Freelance work is built on client relationships. While it is true that your work should stand on its own, it does not matter how good you are in your field if you cannot find clients. The key to maintaining a successful freelance business is to develop lasting relationships with your clients. Maintaining existing clients is much easier – and far less intensive – than seeking new ones. Developing the right customer retention strategy is crucial to businesses of all sizes, including yours. Repeat customers, or anchor clients, can be important in making your business stable and successful. To do that, you and your business partners need both the right tools and the knowledge to make it happen.
Why are strong client relationships important?
Small businesses that take the time to curate long-term relationships with their clients are more likely to have repeat clients. Think about your favorite brands, coffeeshops, or go-to products. You are more likely to visit your favorite coffee shop in the morning if you had a positive interaction with the baristas there. Building positive relationships is also an effective way to build referrals. Happy clients love to talk to their friends, family, and other businesses about their experiences. Use these 11 tips to establish client loyalty and build your client base.
1 – Be Professional
Even though freelancing does not typically require a 9-5 schedule with an in-person office position, it does not mean you should not still treat it as a job. It means keeping your emotions in check when dealing with difficult clients or unreasonable demands. Know when to be humble, have a positive attitude and when to be understanding. A little empathy goes a long way; it can also affect your reputation long-term. Even if you choose not to work with a challenging client again, they may still refer you to others if you leave things on pleasant terms.
This also goes for any associated social media presence you curate. If your name or likeness is tied to your business, then make certain your accounts and content reflect how you’d like your clients to see you.
2 – Your Website/Portfolio is Your First Impression
As a freelancer, you are your brand. To sell your brand to your clients, you must sell yourself as well. Make sure that first impression speaks for you properly. A well-maintained, well-organized website or portfolio, combined with a professional web presence that reflects the work you do and the clients you’d like to book, speaks for you more than you might think. Make sure your first impression is a strong one. It may be building the relationship foundation before you’ve even spoken with the client. Bloom offers built-in portfolio-building tools to help you cultivate your web presence.
3 – Utilize Basic Marketing Strategy
Most freelancers don’t have the resources to invest in outside marketing campaigns. You are responsible for your own promotion and marketing as you start your business. That means you need to understand how to implement marketing campaigns, generate leads, and gain referrals. Most importantly, you need to understand your client base and how to appeal directly to them.
Utilizing social media – Twitter or Instagram for example – to promote yourself and your work effectively can generate leads just as successfully as email marketing campaigns or targeted ads on multiple platforms. You should understand the basic concept of a sales funnel and how to generate sales from within it.
4 – Engage in Active Communication
Communication builds lasting working relationships. This is just as important in your professional life as it is in your personal one. In your business, this includes being transparent about contract specifics, the scope of work, and the fees for your work. Engage in active listening when discussing projects with potential clients. Ask them about their needs upfront and open the line of communication for them to talk to you as well. Be honest with your clients, even if that means saying “no” when necessary. Ask questions and don’t make assumptions about the work; it will save you time.
Be attentive to each client type and communicate according to your relationship with the client. Everyone has different communications styles just as each product will have different specifications that need to be communicated clearly. This develops trust while also clarifying expectations for each party involved.
5 – Follow Up with Clients
Once the job is finished, it may be tempting to drop contact with your client. The inherent danger in doing that falls under the adage “out of sight, out of mind.” Make yourself memorable by sending that follow-up email to see how the final project worked out and allow client feedback. Don’t be afraid to send multiple emails over a few weeks if you don’t get a reply. You can use Bloom’s templates to create and schedule emails to your clients in advance, making this process much easier.
Client relationships don’t always require grand gestures. These can be as simple as remembering details about your client from birthdays to product launches. It can be referring your client to further resources that can help them meet their goals. Applied consistently and genuinely, these small actions make a difference in how your loyal clients see you.
6 – Offer Incentives and Reward Repeat Customers
Never underestimate the power of offering a discount. Customers enjoy being rewarded for loyalty. They are most likely to return if they feel as if their time and their projects are being valued. You may want to consider one (or all) of the following:
- A discount for repeat orders or projects
- A discount for bulk orders
- A referral system that rewards clients for referring new clients who book with you, offering a
discount to both the new client and the existing one
Providing extra bonuses outside the original scope of the project (even small additions) incentivizes clients to return.
7 – Meet Your Deadlines
Set deadlines early – preferably in your contracts – and stick to them without fail. Never submit work late. It can damage your reputation and lead to fewer prospects in the future. If you constantly struggle with your deadlines, you will want to re-evaluate your time management strategies. Bloom offers many tools to help with this problem, including calendar and scheduling capabilities, streamlining workflow, and developing task lists. If you find that you are unable to make a deadline, reach out to your client as soon as possible to explain the issue. Be honest when asking for an extension and re-establish the individual client’s trust.
Learn how to stay organized as an independent business owner.
8 – Be Flexible
Your business is unique and what works for others may not work for you. Focus on the strategies that are more effective for your business goals. Be prepared to pivot when things do not work or become less effective. Your business successes rely on being adaptable to your market’s needs. Build business relationships with fellow freelancers so that you can refer each other for when clients are in need of other services beyond your own. This will build strong relationships with clients knowing you are an expert in your industry. Not only will the connections with other freelancers come in handy, they will enhance your leadership skills by being a source of knowledge.
9 – Exceed Expectations
Satisfied customers are return customers. While it may be easy to provide an adequate job that meets the client’s specifications. To be memorable, you should go above and beyond those specifications whenever possible. Always deliver your best work. Never cut corners. Be present and communicate regularly with your client. Be prepared to make revisions or changes readily (and without arguing) if the client requires them. These are all small things that lead to a good experience for those that hire you. This alone will put you above many other freelancers in your business.
10 – Focus on Your Niche
As we’ve stated, you are your brand. Establishing yourself as particularly skilled in a certain aspect of your craft does much of the heavy lifting to build your brand. By making yourself the go-to person for certain types of projects, you increase the value of your work while making you more memorable (and thus more bookable) to future clients. This can also lead to more referrals, as someone may immediately think of you when they think of your niche.
Granted, this does not mean you should only accept work that falls under that category. Branch out as much as possible but be aware of how your clients may perceive you.
11- Use Project Delivery Tools
Organizing project delivery is key to making a positive impression on clients. Use tools that help you deliver your work in a professional manner from start to end. These tools can automate your business process with project proposals, communications, notes, calendar scheduling, contracts, booking, and invoices. If your freelance business is in legal services, or contains legal advice it is important to choose a project delivery tool that has secure file transfers and authentication processes in place. To learn more about tools that have secure delivery click here. Choosing a tool that fits your business needs will allow you to automate admin work and keep you doing what you love.
While every business is different, these tips will help you build and maintain long lasting client relationships. Remember that getting to know and understand your clients is a give and take. Keep your line of communication open with you and your clients by asking for feedback. If you think we’ve left a client relationship tip out, leave a comment or visit one of our social media pages to let us know. In the meantime, sign up for a free trial of Bloom and experience it for yourself.