What Your Freelance Clients Really Want

Seth Coelen
4 min readJul 8, 2016


Wrong perception

For the longest time, I’ve had the wrong idea about what my clients really want. If you’re like me you thought, “I will get hired if my work stands out as the best in my field. I need to show that I can execute technical tasks better than my competition.” While you need to be competent, you don’t need to be the best.

If someone approaches you to bid on a project, they’re already telling you that they’re not subject matter experts. They want to know if you can get them from point A to point B successfully. They don’t have the ability, time or interest measure talent.

Client thought process: A Freelancer’s Perception vs. Reality

The Freelancer assumes the Client is thinking:
- What if there’s someone better out there?
- K, but how many followers do they have?
- Have they won any design awards?
- What’s their most popular repo on Github?
- How clean is their code?
- Should designers code?

The Client is actually thinking:
- Will this person help me achieve my goal?
- Does this person sound like they know what they’re talking about?
- Does their solution seem reasonable?
- Have they accomplished this type of work before?
- Do they have a good reputation with others I know?

Accolades, shmaccolades

Rather than talking about how great you are at X, Y & Z, communicate how great you are at working with teams to get them where they want to be. Show that you care about their project more than anyone else and that you’re committed to helping them find the right answers and solutions.

As you create your portfolio, cover letter, and your 30-second elevator pitch, don’t spend the majority of your time touting your accolades, or trying to prove that you’re a level 8/10 at javascript. Spend time explaining how you’re good at taking the product from conception to completion. Explain how you will take leadership of your tasks and ensure a transparent process.

Remember, the success of the project is not measured in how clean your code is, or how flat your design is. The quality of the product is measured by giving the appropriate solution for the appropriate problem. If you miss the mark (which you will from time to time) explain what broke down and how to move forward. Communicate early and often, especially when you hit a snag.

Be a guide

Your clients want someone who will be the guide, not the best designer/developer. Think about it. If you were to hire someone to lead you and a team of people up a mountain would you want the best mountain climber or someone who has a reputation for being an excellent guide?

If they’re a great climber, that’s cool, but what I want is a good experience along the way. Educate me, help me avoid pitfalls, show me a better way to do something, and ultimately get me to the top of the mountain.

What does a good guide sound like?

Instead of saying:
“I have 10 years of experience working on healthcare websites for some of the biggest brands in the nation. I’ve built very difficult and complex systems. I’m am proficient in Javascript, C# and .Net.”

“I’ve had the opportunity to work with some great teams in the healthcare industry for over 10 years. Because I’m passionate about what I do I’ve helped lead many projects through uncharted territory and find creative solutions for some of the industry’s toughest obstacles. Here are some of the problems I’ve solved with Javascript, C# and .Net…”

See the difference?
The first paragraph is a narcissistic snoozefest. Congratulations. What do you want, keys to the city?

The second paragraph shows me that you care about what you do, enjoy working with a team, solve problems, and use technical skills to address real world problems.

In the end of the day, your client doesn’t want the best technical skillset. Your client wants to know that their project is in good hands with you.

One final thought

People can copy your price, your work, your tagline, and your tools, but they can’t copy your leadership, guidance, or passion.

Thanks for reading, I hope this will help guide your thought process as you engage with clients, bid on projects, and network with your peers.

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