Always Act In The Client’s Best Interest

Written by Tom Herudek
 — February 24th, 2020 — Freelancing

There is usually a gap between your know-how and that of your client. It’s based on a trivial fact: our lifespan is limited. Your client has invested productive time to gain expertise in one area (making furniture?), but not in yours. In my experience, the client might have some basic understanding of WordPress development, but this is my area of expertise. So when someone hires you to do a job, they are trusting you to act in their best interest and employ your full expertise.

Because of the know-how gap, you have a lot of flexibility to tailor the solution. There are 2 extremes:

  • Propose solutions which will maximize your client’s Return on Investment
  • Propose solutions which will earn you the most money from the client

Just a reminder – your optimal position as a long-term successful freelancer is to have enough clients, and to have clients who benefit from the value you bring. Ideally, you will not have to invest an excessive amount of energy into acquiring new business, because your reputation will be good enough that you’ll be approached by the clients.

Acting selfishly as a freelancer is a bad approach in the long-term

If you tend to extract the most money possible from the client, then you are trading your future reputation and character for today’s money. Sooner or later, your client will find out that the thing you’ve done for them is crap and they could get something much better for far less money. And this will make them furious! In the best case, they will immediately stop working with you and move on (and you will not get more work). However, disgruntled clients can easily start damaging your reputation, which will tremendously lower your value as a freelancer.

Reputations can be harmed in many ways. If you are a local freelancer, then it might be word of mouth. In my case, I’m a WordPress freelance developer and my reputation can be seen on my Codeable profile.

The worse your reputation, the riskier it is to work with you. Your potential clients might not rationalize it exactly this way, but they will have a feeling that something is not right. And the riskier it is to work with you, the worse the client portfolio you will have and the more time you will have to spend on client acquisition.

Acting in the client’s best interest is always the optimal strategy

Sooner or later, you’ll face a point where you’ll spend some time and energy communicating with the client and then you’ll realize that you can get hired but it will not be particularly useful for the client. However, the client will not be able to figure this out on their own.

You might be tempted to do it and cover all the time spent on the sales process. At that moment, you are at a crossroads, choosing between being a great freelancer and earning a lot of money in the long-term, or being a sub-par freelancer and barely managing to exist.

When you are honest and turn down the job, you’ll instantly rise in the estimation of your client. Your reputation will benefit as well since these two things are closely connected. Your client might put in a good word for you, recommending you to friends or even get back with another task because they trust you.

And this is how you employ the Matthew effect. Imagine, you have just started freelancing, done a few jobs and then you make your first good vs bad decision. You were honest with the client, turned the job down and gained + 3 reputation points (at whichever scale this is). Now they are convinced that you are a good and honest person and they recommend you to their friends. The greater your reputation, the less work you have to put into new client acquisition. The clients will find you, not the other way around.

Your productive time is limited. The less time you put into client acquisition, the more time you can put into the actual work and the more money you can earn. The more money you have, the more money you can spend on educating yourself, getting healthier, more productive and overall making your life better. When you are more educated, you are more effective. So you can produce more output in the same amount of time. This means your work is more valuable and you can bill more.

“Whoever has, will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Matthew effect in the real world.