Tuesday as “invoice day”. That’s the day I create invoices for the past week and send reminders for late ones. Looking forward to more solopreneur tips!

    • dawnmentzer says:

      Thanks! You just provided some nice tips, too. 🙂 Sounds like you’ve got a good system in place to keep things on track in your business. How long have you been freelancing?

      • blogjunkie says:

        My system works, but falls down occasionally – I need a good virtual assistant! I’ve been self employed for 5 years now I think.

        I actually prefer to use the terms “self-employed” or “micro business owner” rather than freelancer. Freelancer feels amateur to me, I turned pro years ago 😉

        • dawnmentzer says:

          Yeah, I think we all have moments when things break down a little and we stray off-course! Ahhh, yes. The nomenclature! I sometimes use the terms you mentioned along with “solopreneur” (stating the obvious!) and “solo-professional.” I think “freelancer” is more respected than it was years ago though…and it’s what my prospects and clients can relate to most easily, so I use it on a daily basis. I think a lot of it depends on your audience and industry. So glad we’ve connected, David! Looking forward to following your posts and learning from you!

    • denisegabbard says:

      Good tips here from both of you! I am somewhat of a night owl–like to work when there are as few distractions as possible–but have never been able to ignore email. Must make a concerted effort to do so from now on.

      • dawnmentzer says:

        Thanks, Denise! You’re right about the scheduling of work – it just depends on what works best for the individual. During summertime, I find myself working some late nights because I want to fit in some time during the day with my daughter who is home from school for the season. I also agree that ignoring email is a tough one to master. I constantly fight the urge to check it and respond stat…but most messages really can wait until I really do have time to focus on them without losing focus on the task at hand. And so goes the struggle!! 😉 I am so happy to have discovered you and your blog and your FB page and your Twitter handle…You’ve got a very impressive writing background and I know I’ll learn a ton from you! – Dawn

  2. Oh my goodness, Dawn, I am breaking several of these rules! Time to set down some ground rules. Thanks for the reminders!

  3. I’m really, really bad about the first two bullet points. I’m notorious for replying to e-mails instantaneously at all hours of the day and night, and for answering the phone at all hours of the day and night. I also drive to way too many client meetings — sometimes on weekends (!). Oftentimes, these meetings are about things that could have been solved by simply talking on the phone or by e-mail instead.

    People usually assume that the hardest part about being a solo accountant is managing the workload while keeping up with the ever-increasing complexity of the laws and all the regulatory requirements. But it’s not, at least not for me. For me, the 3 biggest challenges are: what to charge; how to deal with price shoppers; and having the courage to charge for my time instead of giving away too much for free.

    • dawnmentzer says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience and challenges, Jason! Interesting! I think pricing is harrowing for a lot of solopreneurs…and particularly finding a way to get compensated for our time in meetings. For certain ongoing assignments, I include in the proposal that X meetings for X hours per month are included, and then I have an hourly fee for additional meetings or extended meeting time. Of course, your business is a bit different from mine, but maybe it’s something you could somehow incorporate.

  4. Great collection of tips Dawn! It’s really easy to fall into flying by the seat of your pants when you are solo. I’ve stepped up my planning this year (yearly, weekly and daily) and it seems to be helping. Pretty much every day goes differently than planned, but at least I know what is getting bumped and needs to be rescheduled. Thanks for the mention!

    • dawnmentzer says:

      Thanks, Michele! You made a great point – even with planning, priorities can shift and unexpected delays or changes in focus can happen. But it’s still helpful to have game plan that sets up some sense of structure and goals. And you’re very welcome for the mention – your article tied in nicely!

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