What can a couple of dopey electricians lacking good customer service skills teach you about being a more successful creative freelancer? A lot, actually.

Like many freelance professionals, I sometimes feel self-conscious when meeting with prospective clients for the first time. I recently got to see what the sales process looks like from the other side of the table, and it was quite illuminating.

After my wife and I bought a hot tub requiring a special electrical box, I was tasked with hiring an electrician. I did my research and asked three different vendors for quotes.

The first candidate I interviewed came recommended by the company that sold us the hot tub. I’ll call him “Adam Attitude.” Adam showed up and immediately started criticizing some of the choices our homebuilder had made. “I never do it that way,” he said.

The rest of Adam’s visit went much the same way. He acted as if he was reluctantly doing me a big favor just by thinking about letting me pay him. He complained about how much time the job would take. He complained about how unusual the job was. He complained, and complained, and complained.

When I called Adam later in the week to get the follow-up answer he had promised to provide by the day before, he blamed the supplier (“they didn’t get back to me”) and the job he was currently working on (which he also groused about) for the delay. I was able to quickly rule out Adam based on the sheer volume of negative comments, but even one complaint would have given me pause.

Our second option was “Speedy Sparky,” who a friend recommended. He had several potential clients to see that day. After changing our appointment time for his convenience, he showed up 30 minutes early. Sparky was unclear about what he would — and wouldn’t — do for us and rushed through the interview so fast that afterward I wasn’t sure he’d been there at all. He was clearly trying to drum up as much business as possible, as quickly as possible.

The third person — let’s call him “Peter Professional” — was recommended by a neighbor. Peter didn’t offer the cheapest quote, but he practically had the job before he told us what he’d charge. Here’s why:

Peter had a relaxed attitude of confidence and expertise, but not arrogance. He took his time and asked smart questions, actively listening to make sure he knew precisely what we wanted. Unlike Adam and Sparky, he didn’t talk in vague terms. He spoke in detail about wire types and amp connections, but was careful not to use any confusing insider jargon. And he told me exactly what the materials were going to cost, even offering to provide a receipt. Simply put, he knew how to sell himself. His quote arrived in my inbox just a few hours after our meeting with the message: “I hope to earn your business.”

He did.

Each of these three people had the same advantage — a referral from a trusted source — and offered the same service for about the same price. But it was immediately clear that Peter would provide the best value, and his good customer service skills made all the difference.

This experience reminded me that clients have anxieties of their own, most notably whether they’re choosing the right creative freelancer for the job and getting a good return on their investment. With that in mind, I think every freelancer can benefit by cultivating the same approaches that helped Peter win the job:

  • Go in with a professional attitude.
  • Treat your prospects with great respect.
  • Be transparent about your processes and costs.
  • Listen more than you talk.
  • Be positive. Never badmouth a current or former client.
  • Consider your prospects’ business a privilege to be earned.
  • Follow up promptly and directly ask for the business.

I knew I had made the right decision by hiring Peter, but he kept proving it to me even after he won the job. When the hot tub was delivered, Peter actually helped the installers move it. They asked for his business card.

Tom N. Tumbusch writes copy that creates action for creative professionals and green businesses.