The 7 rules of freelance etiquette

It’s a jungle out there and for those of you who are new to being your own boss, you face a whole new world of working etiquette.  Gone are the centuries old structures brought about by the hierarchies of corporate life. There’s no HR induction pack and you just have to work it all out for yourself, hoping you won’t get it wrong.

And it is very different. The independents’ ecosystem is based on a very different set of relationships, largely powered by collaboration rather than line management.  Your office environment can be just about anywhere and your salary doesn’t just arrive in your bank account, meaning that you need to learn an entirely different language, just to survive.

But never fear. We’ve been through all of this before.  Think of us as the Debrett’s guide to modern freelancing and independent work. Your guide to getting your freelancing manners right first time.

And as a taster, here are our 7 golden rules of freelancing etiquette:

1. Give and you will receive

The fundamental rule of freelancing is you give time and experience to others without expecting anything back.  Everyone starts at the beginning and relies on other independents to help them out.  It can feel that you do a lot of ‘taking’ when you start out, but that’s to be expected, and people will offer this freely on the basis that you will also contribute to the tribe. It’s the way freelancing has worked for centuries and it’s what keeps our ecosystem working.

But I have seen people abuse this. They approach freelancing with the attitude that there’s always someone on hand to give them free advice or even free work.  Well, that may work for a while, but the benefits won’t last long.  Word gets around fast, and if you don’t reciprocate, you’ll soon find yourself out in the cold.

2. Always deliver on a promise

That said, don’t forget that people might be relying on you, and if you say you are going to do something, you should follow through.  Particularly with clients.

It’s important that you do so for your own professional reputation, which is everything when you work for yourself, but also because it’s important that we all work together to improve the reputation of freelancing.

3. Take your turn to make the tea (do the coffee round)

You may find yourself working with other independents once in a while. It doesn’t matter how senior you may or may not have been in a previous career, this is a time to play your part and if that means doing the coffee round, or making the tea then you should ensure that you volunteer periodically.

Of course, making the tea is just one way that you can play your part.  You can also offer to run a lunchtime workshop or share interesting news.  Anything that shows that you are thinking about your co-independents.

4. Co-working is not working on your own

Don’t join a co-working group or hub to turn up and stick your headphones in your ears all day.  What’s the point?  If you want peace and quiet, stay at home.

You’ll get far more out of your co-working experiences if you treat them as an opportunity to swop stories, experience, skills and fun with others like you.  And you’ll be surprised at how much you can get done by working alongside others when you can contribute to the banter rather than drowning it out.

5. Go the extra mile

This particularly applies to the work that you do for clients.  You should always aim to give a little extra, whether that’s contacts, connections or something that wasn’t it your original brief.

It’s what sets freelancers apart from employees.  We aren’t clock-watchers. We aren’t ‘jobsworths’ and we really enjoy what we do.  So show it!

6. Share your skills

We can’t all be good at everything and of course, when you work independently you don’t have the back office areas like the IT department on hand to sort out the niggles and the problems that invariably happen just when you don’t want them too.

That’s why it’s important to think about how you can help another independent with your particular skill set, perhaps in return for some help from them. Many freelancers use this as a way to grow their associate networks, meaning you’ve got people on hand when you go on holiday and people who you can outsource work to when you are busy or it’s not your bag.

7. Watch out for other freelancers

When you work for yourself, you will have up and down days. That’s part of the territory.  But it can often be hard to ask for help.  So look out for your freelance friends.  Ask them how they are, and whether you can help, whether that’s with a connection or a coffee or a hug.

And don’t forget, KindredHQ is here to help. If you’ve got a question about freelancing or independent work, contact us any way you want, whether that’s privately through or on Twitter, Google+, Linkedin or Facebook.

Who is Alex Butler

Hello, I'm Alex Butler and I founded the KindredHQ community and blog back in 2011 after I re-started a freelance career. I LOVE freelancing and I wouldn't swop the freedom, control and joy of working for myself for anything. But I realised how much I missed the company and energy of other people - of having a team around me. So, I got a few people together one day with our laptops, a jar of coffee and some jelly babies and we sat and worked together one afternoon. We've been doing that every week in London, UK since then! I am still 100% freelance and I like to share the everyday highs and lows of being a freelancer here on the blog.

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