Freelancers (like you) are increasingly becoming an integral part of the modern business environment.
Technology and collaboration tools allow people to work from anywhere and communicate with anyone, at any time, all over the world. And online platforms like Creativepool offer freelancers and organizations a convenient way to connect. As a result, freelancers and their specialized skills now represent an important and flexible asset for many businesses as they seek to maximize agility and the ability to scale their resources to match demand.
Freelance boom means increased competition
The freelance industry is currently undergoing a boom. According to recent studies, one-third of American workers are doing some kind of freelance work today. That level of competition poses an obvious question: What can I do to avoid becoming a commodity and instead become a valued partner to my clients’ organizations?
Setting yourself up to become a valued and integral partner has a number of distinct advantages:
- You don’t have to earn your client’s trust from scratch every time you land a new assignment with them.
- Existing clients are easier to sell to, allowing you to spend more time doing paid work rather than prospecting for new business.
- Existing clients are less likely to haggle over price because you’ve already proven your value to them.
- Repeat customers can be an important advocate and referral source for your business.
So far, so obvious. But how exactly do you take your client relationships to the next level? The following three rules include simple and actionable steps that will help you establish profitable long-term relationships with your prospective clients.
1. Don’t expect to depend on their future business, if they can’t depend on you
Do what you say you will do, deliver on time, be reachable and keep up the communication with your client throughout the life of a project. It’s that simple – no rocket science here. Being dependable shows your new client that you are a professional who can be trusted. Trust is the bedrock on which any meaningful client relationship is based.
2. Remember what mom and dad taught you
As mentioned above, the freelance industry is currently undergoing a boom. That means there is likely a large number of unprofessional newbies out there lacking the required skills, dedication or commitment to make a positive impression on many a prospective client.
Yet, therein lies the opportunity for a truly professional freelancer like you to differentiate yourself from the pack. It may just be that the “let’s-just-wing-it-and-see-what-happens” types have done their part in lowering your next prospect’s expectations so much that a little professionalism on your part will go along way in getting you the initial nod and, assuming you deliver quality work, any repeat business. Those life lessons you learned growing up about being a better person? They apply to being a better freelance partner too.
- Be reliable: Don’t be late for meetings - ever (virtual or otherwise), be responsive and reachable at agreed-upon times.
- Be courteous and respectful: Treat your prospective clients like you would want to be treated and avoid acting like you know everything (you don’t) and taking over the conversation. Instead, listen to the client to learn about their business, their target customers, their pain points and the requirements of the project at hand.
- Do your homework: Doing some up-front research about your prospect’s business and industry will make for a much more fruitful initial conversation.
- Be prepared: Having a professional website and an up-to-date portfolio of your past work will go a long way to reduce a prospect’s fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) about your qualifications.
- Don’t talk with your mouth full: Kidding, but when you do talk, make sure to avoid using jargon. Use clear language to describe your services and how they would help your prospective client achieve his/her business objectives.
3. Communicate, communicate, communicate
As a freelancer, communication between you and your clients is the backbone of your business. Developing a rapport with your clients early is critical to laying the groundwork on which to grow a relationship that is based on mutual respect and trust.
- Set expectations: Start by proactively setting expectations so that you and your client know what kind of working relationship can be expected. This means agreeing on how often you will meet, how you will collaborate, protocols for feedback and status updates, and over what mediums communication will take place (e.g., email, Skype, Slack, Hightail, etc.)
- Collaborate early: Effective communication also means listening to your client to gain a deep understanding of his/her business goals, customer needs, and project objectives. Drafting a Creative Brief or a Marketing Brief together will address many fundamental project-related questions, such as overall goals and objectives, brand positioning, target market characteristics, performance metrics, etc.
- Determine the right cadence: Is it possible to over-communicate? Sure. As a rule of thumb, if you can Google it, don’t ask the client. That said, under-communication is probably always worse than over-communication. Communicate to your client that you are more than willing to cut down or ramp up if they are unhappy with the volume of messages and updates.
- Be honest and transparent: You know your strengths and weaknesses. Be upfront with your prospective client about your area of expertise and when their requests fall outside of your wheelhouse. You’ve worked hard to gain the specialized skills that make you an expert in your field. Don’t undermine your credibility by selling services you’re not qualified for. Your client will appreciate your candor and your relationship will likely gain from it.
- Be strategic with your pricing: Again, you’ve worked hard to gain the specialized skills that make you an expert in your field. You’re not just selling your time, but your expertise, quality output, and professionalism. Pricing your services at the top end of other freelancers in your field will help attract the right kind of client and weed out the bottom feeders for whom price is the primary decision-making driver. Premium pricing signals to potential clients that you are confident in your abilities and in the quality of your work.
By Arne Michalski, OpenText