The Importance of Keeping Your Word

In my previous life, I was a software development freelancer. I began taking projects at RentACoder.com in my 4th year of college, and was freelancing on an off for quite a while since then.

My beginnings were more than humble – I remember taking $10 gigs and willing to work a couple of weeks for $70. However, I was quickly accumulating positive ratings from my clients. Towards the end of my freelancing career, I was routinely charging 3-4x the hourly rate of my competition, making freelancing my primary source of income.

How was it possible? On the one hand, I always remembered Dan Kennedy’s advice that you should not be afraid of raising your prices. But on the other, what I think contributed most to my freelancing success was following these two basic rules:

  1. If you say you’ll do something by a certain date, do it.
  2. If you see that you are not making it on time, let the client know ASAP.

These rules look really simple but I have found out that being religious about keeping your word sets you apart from 95% of your competition almost immediately.

One of the reasons is undoubtedly the nature of remote work itself. When you and your client are located in different parts of the world, it’s only natural that the communication is scarcer than if you were working in the same office. When means of tracking your progress are limited, every promise you make gets double scrutiny from the client. Keeping your word thus helps alleviate client anxiety and builds trust.

And you know what? Clients are willing to pay extra for that.

But keeping your word is important not only in freelancing. In fact, when I moved to the business world, I quickly found out that keeping your promises is the very first test you are subjected to in a new business relationship. Break your word – even in a small thing, like calling back by a certain date – and the business partner’s trust diminishes dramatically. This is especially true in early stages of a business relationship.

Of course, this is life and we cannot keep our word 100% of the time. The key here is to let the other person know as early as possible. If you see that a certain chunk of work is taking you longer than expected and you are not going deliver by the agreed upon date, let the client know right away! The longer you delay, the worse off you will be.

One important note here is what exactly to consider a promise. My wife half-jokingly says that it’s not a promise unless you explicitly say: “I promise that…” Well, I don’t agree! Everything you say or even imply about your future actions or expected outcomes is a promise to the other person. So what we are really talking about here is managing the other person’s expectations and making sure they don’t deviate too much from reality.

Keeping my word has served me well and I hope it will for you, too.

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