Keep Your Word

Puzzle pices spelling out "Trust" in white letters on a gradient blue background
image courtesy of Gerd Altmann via

Whether you’re an independent contractor or hiring an independent contractor (or anyone else, for that matter), keeping your word matters.

Yes, we have contracts to make sure the specifics, scope, expectations, deadlines, and payments are detailed.

Your word still matters.

Don’t promise more than you can deliver

On the independent contractor front, that means understanding the scope of the project and the expectations, and making decisions on whether or not you can deliver. If there are red flags in the scope and expectation, bring that up before you sign the contract. Work out the details.

On the hiring front, make sure you are clear about what support and resources you KNOW you can deliver to your contractor, not what you HOPE to deliver.  Whether it’s contact information, office space, or graphics to support the project, make sure you have it in hand before you offer it. Make sure you know the project’s budget and payment schedule. Don’t agree to one set of terms, and then present the contractor with a written agreement that’s completely different.

Keep clear lines of communication open

We live in a transient world. Things change all the time. Sometimes it’s a change of hierarchy above the person hiring. Sometimes it’s illness or a natural disaster.

Whatever it is, if something has to change, communicate EARLY and OFTEN.

Discussing challenges, obstacles, and sudden changes is different than making excuses. It’s the difference between being active and passive. The more active you are in the relationship, the more likely it will be positive for both sides of it.

As soon as you know there’s going to be a problem, communicate. And communicate with possible solutions for whatever is going on. Then, listen to the other side of the communication, so you can come to a mutual beneficial agreement.

Support that verbal agreement in writing, updating whatever written agreement is already in place.

Complete your commitment and then make decisions about the work relationship moving forward

Unless it is impossible or dangerous, complete the commitment you made, even if the situation is challenging.

Once the project is complete and paid, then take a few days to decide whether or not this is a relationship that should continue. Don’t make a decision when you’re feeling exhausted or burned out. Give yourself time and grace to think it through, and work out if there were other possible options in the scenario.

Plenty of clients choose not to re-hire a freelancer. That works both ways. If the experience was more negative than positive, then disengage, and you can both move on to work with others who are better fits.

Completing the assignment before moving on shows that you take the commitment seriously.

Try Not to Overbook

We talk a lot about the feast or famine cycle in independent contracting. Sometimes, we’re so worried about a possible upcoming famine, or we know we have a big expense looming, that we overbook.

Try to keep a realistic schedule. There will always be times when we need to push through or push harder to finish something and meet a deadline. Sometimes, we have to do it when we don’t feel well or when we are burned out.

Sometimes we take on too much because we either misjudge how long something takes, weren’t given the correct information about it, or because there is more than one excellent opportunity, and we’re afraid of losing them.

We make our choices, and then we follow through on our decisions. That’s part of what makes people want to work with us again. Someone wildly creative who is unreliable causes pain, stress, and extra work to others on the project, and, eventually, people step away and stop working with them (in most situations; there are always exceptions).

If you overbook, do your best (and often more) to meet those commitments, and then take a rest, a step back, and look at ways to avoid painting yourself into that corner again.

Earn trust from others through your actions, and build trust with them when they reciprocate. Make note of whom you can’t trust, and see how you can avoid working with them in the future. If you can’t avoid it, see what mitigation fallbacks you can put into place.

Keep your word. Don’t give your word unless you plan to follow through. Learn to say “no” when something isn’t the right fit. Communicate clearly. Learn from what does and from what does not work. Meet others with kindness and grace while holding firm, realistic boundaries.

Basically, be the type of person with whom you want to work.