As a freelancer, you are free to put your feet up and work, if that’s what gets your creative juices flowing. Yet it takes talent, business savvy, commitment and time to be a successful freelancer.
Freelancers are always in search of some work, so that they can earn something by rendering their services to people from the comforts of their home. Most of us read a lot about productivity, marketing, pricing, customer service, and these aspects of business are all important. But it’s also important to enjoy the work that you do.
Putting most of your focus on acquiring a decent clientele is vital if you want to establish and grow a freelance business.
You will always have questions about how to prioritize new and existing clients. Who to focus on? Where to invest your time and money? What strategies will pay off? Here are some things to consider as you come up with a strategy.
Several studies show that the cost of acquiring a new client is usually between four and six times more than maintaining an existing client. Finding new clients costs more, and keeping old ones is usually easier to do. Keep this in mind.
Ask Yourself These Questions
Being a freelancer is a great opportunity that allows you to shape and customize your ideal work style. Here is a look at some things you need to ask yourself before aiming for new clients to help make your work more enjoyable and profitable.
What is your business strategy?
Do you plan to live off many clients or just a few loyal ones? Look over your original plans and notes as you consider this.
Are your hands full?
Chasing potential clients when your hands are already full is not a good idea. Be careful not to get too many projects going; you should always have time to do the work you already have—properly.
How much can you afford?
Marketing can be expensive, and it eats into time that you could be spending on projects. Obviously, a business requires more than just working on projects, but can you afford to look for more clients if you have projects that you could work on instead?
How often do you expect customers to come back?
Knowing how often you can expect repeat business is crucial to staying afloat. There’s no set answer; you’ll just have to sit down and look at your books. If you offer products or services that clients purchase once or rarely—such as logos and websites—you’ll probably need to chase potential clients more often than most other freelancers. If you offer something that clients need occasionally—such as print media, website maintenance, certain types of photography, illustrations, etc.—then focus on those tasks rather than on chasing clients. List your clients and the type of product each buys, and then decide what you can expect.
Could you cross-sell to existing clients?
This could be a huge source of income. Do you realize that most clients need many different services from different providers? Your clients probably have other projects on the go that you could assist them with. The fewer parties they have to deal with, the better for all involved. And if your clients have had good experiences with your service, then there’s a good chance you can expand with more work from them.
Have you recently lost clients? If so, why?
Look at how many of your clients have come back and how many you’ve never heard from again. Follow up with existing clients to make sure they’re taken care of.
Do you communicate regularly with current clients?
Communication is vital. Make sure that existing clients know about all of your products and services. Remind them periodically that you’re around. When you launch something, they should be the first to know—and why not give them a great deal on it?
To sum up, do the best you can for current clients before chasing new ones. This will improve both your reputation and your bottom line. When current clients are being handled as they deserve, then you can think about getting new clients.
Check out “New vs. Existing Client: Who’s the important one?” if you’re interested in reading up on this further.
Ups and Downs of Being a Freelancer
Now look at some fact about freelancing which may affect your decision.
More and more people are getting into freelancing; the number gets higher every day, and the list of benefits is long:
- Set your own working hours,
- Be your own boss,
- Decide whom you’ll work for,
- Take breaks whenever you want,
- Work as hard as you like to make as much money as you like,
- Grow your business over time.
That’s not all. Plenty of other factors make freelancing lucrative, and new freelancers sense the attraction. But with time they’ll also learn about the drawbacks. Freelancing is extremely competitive and has its own set of challenges. There are no short cuts or mantras for success. Plenty has been written about how to become a successful freelancer. I’ve had a few years of experience in this field, and I’d like to share some tips with you.
Imagine this. Having chosen your own working hours, you decide to go out on a lunch date. As you’re doing that, though, prospective clients are out looking for someone who specializes in your field; they waited a while on your website, called your work phone but could not get through, and finally they moved on to sign a contract with your competitor, who was available at their desk.
When you are your own boss, you run the risk of taking it too easy, because no one is making demands of you. Say a prospective client visits your website and is impressed by your services and skills, but your website is unfinished. That client would likely move on to your competitors.
Surely you can see that there are drawbacks to the other items in the list above. Understand and be aware of the challenges that might beat you out of the competition if you are not on top of things.
Keep your eyes open
Every client wants to work with someone they can rely on, someone who is trustworthy and whose brand is reputable.
