Winning a new contract is a celebratory moment, but winning a second contract from a client is even better. Own that feeling of accomplishment: You’ve just discovered how to turn a one-off job into a long-term relationship with the potential for continuing work.
One of the biggest challenges for freelancers is unpredictable income. The more you can stabilize your income by establishing freelance work relationships, the more you can plan for your financial future and lessen some of the stress of indy life. But just because you’ve done one project doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get hired for the next. Here’s how to make the most of your client relationships to win repeat business.
Deliver Work Early
Yes, you should always be delivering work on time, but it’s even better to deliver work early. There’s value to delivering a project before it’s due — even if it’s just a day earlier. And that’s because your client simply isn’t expecting to receive your work before the deadline. Not only are you showing them that you’re diligent and punctual, but you’re also adding time to their project schedule that they didn’t think they’d have.
Jaclyn Law, a freelance writer and editor in Toronto, says: “Whenever possible, I submit projects a few days early. Clients appreciate the extra time on their end, and sometimes they’ll assign you another task because they know your schedule is open.”
And really, it’s not too difficult to work this way. Instead of setting your personal deadline for the agreed-upon time and date, set it in your calendar one day before that — or even a few days earlier, if you can manage. Then work backward from that deadline to figure out your progress benchmarks and how you’ll fit it into your schedule. Delivering work ahead of deadlines will make you stand out to your client, and you’ll be the first on their list the next time they need someone reliable to handle work on short notice (in my experience, this happens quite often!).
Anticipate Future Needs
Staying on top of client needs is important, but anticipating them ahead of time is even better. To do this successfully, you need to have a very strong idea of the purpose of the work you’re doing and how it fits into the bigger business picture for your client. Think: How can your particular skill set be useful to your client beyond the current project?
Maybe your client has hired you to write a series of blog posts to promote their thought leadership in the healthcare sector. In this case, you may want to leverage your skills and anticipate their future needs by offering to provide social media marketing support for the content you create.
Envision what the next step is in the growth of the company and be ready to step up to address a future need before they even ask — or think of it themselves. When you do this, your client knows you understand their company’s goals on a deeper level, and they’ll trust you to deliver the work they want. Building this kind of trust shows them that you know what you’re doing, and they’ll be ready to hand you more work.
Make It Personal — Sometimes
If you’re like me, you always hear people talking about not mixing their personal and professional life. Sure, it’s a good rule to follow, but it can be hard as a freelancer when you work from home — and your working and non-working hours blend together.
There’s something to be said for being your genuine self in your freelance work relationships, especially when you’re not seeing your clients face to face. Being professional doesn’t mean stripping out your own style and tone, and it doesn’t mean you can’t engage in small talk, like chatting about weekend plans or asking about family.
Jaclyn explains: “When communicating with clients, put some time and thought into it — don’t just dash off a message. Email can come across as terse, so I try to start with a cheerful greeting and end with a friendly sign-off, even if it’s just ‘Hi, Jane!’ and ‘Thanks!’ I also take cues from clients. If their tone is informal, I respond in kind, while still keeping it professional. Over time, that helps to build rapport and a positive relationship.”
Stay in Touch After the Work Is Done
One of the most important aspects of business development for freelancers, and one that’ll ensure you maintain the kind of connections with clients that lead to repeat business, is to simply stay in touch.
“Social media has made it a lot easier to stay in touch with clients between projects,” says Jaclyn. “If your clients are on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook, you have a window into what they’re up to and thinking about. By sharing resources and commenting, you stay on their radar. I also send newsy links and articles that I think clients will find interesting. And, when I go on vacation, I email clients to let them know my availability and offer to help them with projects before or afterwards — sometimes that leads to new assignments.”
Staying on a client’s radar will keep you top of mind the next time they have work. But make sure you know the difference between staying in touch and pestering. Be concise, relevant and valuable in your communications, and don’t reach out more often than you’d be comfortable with someone reaching out to you.
Finally, always do your best work, and constantly challenge yourself to do better. I’ve had contacts come back to me years later because they remembered my dedication and the quality of the final product. Take pride in your work and treat every assignment with importance. You never know just how much your positive efforts will end up paying off in the future.