Getting repeat work as a freelancer
How to build and maintain relationships with regular clients
The things that make you a reliable freelancer will help you to get repeat work. You want to avoid having to pitch for every single job individually. There simply aren't enough hours in the day for this and you will quickly burn out.
The 80:20 rule
As a freelancer, you will probably find that the 80:20 rule applies. In other words, 80% of your business comes from 20% of your clients. You need to focus your efforts on ensuring that the all-important 20% of your client base is happy with your work, and look for areas where you can expand what you offer them. Long-term relationships are important in business, and especially so in freelancing where personal contacts are so much more important. Clients are not dealing with an anonymous sales department, they are dealing with you directly. It is a universal truth in business that it's more cost-effective to keep hold of a customer or client than it is to gain a new one. Look at your accounts and add up the value of your top two or three clients. Now try to imagine how you would fill the gap if you lost one or two of them. It's scary, isn't it? As losing your key clients isn't a possibility you'd like to entertain, focus your efforts on ensuring you keep them. You can work with a good client for years which will provide you with ongoing, steady work. Just bear in mind the following key points:
Organise your calendar of work
Find out about your clients' plans and attempt to provide a service that meets those plans. Many businesses work to a predictable calendar, when they are busy at a certain time of year and are committed to certain activities. Look at your past dealings with them to see if you can predict when there is a business opportunity for you, then get in early and pitch to them. For example, you might say: ‘Last year I supplied you with this service. It's getting near that time again, so I was wondering if I could help you out with it this year.' It is even better if you can confirm a future booking for work at the conclusion of a successful job. Why not suggest that you put something in the diary to ensure that you are available for their project in the future? Nearer the time you can confirm the booking and start to get into more detail about what is required this year. As somebody coming to a project with past experience of what went on, you can suggest ways in which things could be slicker this year. There is always room for improvement, and by being proactive and constructive, you are adding value to your relationship with the client. If the job has been concluded well, then use this as an opportunity to get more work. Sometimes simply asking if there is anything else you can do for the company can lead to another job. The client may have something that they are looking to outsource and your prompting, combined with their contentment with your recent work, may provide them with a custom-made solution.
Keep in touch
Make sure that you keep in contact with customers in some way. They may continue to use your services when they move to new workplaces, so make sure that you stay in touch with them. There's nothing worse than calling up a client organisation to find out that your main point of contact has moved on, and the old organisation won't tell you where. You then have to start from scratch in building a relationship with the company and proving your value to them. A round robin email may do the trick, or for more valuable clients you might want to take a more personal approach, such as meeting up for a coffee or a drink if you are near their offices. Give them some notice and use the meeting as a chance to update them on what you've been doing and any new skills you have acquired, as well as finding out what they have been up to. Sharing industry gossip can be a good way of demonstrating how plugged into their sector you are. A big part of keeping work coming in is attending to personal relationships. There is a phrase ‘people buy people', which you often hear in relation to service businesses. In other words, it means that we like to work with people who we like and who provide us with a good service. Don't underestimate the importance of that personal link. It doesn't have to mean being obsequious or toadying, but can simply be about being polite and professional. Showing an interest in somebody as a person away from the workplace can also be a way of deepening a personal relationship. Do you have shared interests that you can talk about, for example? Dropping somebody a birthday or Christmas card, or enquiring how their kids are doing, are simple ways of helping to forge a link on a personal level.
Keep it cordial
We spend a huge amount of our lives working, and as freelancers it can sometimes be lonely. There is nothing wrong with making friends with a client, and it certainly won't harm your chances of continuing to work for them. However, remember where the line lies between friendship and business, and never expect to be given work simply because of a friendship. This sort of approach cannot be forced. There are times when you will work for people that you don't like very much. At such times, you should act in a professional manner and deliver what the client requires. Don't let your personality get in the way of the business relationship. Keep your feelings to yourself, your head down and deliver the job to the best of your ability.
Don't burn your bridges with companies. After a particularly tough job you may be tempted to tell a business or its people that you never want to work with them again. It's better to take a deep breath, count to 10 and submit your invoice. Companies and personnel change, so don't storm out: a year down the line, the organisation could be completely different.
Formalise the relationship
If you find that you are getting a regular supply of work from one client, look to see if there is some way that you can formalise the relationship. For example, you could suggest that rather than having an ad hoc relationship you dedicate a set amount of time per week or month to a particular client. Present this as a reasoned business case, emphasising how this approach will help both of you to make better use of your scarce time and resources. It may even save the client some money if they know that you are on their clock.
Team up with other freelancers
Networks have always been important, and are becoming increasingly so with the growing importance of social media and online linkages. Partnering with other professionals in your field is a way to gain access to jobs that might be too big for you to handle on your own. A virtual team can come together to undertake bigger projects or more complex tasks where you lack certain skills. Make contact with groups of freelancers and find out if this is something that they do. Look out for freelance Meetup or Jelly groups in your area. Find out about their areas of expertise and let them know about the areas you work in. Being in touch with a network is also a good way of getting referral work. Groups may receive requests from clients looking for particular skills, and are in a position to pass on leads to you. Similarly, as part of the group, you can pass on information about jobs that you are not in a position to take up yourself. The important thing to remember about freelancing is that you always need to be on the lookout for the next job. Loyalty can be non-existent for freelancers, and usually there is nothing to stop clients from cutting you loose at the end of a job. Never get complacent just because you are busy at the moment, and never stop pitching. Going Freelance, published by Crimson publishing, is available on Amazon now.