Everything you do professionally contributes to your image, and you’ll begin to carve out a niche that is associated with your personality. Whenever people think of you, they’ll get a picture in their minds, so make sure that your professional image is impeccable.
Below is a list of things that go a long way to polishing one’s professional image. Every detail counts.
Create Your Image
Don’t just be: show. You must be good at your work obviously; be an expert at designing, coding and developing content, too. Your skills and experience are sure to secure work from existing clients, but what can you do differently in order to get more clients on board?
It’s one thing to be good at your work. It’s another to make the right impression and convey the right message to potential clients.
Make a Blueprint
Put it all down on paper: your business proposal, your agenda for the first meeting with a client, your workflow (perhaps in a chart or graph), and your business policies.
The Business Proposal
It’s just a one-time investment in time and effort, but it’s sure to bring returns in your career.
Write up a business proposal, one that is generic enough to be used for a variety of projects and that includes your portfolio, work samples, testimonials and so on. Include pricing and, more importantly, break down the overall cost so that potential clients know exactly what they’ll get for what price.
Be prepared, and you’ll have an edge on the competition. This blueprint will answer most of the questions that clients ask. It won’t take long to update the pricing terms when they change or to make slight modifications here and there to suit individual projects. Not many professionals have a blueprint, but decisions become easier when the possibilities are addressed in advance.
First Meeting Agenda
Every time you meet with a new client, your end of the conversation mostly involves fact-finding questions about the client and their background.
When preparing to work on a new project for a new or existing client, a common set of questions typically comes into the conversation, right? Obviously. But both situations require attention to detail and time. Why not make a master questionnaire that you can adapt to most meetings? It will save time and inspire confidence in your clients; you’ll showcase your professionalism and preparedness.
Every so often we deal with clients who aren’t satisfied with what we regard as finished products. The result? Cat-and-mouse games: the client wants to make changes to the original idea, thereby stealing more time than you can afford.
How often have you worked with clients who bug you multiple times a day about the progress of their website?
Despite trying your best, do you hear a lot of criticism from clients who imply that you did not meet their expectations?
All of these situations waste a lot of time, and they don’t do your reputation any good. Here’s one solution: make another master document that shows the required stages of a project in a flowchart. Adjust it for each project, and email it to the client as soon as you receive their deposit. Being aware of what to expect (and when to expect it) will remove fears or anxieties from your client’s mind—and that will be good for your business.
Lay out business policies for your services. You’ll cast yourself in a positive light and make yourself stand out from the competition.
Don’t write business policies for the sake of it; sticking with them is critical. You’ll safeguard yourself from being taken for granted by clients, and you’ll convey to potential clients that you mean business and take yourself seriously.
Write policies for the following: payment (if, say, you require a deposit before beginning work), the number of revisions allowed for the quoted price; the penalty for delayed payment (what happens if one is delayed for 15 days, 30, 45, etc.?).
Having covered every aspect of your business in detail, you’ll command trust and respect from your clients.
Close the Sale
I’m sure you can recall a few meetings where things went exactly as you had planned—but then the clients didn’t get back in touch, and no contract was ever signed.
Any number of reasons could explain why a client chooses not to move forward with a project, so don’t waste time scratching your head and wondering what the reason could be.
Instead, close the sale right then and there. Don’t give the prospective client the opportunity to say “no.” The best salespeople stress this point. As soon as you get a hint that someone is into what you’re suggesting, assume the sale. Start talking about how you will approach the project, and lead the client toward signing the contract and deciding on pricing terms and deadlines.
Saying “Please let me know…” won’t help your cause; don’t be afraid to ask for a sale. If you don’t, prospective clients might get the impression that you’re not confident in your abilities.
“Beware the lollipop of mediocrity; lick it once and you’ll suck forever.” This quotation (credited to Brian Wilson) has motivated me day in and day out. I wonder whether any statement is more applicable to freelancing.
Consistency is the name of the game for any freelancer who has long-term objectives. You might have off days, when you just don’t feel good or when communication with clients becomes tense, but if you think these are valid excuses for poor-quality work, you’re wrong.
Business is business, and you are responsible for what you have committed to, no matter what. No client wants to listen to reasons for mishaps. Deliver work of consistent quality; you are a brand, and your clients will only become brand-loyal if they feel they know what to expect from you.
