Obvious Freelance Lesson: Honesty Is the Best Policy

I’ve been freelance writing and editing since 2006, and it’s gone pretty well. I’ve had lots of happy clients, one unhappy one, and a reasonably steady income from an ever-evolving roster of publications. I’m pretty good at the whole freelancing thing.

But every so often, I need to have a basic lesson pounded into my brain for the second, or third, or hundredth time. Last week, it was a life lesson as well as a freelance lesson: honesty is the best policy.

I have a client that I’m writing blog posts for. The topic is new to me, and the client is new to hiring people to write blog posts. We figured we’d work it out as we went along. There was a lengthy onboarding process, and then we set out a schedule for me to turn in the posts.

Unclear Expectations All Around

My default writing style and assumptions for the project were a hair off from what the client wanted. So I took their feedback and tried again. And again. This was not the only thing on either of our plates. Getting that first post right took weeks of back and forth via email and phone. I had other book projects due during that time, and I attended a conference for a week. When I took the gig, I thought we’d have the kinks worked out by that point and I’d be able to squeeze in writing the posts on cross-country flights. Not so.

I had the latest round of suggestions and changes from my client sitting in my inbox on my last cross-country flight. I had a weeks-long vacation looming. I had other deadlines. I started to think of excuses (fine, they were straight-up lies), like, “Sorry, your emails keep ending up in my trash folder.” Or the more modern, “Your messages got sorted into Promotions.”

The client didn’t deserve lies. They were being very nice. They just didn’t know how to articulate what they wanted their blog posts to convey, and I wasn’t asking the right questions to get us to perfect. So I told the truth. I made the latest revisions they requested and sent a note saying the blog post project had clashed with some previously scheduled deadlines and travel, and I had a vacation coming up.

To Tell the Truth…

The world did not end. A pit did not open up under my backyard office and swallow me and my dog. I did not have to pack up my freelance business, put on a suit, and head to a cubicle somewhere.

My contact said they had a vacation coming up too. They said to invoice them for the first blog post. They said we’d get back at it with more clarity and direction for next three posts when we’d both returned to our offices next month.

The outcome was, in truth, ideal. I really do think the client and I will both have a better handle on what’s required to make these blog posts work after some time away.

So the lesson, fellow freelancers, is that sometimes being the professional that you are means being honest — but polite — about what isn’t working.