Good clients are integral to successful freelance projects and to your career overall. Beyond the project itself, a referral or recommendation from the right client can open doors for you. But how do you choose good clients? How do you know up front that a prospect will be okay to work with?
Create a “Good Client” Strategy
To weed out undesirables (and they are out there), you need to be intentional and strategic. When you’re working with clients, you’re not just working on a project, you’re in a relationship. Setting high standards for those relationships begins when you prospect for clients. Don’t wait until you’ve started the project to start relating. As with any relationship, it’s very difficult to change a client once you get that relationship going.
There are a variety of ways to screen your prospects. The point is to value the working relationship and your own peace of mind enough to be willing to pass on less desirable situations so that you can do your best work in the best way possible for the best clients. I have these suggestions for qualifying clients you want to work with. You may want to add your own criteria to fit your unique situation.
Look for clients you will enjoy working with. Just as you have preferences in choosing friends, you can apply those preferences in client selection.
Look for clients who understand that you are a business owner and are okay with your making a living from your business, and are comfortable with paying you for your time and effort on their behalf.
Look for clients who understand what you do, and who have worked with a professional designer, illustrator, photographer or writer previously. Try to avoid being the one to break them in. You do now want to be a client’s first experience working with a freelance creative.
Look for clients who are willing to discuss their project up front, including giving you a budget to work with. Some prospects are cryptic and fearful of divulging information and of signing contracts. You cannot determine whether you want to take on the work if you don’t know enough about it to decide. Walk away from those who are not open with you.
Look for clients who are willing to sign a contract and provide a downpayment before you begin the work. This shows good faith on their part, and give you the ability to begin the project funded.
Look for clients who will designate one representative to work with you. Larger clients and organizations may have a board or group overseeing the project on their end. Be sure they will designate a single decision maker bestowed with the ability to made decisions. This may be a marketing director, art buyer, editor, executive director. Designing for a committee is unproductive and drains your resources because everyone will have a different opinion and want to share it.
Look for clients who are the right size for your business. You don’t want a single client to be a huge proportion of your overall income, and you don’t want one so small that you become their lifeline. Look for clients who are neither too big so that, if you lose them, you will not be severely impacted financially. Smaller clients are often more needy and will depend upon you for more than what you’ve contracted for.
…freelancing is about freedom and choices. When you accept business relationships that become a burden, you are no longer free.
Look for clients who will respect your boundaries. Some will attempt to re-define you, asking for favors or services that are not what you would normally provide.
Look for clients who will treat you as a professional peer, not a hireling. As a freelancer, you come alongside your clients, but don’t work for them. You should have a peer-to-peer relationship rather than a boss-employee relationship.
Create a strategy that works for you.
Remember that freelancing is about freedom and choices. When you accept business relationships that become a burden, you are no longer free. Only you can determine what a good client means for you. Choose all your relationships wisely, especially those where money and time are involved. Taking the time to qualify prospective clients up front is one of the best investments you will make.
What would you add to this list of qualifications? Add your comment below.