Congratulations, your freelance “business” is officially up and running. Thanks to all that time you spent primping your portfolio, networking and creating a brand that speaks clearly to your skills and abilities, you’ve landed a few promising assignments.
Now, here comes the most important part: You need to keep these clients coming back for more.
You’ve spent way too much time trying to generate leads with the aforementioned prospecting and portfolio prep to let this project be a one off. One-and-done is a concept best reserved for NCAA basketball players jumping to the pros… and in the freelance world? It’s what’s called a wasted opportunity. Repeat business is the key to any business success story, so whereas confidence in your trade is huge, understanding the ins-and-outs of what makes for top-notch customer service is as well.
You have to know that many clients have the potential to become an anchor client. True, budgets will preclude that from happening a lot of the time. But how will you know if you’re missing the opportunity to capture a consistent client revenue generator, if you’re not on your A-game? You want to know where windows of opportunities exist so they don’t close in your face.
So, how do you make this happen? Well, other than the obvious – being affable, easy to work with and doing high-quality work – there are a slew of other good freelance “business” practices that surprise and delight clients, reassuring them that they’ve hired the right person. You are in the “service” industry after all, so… be of service. The key is to not just think of yourself as a business, but a successful one. So, with that in mind, here are five ways to immensely up the odds that clients you work with want to use you again. Whether you want to work with them again, that’s another story.
Your goal is to have enough suitors where you have the power to decide.
5 methods to generate repeat freelance work and keep clients coming back for more
1. Under-promise, over-deliver.
Think about the best customer service experiences you’ve had in your life. Did you get exactly what you thought was coming — or just a wee bit more? For example, if you arrive to a Las Vegas hotel room you’ve booked and it has a mysterious odor and view of the Flamingo’s rooftop, you may be underwhelmed, right? Now, imagine if you walk into that same hotel room and see a gorgeous view of the Vegas strip, the dancing Bellagio fountains and a gift basket filled with chocolate-covered strawberries on the bed?
That might make more of a lasting impression on you, no?
Same goes for how you deliver your work. If you’ve been hired for a branding project and been asked to deliver 10 logo options and you deliver 15 to 20 (of equal quality) along with several comps for how the logo will look on the CMO’s business card, stationery and email signature, it shows initiative that might just surprise and delight the client… and make them more apt to remember you.
No matter what kind of deliverable you’re being asked for (logos, headline options, a tagline exploration, etc.), doing a little more than what you’ve been hired to do is a good practice (as long as you don’t sacrifice quality). In my own work, I always try to deliver at least 10%-20% more than what we agreed to. I’m in full realization that it makes my hourly rate go down, but it also ups the chances that the client will be pleased with the work. These things matter. As long as the work is quality, on strategy and not just a pointless brain dump, you give the client a sense you’re willing to go the extra mile to deliver what they need. It also ups the chances of getting rehired in the future.
2. Avoid nickel-and-diming.
Once you get a job, it’s tempting to want to squeeze every budgeted dollar for a project out of a client. But don’t. Unless you over-deliver to the nth degree and drive results that go far beyond expectation, this is a surest path to a one-and-done project. As a gun-for-hire, you’re in the service industry, so you want clients to feel you have their best interests at heart, not yours. That’s not to say you shouldn’t put the right premium on the work you’re doing for them. You should. It’s just that you also want to make sure that client feels they’re getting good value for the work… and not a nickel-and-dimer who only cares about getting paid.
Decide at the outset if it’s mutually satisfactory that both parties agree on a project fee, or hourly rate, and then agree on a suitable payment schedule and stick to it! It’s understandable that the scope of a project sometimes changes and that you may need to revisit the originally agreed upon amount, but address that then. Don’t hit your clients with an asshole tax on final invoice and ask them for more money because of items you may’ve left out of your original estimate. A surprise line item on a final invoice will leave clients with a sour taste in their mouth… and may just prevent you from getting more work with them.