The competitive climate makes it even more important to be consistent; one bad assignment could throw you in a client’s bad books, and that could motivate them to drop you. You could also attract criticism from competitors. Mediocrity is a disease that becomes incurable without diligence, so why accept it from yourself even once?
Be Available at Reasonable Times
You may have come across freelancers who advertise that they are available “24/7/365,” but if you try to get hold of them, you’ll realize that it’s just a marketing gimmick. I wonder about the consequences of advertising that way; clients will quickly realize that you don’t keep your promises. If they can’t even get a hold of you during business hours, they’ll begin to mistrust you.
I agree that freelancers are privileged to manage themselves and choose their own working hours, but let’s face it, clients usually work during regular business hours, and they’re the ones who freelancers answer to and get paid by. So, be available during business hours. There are so many good reasons to do so. Potential clients are likely to reach out during these hours, and follow-ups for an ongoing project will probably be discussed then as well.
What You Need to Do:
- Set aside a time slot every day during which you’ll be available by phone. It could be just for a few hours. Communicate this to your clients.
- Make a point of actually being available during that block of time.
- Leave the 24/7 rule for email.
Reasonable accessibility will bring clients to you; they’ll appreciate that you are not just trying to win brownie points and instead are a professional with thorough, concrete policies.
Don’t Miss Deadlines
Freelancing demands that you sometimes work erratic hours, usually on multiple projects at the same time. Working on more than one project and working late to finish an overdue project are not good enough excuses for clients.
Clients rely on you to fulfill the promises in your contract, and one mishap could ruin your reputation and end the business relationship that you’ve worked so hard for.
If you have promised that a project proposal will be presented by the end of the day, make good. The project might not be as significant for you as it is for your client, but keep your word, however small the commitment.
Make up a schedule to organize your time, and only agree to as much work as you can handle. Keep a checklist handy for all the projects you’re working on, and list their deadlines.
Attention to Detail
A client invariably wants to work with someone who is an expert, a master of their art, someone who exudes confidence and is personable and reliable. These considerations often trump demographic and geographic boundaries. Clients go through a number of portfolios before closing in on a freelancer. Usually, a number of filters and screening stages lead up to the signing of a contract.
The most important difference between a successful and an unsuccessful freelancer is that the former pays adequate attention to every detail. It shows professionalism and expertise. Here are a few aspects of the business that should not be overlooked:
Communications: In every email you send, carefully consider your choice of words, signature, portfolio and contact details. Stay in regular contact, and answer the phone during scheduled hours.
Portfolio: Your portfolio should be professional and well thought out. A good one is like a promotional kit and includes samples of your masterpieces.
Being personable: Pay special attention to your speech and language, and work on them. Be confident while talking to prospective clients by phone. Don’t allow distractions while you’re on the phone.
Quality work: Don’t compromise on quality, even if you have to ask for a deadline extension. Offer clients more than just the work; offer excellent service as well.
Many other details might require your attention as well. Give them sufficient attention, and you could see an increase in your client base.
Educate the Client
Let’s look at a hypothetical conversation between a client and a freelancer.
The client says, “I want a high-end, flashy website, with a lot of images and video.” “Absolutely,” replies the designer. Then the client says, “I want you to know that we have a limited budget, and we need the website up in ten days. Do you think that will work out?” The designer replies, “That should not be a problem at all.”
What do you think is in store for the client and the designer over the next 10 days?
No prizes for guessing, but the designer is an amateur or has been out of work for some time. The client is a layman as far as web design goes; their expectations are unrealistic.
You’re an expert, though, so you feel for this client. In fact, you’ve come across many with similar requests. Your responsibility is not simply to agree to everything the client asks; you must also educate the client about the feasibility of the project.
Ask about the details of the project and the objectives of the client. Our hypothetical designer could have humbly conveyed to the client that the website might become overloaded with pictures and video, and that finishing such a website in such a short time is unrealistic. Also, budget is obviously an important factor in creating a flashy website.
The moral of the story? Be respectful, and educate the client in the practical aspects of design and development. The client looks to you for that knowledge, so don’t be afraid to discuss their ideas frankly and answer their inquiries clearly.
I have done my bit, and you’re sure to benefit if you follow these tips. It’s time for you to add your own to the list. Many other lists have been written on other blogs; these points are meant to help you focus your freelancing career on increasing business and achieving success.