Most freelancers will agree that it’s easier to hold onto an established relationship than begin a new one. And it’s less work to retain a client than to pursue a new one. While it’s necessary to market to potential clients, freelancers should make every effort to keep the good clients they have. Why? Profitability! They will spend far more time and money marketing to new clients than to maintaining their existing ones. When clients keep calling you, it’s gold!
Begin by creating good work.
Keeping clients is not automatic. You need to be the kind of creative services provider they want to work with. You are responsible for your working relationships. Your first responsibility is to do good work. The quality of what you create for your clients should be excellent, but that is only the beginning. There is more you should do to motivate your clients to come back over and over again.
Ideas for client retention.
- Be reliable. Show up on time or early. Return phone calls and emails in a timely manner. Deliver on what you promise. Meet deadlines or get things done early. And when you mess up, own it, and fix it. Don’t cover it up or blame someone else. Most clients will forgive a mistake or oversight if your track record of reliability is consistent.
- Be easy to work with. A pleasant attitude and cheerful words go a long way in relationships. When a client likes you personally as well as professionally, they are more likely to seek your opinion and regard you as a resource. They are also more likely to give you more creative freedom.
- Take the lead. Clients what to trust that you know what you’re doing. They want to put their project into capable hands. The more you appear to be leading the project and they start seeing good outcomes, the more likely they will come to trust your judgement and will relax about your process, pricing and ideas.
- Acknowledge uncertainty. Especially with new clients, you will need to explain what you do, how you do it, and when you will do it. Think about the project from the client side. What are their questions. What do they need to know about their role in the project? Keep your clients informed of changes, of hiccups, and when things are going smoothly, provide a status update. When you have a question, pick up the phone or send an email. Every client is different. Learn what each of your clients’ strengths, weaknesses and preferences.
- Talk their language. Your client won’t understand terms like value contrast, compositional structure and implied line. While unfamiliar vocabulary might impress them that you know what you’re talking about, they will appreciate more when you explain and use simple words. They do understand words like return on investment, psychographics, and brand promise. Learn and use their language back to them.
- Understand their industry and their pain points. Get to know your client’s mission, vision and position in their field. What problems are they struggling with? How can you help? Position yourself as a resourceful problem-solver by recommending creative solutions that will meet their needs in a specific way.
- Be fiscally responsible. Budgets for creative work are smaller than they were a few years ago. Every dollar should be spent well, and the more ways you can recommend to reduce costs for your client, the better your client will appreciate your creative ideas (regarding their budgets). Be as meticulous with client’s money as you are with the work you create.
- Be flexible. There are some things you cannot compromise on, but where you can, you should. Be willing to listen to your client’s ideas and to make changes. Your client is paying the bill, and it’s in your best interest to make changes and have honest discussions about what will work and what won’t based on the purpose of the project.
- Be interested. We like it when people notice what we do and take an interest, and clients are no exception. Treat everyone associated with your client well. Take an interest in the client’s accomplishments. Look for common interests. Do you both follow baseball? Do you both enjoy wine tasting? Do you both like to travel? Although it’s a business relationship, it’s still people, and people like it when others are interested.
- Look busy. Clients will ask you, “How’s business?” It’s what business people do. Even if you experience an ebb in your project flow, don’t talk about lack of work. Instead, share what you are working on — new projects, a new marketing campaign, updating your web site, etc. People are wary of inactivity, and the fact is that you should never be inactive in the first place. Always be working on something for your business if you don’t have client work. Your marketing, personal creative projects, volunteer activities, are all topics you can share that make you appear busy. Successful people take action, so always take action on something when there is no client work on the table.
You need clients. Motivate yours to continue working with you by being the caliber of creative professional they trust and like. Build a good reputation and you will enjoy the benefits of returning clients who are easy to work with, and who will be happy to provide word-of-mouth referrals.
How do you maintain loyal clients? Share your thoughts in the comments.