Ultimately, you want clients to feel like they got a bargain for your services, not like they’ve been Bernie Madoff’d. Show your value at every turn and you’ll be seen as a valuable option the next time they ponder which freelancer is best for a project. If you’re truly a freelance business and in it to win it, this tactic will help your “business” survive — and thrive — over time.
3. Ask intelligent questions along the way.
One of the hardest parts of the freelance life is no doubt landing work. But once you do, it’s time to impress. As mentioned, how you go about working the project is where you earn your stripes and make the impressions that lead to future business referrals, LinkedIn recommendations and most notably for this topic, win you serious consideration for that next project down the road.
In that regard, your job is to agree on expectations and ask the right questions along the way to ensure the project reaches its ultimate potential. By asking smart, pointed questions — be they strategy-related, about KPIs, client history, tone/voice or style guidelines — you’re ensuring that the project stays on track and doesn’t go off the rails. You do this not just to get valuable intel, but also so that clients know you’re on top of things and feel safe. It’s possible some clients won’t even know what they want, but through you asking intelligent questions, they’re forced to think and make decisions to get you what you need and gain clarity along the way — for everyone.
Ultimately, by you taking the initiative to probe in the right places (with multiple check-ins along the way), the client will appreciate your proactivity and you’ll be in a better place to push said project across the finish line while ensuring a measure of success.
4. Give compelling reasons for the choices you make.
This is a natural adjunct to #3, but worth mentioning because as a “creative” you’ve probably spent a good amount of time in your career on your own, off on a ledge, in your flow, making decisions based on gut, really exploring the space. And that unbridled restraint can work out great for some projects, especially in initial phases when brainstorming and brain-dumps rule the day.
However, when you’re solving complex marketing problems, you’ll want to have the ammo to map those decisions back to a strategy so you can get buy-in on decisions along the way. Once you do, you’ll be building a case for good work as you generate logical and/or compelling reasons to support your creative decision-making. In this interview I conducted with J Barbush (VP/Creative Director, Social Media, at Rubin Postaer & Associates), he echoed this sentiment in his advice to creatives. Barbush said, “One of the things I’m always trying to encourage with the teams is that selling this idea is probably the most important thing. Don’t de-value that just because the work’s done and say, ‘Here it is!’ Work doesn’t sell itself, you need to be able to do it.”
Immerse yourself in the product, the marketing brief and then do your research. Ultimately, good work stands out. But if you can attach the reasoning for why you made the decisions you did to show how you got there, the odds skyrocket that you’ll be seen not just a good writer or art director, but a strategic thinker that understands the big picture and how to drive the results…
Instead of just doing some “cool stuff.”
5. Become indispensable (i.e., so valuable they have to use you again)
If you’re a freelancer, chances are that some companies will look at you at like a luxury since it takes money to outsource work versus handling it in-house. So, if you want a second date and maybe a third or fourth, you’ll want to become an Indispensable resource (capital “I”) so the client has to keep you on. It’s the #1 way to turn this relationship into an ongoing engagement.
Let me give you an example of what I mean.
As a copywriter, maybe you were “hired” to crank out copy and concepts for a new business presentation. If this is the case, clients would be happy to see smart ideas flow from your brain into a shared Google drive. However, what if you have mad skills when it comes to Keynote, as well, and you’re able to illustrate how your ideas will work visually and even put the presentation deck together for a new business pitch? That might alleviate the burden from someone else having to do it in-house and give you an edge thanks to what Liam Neeson once called, “a very particular set of skills.” Giving your client a useful bonus skill that potentially allows them to hire one less person is not just a recipe for keeping you around, but also a great way to boost your rate.
Same goes for people who speak multiple languages, coders, engineers, art directors, and editors who work with various CMSs. Put all your skills on display for your clients and they’ll have no choice but to re-use you: ultimate freelance extraordinaire.
Bottom line: The more you can work across disciplines for your client, the more indispensable and critical you become to the operation.
And that’s how you keep clients coming back for more.