No matter what stage of your freelance career you’re in, it can be very difficult to think long-term. Because of the constants ebbs and flows of workload and earnings, it’s tempting to focus just on what’s in front of you: ensuring money is coming in this month.
But just as any business must plan ahead to stay competitive, freelancers also need to keep looking forward.
The good news? You can do this primarily through the relationships you build each day.
At Bonsai, we’re lucky enough to work with freelancers from a wide variety of industries. We asked them what they do to become successful and how they sustain their freelance career through the people they meet.
1. Be generous in spirit
When is the last time you asked how you could be helpful? While freelancers obviously need to seek out ongoing work, it’s equally important to reach out and be generous, just because.
In a world where false promises are commonplace, it’s essential — and easy — to stand out by doing what you say you’ll do. Building a reputation as someone who’s fair, kind, and thoughtful is a valuable business asset.
Get in the habit of asking how you can help, and then make sure you follow through. You’ll be surprised how quickly your network will grow.
2. Remember: people before prospects
Freelancers often make the mistake of networking only to win clients. But networking is your chance to get to know your industry — human to human. Find out what’s important to your professional community and develop a genuine interest in their lives.
Pets, kids, travel, food — there’s almost always at least one common interest that will help you connect. Take time to learn about your clients before you pitch them on a project. Knowing what makes your client tick can turn a cold lead to a warm acquaintance — and eventually, to a project.
3. Nurture existing customers
There’s a delicate balance between the hustle for new clients and giving your best to existing clients. In today’s freelance economy, it’s easy to neglect the latter. We take our current customers for granted, tally the invoice before the job is done, and assume they’ll stick around for the next project.
But the numbers suggest a different approach is called for. Customer retention statistics tell us that 65% of your business will come from existing customers.
The chances of you winning projects or making sales with existing clients are high. Compare that to your 5-20% chances of selling to a new client, and it’s clear why your relationships with existing customers cannot be ignored.
This data was gathered for ecommerce and traditional businesses, but buying behaviors tend to parallel trends for all types of service providers. It’s information we can learn from.
4. Remember important events with a personal touch
Today’s digital habits have diluted our relationships. It’s easy to post a birthday message on a client’s Facebook wall or hit like on a post announcing their business milestones and call it a connection.
But even small, thoughtful gestures like a handwritten note or a tin of cookies can make a big impression in this tap-to-like culture.
Good freelancers keep a calendar of important dates and reach out to existing and potential clients when it counts.
Subscribe to your clients’ news feeds and set Google alerts for press releases and news items. Be the first to know when they launch a new project and send a well-earned congratulatory note with an offer to lend a hand with logistics. This shows you’re attentive and could open a door to conversations about future projects. Clients will feel cared for and more likely to remember you when they need a freelancer.
5. Reward loyalty
Use a bonus program to show appreciation for clients who stick with you. Discounts are a popular and easy way to say thanks. It’s also common to offer discounts to clients with a history of paying invoices on time, or to clients who pay up-front for longer contracts. Holiday discounts are another good option.
Referral discounts are another way to reward loyalty — say 10-15% off their next invoice for every new customer sent your way. Show your clients you appreciate them and grow your business at the same time. It’s amazing how this simple practice will prompt happy clients to spread the word about you. It’s one of the easiest ways to build loyalty and expand your business without advertising costs.
6. Set and maintain boundaries
Communicating boundaries at the beginning of a project makes it easier manage client expectations, stick to the services you’re hired for, and avoid dealing with imaginary or always-moving benchmarks.
Here are a few ways to set clear boundaries as a freelancer:
- Write a contract that outlines deliverables and payment terms
- Make sure your invoices are professional and timely (which is a no-brainer with Webflow’s client billing tools)
- Communicate your office hours (avoid weekend emails)
- Respond during those office hours, and not after
- Ask questions and communicate often
- Respect client boundaries – lead by example
Maintaining boundaries around working relationships helps prevent burnout and resentment. Solid communication will help you keep clients happy for years to come!
A good problem to have
As you continue down your freelance path, you’ll find you’re better at implementing some of the above ideas than others. And some will take you far out of your comfort zone! A lot of us struggle with these concepts in our personal lives — it’s normal to find it challenging to apply these ideas to your work.
Frame failure as evidence that you’re trying and an opportunity to do better with the next client. The more you work on these practices, the more habitual they’ll become. And before you know it, building a network of clients and colleagues will no longer be your biggest challenge — you’ll be too busy juggling all the work coming your way!
How do you nurture your professional relationships? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.