Don’t Be a Jerk

At some point you will have to deal with people as a freelancer. It’s inevitable. Unless you are making sites for yourself, your dog, or your Aunt Edna’s wig collection site, you will have to communicate with a real, live person. If you want to continue talking to people there’s a small but simple rule you have to follow.

Rule: Don’t be a jerk.

It sounds simple and is for the most part, but it only takes a short leap to go off the deep end. When you work alone it’s easy to be negative and think everyone is out to get you. This can lead to angry emails to clients who then dump you for someone who won’t have a Jersey Shore moment.

Example: It’s been a week since you completed some work for a client. After turning in your work you were sent an email reply saying “Thanks!” and that’s all. Why haven’t they said anything else? Is something wrong? Did they not get your invoice? Maybe they are going to take the project and run. They don’t intend on paying you. They played you for the fool. They’re laughing at you right now.

See how easy that was? Going from a completely rational question to an angry rant about how your client thinks they are the best thing since shredded cheese because you were stupid enough to do work for them. This leads me to my next point. Be optimistic. You are far less likely to angrily react if you stay optimistic.

If you haven’t heard from your client in a while, send a “Just Checking In” email. This email consists of two sentences:

“Hey, hadn’t heard from you in a week and wanted to check in. If you could give me an update on my invoice I’d appreciate it.”

Boom, done. Simple, straight to the point and not jerky. The same idea can be applied to any form of communication. Whether it’s Skype, Gchat, Facebook, MySpace (if your client wants to communicate through MySpace, you might not want them as a client), or any other web chat system, don’t lose your cool. Being a jerk might work for other professions, but we freelancers don’t have that luxury.

We’re only as good as people say we are, so don’t go burning bridges. Unless your utilities were shut off because a client didn’t pay you…and then you should only burn the bridges leading to your client’s house. Just cover your tracks. An arson investigation is the last thing you want to deal with.

With girls it may be true that nice guys finish last, but in the web industry being a social pariah may as well be your ticket to failure.


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John Hartley is a Director of Product Engineering at Beam Dental in Columbus, OH. With 5+ years of leadership experience he has worked in startups, agencies, and began his career as a freelance Front End Developer. Always looking to iterate, this blog is a place for him to share his knowledge as well as hone his craft, challenge assumptions, and build a strong base of leadership and management knowledge. Connect with him on LinkedIn

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