When you’re just launching your freelance business, it might seem silly to vet potential clients. After all, when you’re starting out, isn’t every gig is a good gig?
Not even close. Being able to identify a good client versus one that will hassle, discourage or even take advantage of you could make the difference between whether your business flies or flops. And the earlier you master the skill of managing client relationships, the easier it will be to scale up when it’s time to turn your passion into a full-time profession.
Here are several ways to spot a great customer.
They’re Your Biggest Fan
Having a client excited about your work might seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at the number of freelancers who serve under-enthused customers.
Halfhearted buyers are the ones whose feedback is “meh,” whose phone conversations bring you down and whose ongoing need for you seems reluctant—at best. Thankfully, these clients can usually be maintained while you focus on building a strong roster of fanatic clients, which are the cornerstone of confident freelancing.
Great clients recognize it’s their responsibility to be reachable for clarifying questions, status updates and project feedback. To build a business you enjoy, you must know your clients are eager to give you the tools and information you need to create your best work.
They Know What They Want
Try to snag clients who know exactly what they’re going for, and are willing to accept your suggestions on the first few drafts. Avoid clients that are so specific they’ve already done the work in their minds. On the other end of the spectrum, avoid clients who have no idea what they want but don’t seem pleased by any proposal you pitch. Both extremes indicate a buyer that will make managing client relationships less of an administrative task and more like a therapy session.
They Recognize Your Value
You’ve invested so much time, money and energy into building your business, and there’s nothing more disheartening than a client that complains about the costs of hiring you. Do them a favor: Cut ties early and move on.
They’re Happy Paying a Retainer Fee
Signing contracts seems like no big deal these days. Customers and creatives enter agreements like it’s nothing. But putting cash on the table up front indicates a client is serious about keeping you. Without a word, retainer fees communicate mutual respect and commitment—something a verbal agreement simply cannot convey.
They Respect Your Business Hours
As a new soloprenuer, it may not feel like an overextension to answer the phone after hours, but when your roster is full of customers phoning on weekends, you’ll wonder what went amiss. Good clients have the manners not to call after working hours or, at the very least, they acknowledge your (tasteful) request to cut it out.
They Hook You Up With Referrals
Every business owner has a network of potential customers. Does your client send referrals your way? Does he brag to others that his designer or photographer is the best in the industry? Does he keep a stack of your business cards as well as his own? These gestures aren’t required, of course, but they sure do make your professional relationship a lot more exciting.
Remember: You’re launching your own business to create killer work, not to spend your days managing client relationships. Post these tips on your corkboard as a reminder to fill your list with the kinds of customers that make it fun to clock in each day. You’ll be glad you did.