How Freelancers Should Build A Working Relationship With Clients
You need impressive talent and strong business acumen to establish your freelance career. However, the key to your long-term success isn’t your output—it’s all about fostering a great working relationship with your clients. Strong client relationships help you maintain steady income and serve as your differentiator in an increasingly crowded freelance marketplace. There are currently 57 million freelancers in the U.S. alone, and that number has grown by more than 4 million since 2014. Your people skills can set you apart from the competition and maintain a roster full of loyal clients. Like any business, engendering loyal customers and clients should be the focus of your marketing strategy.
Why you should build a relationship with clients
As a freelancer, your business model is defined by diversified income. Your livelihood depends on your clients, and the difference between a full portfolio and an empty one is your working relationship.
Bad behavior causes bad relationships:
- Missed deadlines
- Late or partial pay
- Inconsistent work quality
- Infrequent work assignments
- Bad reputations
- Poor reviews
- Vague direction or feedback
- General unhappiness with career (i.e. the freelancer who constantly questions if freelancing is the right career option for them)
However, if you can avoid these working relationship pitfalls, you stand to gain several benefits:
- Referral business
- Increased work assignments
- Client retention
- Long-term contracts
- Higher pay per-project
- Good reputation and testimonials
Additionally, a strong client relationship makes it easier to deal with feedback on your work. There’s a sense of goodwill between you, and you understand that your client’s critiques only serve to improve your work. You can stomach criticism without fearing your job is in jeopardy.
How to build a relationship with clients
Building a relationship with your clients is an ongoing process that starts with your first interaction and continues on with every project. The following steps can help you establish a great baseline.
Create a contract
Contracts eliminate any ambiguity about the terms of your work. They outline timelines, payment, and the scope of the project. Contracts offer security for both you and your client. These contracts also serve as a primary reference if any “he said, she said” conflicts arise later in the working relationship. You can build your own contracts using available online templates.
How does your client prefer to work? Will they expect a weekly Skype chat? Will they send over assignments via Google Docs? Take the time to discuss the preferred methods of communication at the start of the relationship. Also, be sure to outline how, when, and why you’ll use each channel.
You could suggest sending a biweekly email. Each email could outline what you plan to accomplish in the coming week and recap your accomplishments from the week prior. It’s always better to over-communicate than leave your clients out of the loop.
Create formalized deadlines
Weekly or monthly deadlines ensure that you deliver work on a consistent schedule and that your client always provides adequate notice before starting a new project. Deadlines also ensure both you and your client have a mutual understanding of the project expectations. One method that works is sharing a calendar or project timeline that you can both update based on your progress with each goal and objective.
Create a formalized payment schedule
You should be clear about the payment process to avoid any complications. Discuss how you’ll invoice your client or how they will send you a payment. Be sure to invoice promptly to avoid making any mistakes. Also, specify how you’d like to be paid and stay consistent so your client doesn’t need to constantly switch around payment systems. Clearly outlining this protocol helps you avoid any missed payments.
Never submit work late
Delivering late work, even by an hour, can damage your relationship with your client. You could also develop a reputation as a freelancer who misses deadlines, which could dampen your prospects for future work. Figure out your writing process to get the job done and plan accordingly.
Always maintain professionalism
Every client is part of your professional network, and every piece of correspondence represents your professional persona. One unprofessional email can come back to haunt you later. Protect yourself by answering every message professionally and in a timely fashion. Sometimes, you may answer simply to say you’ll get back to someone tomorrow, but a quick and efficient response is also necessary.
Also, maintain professionalism offline. You could run into your next big client on the subway or at the gym. Always carry business cards with you so you’re prepared to initiate a new business relationship at a moment’s notice.
It’s rare that a client’s needs remain the same for long periods, especially if you’re working with startups or small businesses. Be flexible about what you can provide. You should even be adaptable to payment and communication preferences.
However, it’s not required that you’re flexible about everything. Create a list of your deal-makers and deal-breakers when dealing with clients. Only take on those clients that fit your needs as well.
Provide your own ideas
With long-term clients, you become part of their team. You have a deeper understanding of that business’s strategy and voice, and you can provide feedback and fresh ideas. For example, let’s say you’re a content creator for a small business’ blog. You could suggest some updates for the site’s sidebar to make it more user-friendly. Your input shows that you’re committed to your client, which further engenders positive and growing relationships.
Cut ties with unresponsive clients
Freelancing is a two-way street, and your clients should invest equal effort into maintaining a strong relationship with you. If you feel a client’s effort is lacking or they’re becoming too much of a headache, cut ties. One of the greatest benefits of being a freelancer is choosing how you work, when you work, and for whom you work.
Choose clients wisely
Don’t feel pressured to say yes to every job—be picky. Interview your clients before you’re hired, and ensure they’re people you want to work with. Does the project fit your skillset, schedule, and communication preferences? Are there any red flags (i.e. lagging response times or curt responses to your inquiries)? Conduct your due diligence before accepting a gig. Your portfolio will thank you for your selectivity.
The bottom line
Fostering a strong working relationship is about clarifying everyone’s expectations upfront and putting parameters in place to ensure those expectations are met. Professionalism, communication, and respect will get you a long way. Plus, it never hurts to go the extra mile. The more you wow your clients, the better your relationships will be.
Are you looking for more clients for your freelance business? Contact Palm Beach Content Co. to see if you can find the right fit with us!