The Case for Showing Freelance Clients Your Authentic Self

Web design and development are vast subjects. And it seems that those of us within the industry are simply expected to know every nook and cranny of it. There’s a narrative that sees us as all-knowing beings who can solve any web-related problem.

However, buying into this narrative means putting a massive amount of weight on our shoulders. Whatever the actual expectations of our clients, we can feel the need to project an image of having it all under control.

The truth is that we’re not superheroes, even if there is pressure to act the part. And, you know what? That’s okay! We don’t need to be perfect.

Yet, there can be a bit of a stigma attached to letting our clients see us as we really are – flaws and all. But today, I’m going to make the argument for dropping the façade and just being yourself. It might just be the best thing for your career, your client relationships and your mental health.

More Comfortable Professionalism

Now, I’m not suggesting that you start showing up to meetings (virtual or in-person) in tank tops and flip-flops. You still need to look presentable and act in a professional, courteous manner.

What I am saying is that there’s no need to have a perfect answer for every question. And you don’t have to pretend that you have every skill known to man. You don’t even need to have an endless amount of time to fit what a client is looking for. In fact, do the exact opposite. If there’s something you’re not sure of or doesn’t fit with who you are, say so.

This not only relieves you of some internal pressure, but it also breaks down a wall between you and your client. Instead of acting as if you have the keys to the online universe, you can have a real, honest discussion about client needs and the challenges involved in meeting them.

The result may be that you see each other as more authentically human. It builds a level of trust can be near-impossible to achieve when you’re playing a role, as opposed to just interacting as people.

The Potential for Better Projects

This newly-authentic you can also bring a new sense of freedom when it comes to the type of projects you take on. If there’s no pretense that you know it all and are willing to do anything, you can freely state if there’s something that doesn’t make sense for you.

To use my own experience as an example, I’ve been approached with projects that require skills that are outside of my specialty. Or sometimes they take a level of commitment that I can’t fit into my schedule. Once in a great while, I’ve even been faced with a project that might just be life-altering.

Early on in my career, I would often force myself into projects where I knew I wouldn’t be comfortable. Over time I’ve learned that the best policy is to be upfront with my concerns. If a project isn’t a good fit for me, I communicate it to the prospective client. If it requires that I get up to speed on a certain skill, I admit it. The result is that sometimes we move forward together, while other times we part ways.

You might wonder what advantage there might be in admitting your own shortcomings. Certainly, it’s possible that some clients aren’t going to be happy with your answers.

In my opinion, I figure that if a project has me in over my head in some capacity, eventually it will be brought into view. That may come in the form of a mistake, or it may be that we hit a proverbial brick wall in building out functionality. Either way, it’s likely that we’ll have to face reality at some point in the process.

Getting this out in the open right from the start is best for both parties. Clients understand my limitations, while I don’t feel the need to pretend.

When in Doubt, Just Be Yourself

Being more authentic with clients, especially when initially discussing a project with them, can be difficult. You want to put your best foot forward. Plus, there’s the fear of either scaring them away or showing yourself as unqualified for the gig.

But when you think about it, the reality is that not every project is going to work out. Wouldn’t it be better to realize this right away, rather than six months into doing the work?

Beyond the ability to filter out less-desirable opportunities, authenticity enables you to establish a better relationship with the clients who do sign on. When someone knows who you really are, they’re more likely to give that same level of honesty in return. This fosters a better working partnership, and increases the odds of a successful finished product.

The bottom line is that, no, you don’t have to be a superhero. Instead, being yourself – flaws and all – is more than enough.