While the temptation to oversell your freelance abilities to inspire confidence might be tempting, it won’t help you build trust with your clients. One of the worst ways you can damage all the clever work you build up after you’ve sold yourself to clients is to fail to meet expectations.

Building a business does not begin and end with the deposit or the approval. That is the beginning.

However, many freelancers are in such a panic to get work and seem sales-worthy, they forget the bread and butter lies in the project itself. When we break our client’s faith in us, they become harder to manage. We may not set out to have this issue, but it can happen.

Here’s how to avoid overselling your freelance abilities and damaging your client’s perception of you (and the project you deliver) in the process

 Be humble instead of flashy

cards reading buy and sell

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Don’t claim to be better than sliced bread- a guru, a genie, a whizz- unless you’re 100% certain you fit the bill. These claims often sound corny and cheesy.

Here’s the kicker – You don’t have to oversell your freelance abilities – you need to state them as they are! Because there are real reasons why your clients love you. Accepting them is part vulnerability and part self-esteem.

Try a little humility and realism. We all add value somehow. It’s defining that value well that leads to success.

There are amazing things about you that your clients will love, I promise.

Try asking yourself the following questions:

  • How do your clients describe you? What can you borrow from their praise to market what you do?
  • Where on the scale of ability, reliability, attitude and adaptability do you sit?
  • What excites you when you work on it?
  • What sorts of benefits do your clients receive from engaging you?

Instead of choosing flashy terms and big jazz hands, reflect on your abilities, personality, point of difference and reliability instead. Ground it in reality and build trust. Give yourself the credit where credit is due. And watch your clients follow suit.

Manage your work pipeline properly

Another place it is common to oversell your freelance abilities is with time estimation. Whether you like it or not, delivering on time and to specification is 80% of the freelance jam. Nothing kills a client’s trust more than delay after delay. That’s why it’s important to manage the number of projects you do effectively.

Only ever book your hours to a maximum 80% capacity. Include even more space in your calendar if you have potential major impacts like disability, children or existing clients who are high touch that are likely to derail your progress.

Don’t rely on working nights and weekends as a long-term strategy to get you through. This is fine when the pressure is on. But if you run your business as one where you cannot take a break or you are always under obligation, you will burn out. No amount of passion or drive can save you.

And finally, stay true to your own deadlines and don’t accept unreasonable ones. Clients can and do put pressure on us to complete freelance work with the best-case scenario as their guide. But we all know that clients can run late, life can happen and feedback on drafts is rarely early.

It’s always better to err on the side of caution with a timeline and surprise a client with early work than it is to set unrealistic timeframes and play catch up all the way along.

How you can manage your working pipeline effectively is to:

  • Have a proper onboarding process your clients need to follow. E.g., Let them know when the work will begin in relation to when the deposit clears
  • Ensure you have sufficient space in your timeline for work to run late
  • Give yourself enough time to do the work in the first place. Use a time tracker such as the one in Rounded or in dedicated project software to help you understand how long each project takes to complete
  • If the client runs late, extend the timeline. You don’t have to accept all the consequences for delays!


Banish people-pleaser within 

You are in the business of customer service. But who says you always have to give a customer exactly what they want to hear 100% to deliver it?

Honesty is a much better policy when it comes to dealing with your clients. Trying to manage away their natural reactions to pretend you are perfect is the stuff that freelancers should be dealing with in therapy. Not foisting it on unsuspecting clients through our project management style.

Getting it wrong on occasion and delivering unwelcome news is part of freelancing. If you think you will have a perfect record and spotless delivery system 100% of the time, you are kidding yourself. And you set yourself an unrealistic delivery goal you’ll plan in such a way that you’ll oversell your freelance abilities as a result.

Be prepared to communicate the good, bad and ugly with your client. It’s the not knowing that really burns relationships. Having to chase you, having a niggling feeling things are off track, not knowing until the last minute of issues and so on. Clients are better able to ride out disruptions alongside you if they’re not left behind or in the dark. Especially if it means changes their end.

Also, view overcoming objections as a trust-building exercise.

Overcoming objections helps cement relationships and shows you’re willing to face tough situations for your client. It also means you are advocating for the success of the project.

Don’t make the decision about what they can and can’t handle without letting them surprise you. Don’t be so chicken about negative reactions, you fail to give your client the respect they deserve.

Recognise your limitations

Experimenting and learning by doing when you are working on your freelance marketing is one thing. Using a client project to upskill is another thing entirely.

Don’t be so hesitant to say no to work you aren’t suited to.

Instead, look at the ways you can help that client find what they need:

  • Investigate the alternative approaches for the project that might lead to the same result your client seeks that you can supply with confidence
  • Build a network of complimentary freelancers you can refer work to and offer to introduce them to this network
  • Explain that the project is outside your core of expertise and offer to do it at a reduced rate and/or with risk reduction strategies in place
  • Send them to places like the Freelance Jungle Directory

And be honest and let them know. It’s only our ego that tells us we are the only option a client has.

Don’t oversell your freelance abilities in areas where you lack skill and experience. That will damage their perception of your work overall.

Avoid boil-in-the-bag sales strategies

There is no denying that someone teaching you their perfect freelance formula can help. And you can get top marks for parroting their approach and learning how they do things.

But if the approach seems a little more someone else’s style and then you show up, it can be really disappointing and painful for our clients.

Marketing is a lot like a dating profile. The minute the client turns up and matches your claims that you love accounting to pieces, and you let it slip you can’t stand Excel, their spidey senses will tingle.

It’s always better to be yourself. Because that is something another freelancer can’t beat you at. You can’t oversell your freelance abilities if you are basing the sale on what you can do.

Instead, learn the boil-in-the-bag strategies to:

  • Understand how they are motivating your kind of client
  • Deconstruct the bones of them and apply what works for you
  • Know what looks repetitive and boring in your chosen field – and be the far more exciting alternative

The final word on overselling your freelance abilities

The gap between how your client perceives you and who you are and what you deliver has to be small. Otherwise, their faith in you will fall right through the crack. Make sure WYSWYG. And consider honesty as a strategy for reducing the cost of new client acquisition.

Never forget that it costs time, energy and trust to win over a client. If you do an impressive job, they may have more work, more referrals and more ideas to share.

If you crap out trying to be more than you can be, both you and the client will feel cheated and resentful.

Respect yourself enough to respect your clients. And enjoy the difference.


Want more information on marketing for freelancers? Check out the marketing section on our blog!

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