Positive communication is key to a healthy relationship between freelancers and their clients.
Not only does this eliminate the potential for misunderstandings, but it also helps to develop a lasting relationship with great rapport and plenty of ongoing work.
[A]synchronous communication could be an excellent solution for your freelance business.
But getting communication right can be challenging, and you might find that it differs from client to client, depending on their preferences.
Some clients are huge fans of jumping on calls, having regular face time with you, and might even want you to join their company Slack channel so you can keep in touch with their extended team.
If you find that this type of client contact eats into your day and reduces your productivity, then asynchronous communication could be an excellent solution for your freelance business.
What Is Asynchronous Communication?
Asynchronous communication refers to the back and forth messages or conversations between two or more remote parties.
People working asynchronously are not usually expected to respond immediately to an incoming message.
Instead, they can respond appropriately at a time that suits their schedule and workload.
Asynchronous communication is popular in distributed global teams but also serves the freelancer and client model well.
What Are Examples of Asynchronous Communication Tools?
The most obvious example of asynchronous messaging is email.
When you receive an email, you might sit on it for a couple of hours or even overnight before responding to it at a time that suits you.
Other asynchronous communication tools include:
- Google Docs – where freelancers and their clients can add comments to a shared file as a collaborative approach to producing excellent results.
- Social networking platforms – for example, Yammer.
- Collaborative workspaces – like Notion or Trello which are excellent for project management.
- Asynchronous video tools – like Loom where you can record your screen and audio to describe what you’re doing.
- Asynchronous audio notes – you can also send voice notes or record your calls using Stork to improve efficiency.
- Messaging services – Slack, Basecamp, or WhatsApp are often used as examples of synchronous communication. But, if you can establish a culture where immediate responses aren’t expected, perhaps by muting notifications, these can also be used out of sync
How Is Synchronous Different From Asynchronous Communication?
So, what is the difference between synchronous and asynchronous communication?
Essentially, they are opposite styles of interacting with your client, or anyone else you’re speaking to remotely.
In a real-time synchronous environment when using Zoom or Skype, your client might request you join a call, so they can ask you questions and hear your responses upfront.
Instant messaging tools are also part of synchronous communication.
For example, your client might expect you to sign into collaborative tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams and participate in active discussions throughout your working day.
The goal with synchronous communication is for the message’s sender to receive a response as soon as they reach out – just as they would in a face-to-face chat.
When you see “NAME is typing……..” you know that you’re about to receive a message and will be obliged to ping back a reply.
What Are the Main Benefits of Asynchronous Communication?
So far, asynchronous communication might not sound as though it’s particularly efficient.
Doesn’t it slow down any contact between client and freelancer?
The answer is that yes, it might slow the speed of response, but it won’t slow down the progress of your collaboration together.
In fact, the main advantages of asynchronous communication include:
1. Contact Across Time Zones
In a distributed environment, you might not always be in the same country, region, or time zone as the person you need to speak to. This makes synchronous communication challenging if one of you needs to jump on a Zoom call at 7 am when you’ve just woken up, and the other person is speaking at 7 pm when they’re ready to put the working day to bed.
2. Detailed Responses
The problem with synchronous communication is that you’re held in a reactive state.
Ever walked away from a meeting and wished that you’d phrased something differently or didn’t have the chance to take a deep dive into a topic you’d wanted to talk about?
Synchronous conversations can put you on the spot. If you prefer more time to consider your response to a situation rather than react, then you might consider switching to an asynchronous model. This will give you more time to pause and send across useful and actionable information.
3. Less Stress
If you’re juggling several projects with clients who all want to work synchronously, then it can feel as though you’re spinning plates.
Freelancers can feel rushed if they urgently need to get the words out and hit Send to prove that they’re present and collaborating with their clients. This situation can cause stress and anxiety, especially because most freelancers have multiple clients who all demand their attention.
4. Increased Productivity
Got a deadline coming up?
But instead of working on your imminent project, you need to sit on yet another Zoom meeting that eats into your day and stops you from being creative.
Synchronous communication will inevitably detract from your regular work. Recent research suggests that workers can waste up to 23 minutes every time they are interrupted from a task, resulting in lost productivity. So, if you feel like you’re spending too much time communicating with clients and not enough getting the job done, then it may be time to evaluate your working style.
By switching to an asynchronous model, you’ll gain back vast chunks of time that you can willingly hand straight over to your creative spirit. And guess what? Your client will benefit from your increased productivity.
Top tip: Asynchronous messages can be disruptive too if you let them! When you need to get into that deep work zone, close your email inbox and mute all messaging notifications, so you’re not distracted by any incoming messages.
Telling Your Clients You Want to Work Out of Sync
So, how can you communicate to your clients that you would like to work asynchronously with them? This will depend on whether you’re telling new or existing clients.
It should be easy to set asynchronous boundaries with new clients. You can:
- Set up an FAQs page on your website detailing all your processes, including your communication policy.
- You can also respond to initial client inquiries with a PDF lookbook or e-brochure that details the same type of information.
- If you offer a discovery call with a new client, then use this time to set expectations about future communications with them from the outset.
It might be harder to explain why you’re moving to an asynchronous model with existing clients who already have their preferred way of doing business. Remember that it’s important to sell the benefits of working out of sync to them. These might include:
- Allowing you more time to work creatively on the project they hired you to do
- Saving them money – you might need to put your rates up if you continue to spend so many working hours answering messages in real-time.
- Experiencing less hassle arranging meetings within each other’s calendars
Choosing the Right Moment
Choose your time wisely when approaching your client with your new plans.
Try to avoid reacting after a day of meetings and blurting out that it’s not working. Instead, perhaps wait until the renewal of a project or the beginning of the month to calmly discuss the changes you want to implement.
If you have retainer clients, then your communication preferences can be discussed at the renewal of your retainer contract.
Top tip: Why not try out asynchronous work on your client before you’ve even had the conversation? For example, you might send a detailed email to your client with project updates before a video conference call. If the result is that you have little left to discuss in the meeting, this shows your client that async can be highly effective.
In a worst-case scenario, your client may not be willing to accept your plans. At this point, you can make a judgment call about whether you should part ways. This can, of course, be scary but also puts you firmly back in control of your freelance lifestyle.
Top Tips for Nailing Asynchronous Communication
To make a great success out of working asynchronously, freelancers can really commit to the process by practicing overcommunication.
You don’t want anything to be ‘lost in translation’ between yourself and your clients, so provide as much detail and clarity as possible in all of your async messages.
Top tip: Remember your clients are likely to be put off by essays of chunky text, so make use of bullet points, numbers, and any visual aids to get your message across without being too wordy.
You can also try out some popular async tools, for example, Trello or Notion, so you know exactly how these will make life easier for your freelance business. Watch tutorials, load up some trial projects and see how these could work for you in practice.
Synchronous or Asynchronous?
So, now you’ve learned all about these two opposite communication styles, it’s time for you to choose what works best for your freelance business.
Note that synchronous communication isn’t necessarily bad for freelancers so long as it’s used in balance. There will be times when it might be more straightforward and personable to jump on that call, ask those questions, and enjoy that face-to-face interaction with your client.
It’s normal to have a synchronized face-to-face conversation with your client at the beginning of your freelance relationship, and perhaps even meet regularly at each milestone of your project. But working out of sync for the bulk of your work together could dramatically improve your overall productivity.
There’s no set route for a freelancer to take to build a positive and productive client relationship.
But take time to experiment with synchronous and asynchronous communication and choose what works best for you and your business.