Client Management: How to Win and Retain Clients For a Lifetime
Every freelancer, despite the industry, is in sales, selling him or herself. Getting, and keeping, clients is a constant roundabout between marketing, clear communication, meeting deadlines, and providing stellar work. No clients means no work, so continuing this roundabout process will be the most important thing you do for your business.
Look for Your Ideal Client
You only want the clients that are right for you. Taking every client just because they have money is a bad idea. You want to work with someone who aligns with your business ideals and who pays a fair rate. Some industries are drenched with underpaying clients who ask too much. Remember that it’s okay to say no when it’s not right for you as a business. Envision the work you want to do, and who might be looking for that work. This is your ideal client. As a freelancer, this means looking online, joining groups in social media, talking to everyone you meet, and putting yourself in front of as many relevant people as possible.
Build an online strategy for attracting clients. After you find your ideal clients, target online advertising and social platforms to help them find you. Join social media groups, use hashtags, and encourage your friends to share. Pro tip: as you meet more potential clients online, make sure you have a system for remembering their names.
As freelancers, social media quickly becomes a marketing outlet, but it needs attention. Some freelancers find that social media platforms cycle in terms of getting new business. For example, Facebook might work for a month, then the attention seems to switch to Twitter. It’s smart to manage social media presences across a few platforms.
Word of mouth is a great way for a freelancer to get attention. Create happy customers and they will tell others about your work. Ask them to recommend you to friends and colleagues. The happiest customers will be your biggest sales advocates.
While keeping customers happy is the best way to get a verbal referral, sometimes freelancers need to ask for a positive written recommendation. Whether it’s for advertising or for getting another client, there’s nothing wrong with approaching someone for a good word.
Some freelancers will formulate a referral template to make the process easier for the client. Other freelancers will simply ask clients for referrals when the client has time to write it. A sample template might look like this:
“To Whom It May Concern:[Name] has worked with me on [project]. I was happy with his/her work for [reasons]. I recommend him/her for your project as well. His/Her work is exemplary and meets all promised project deadlines.
It’s short, but it’s fast. The client simply fills in the answers and it’s a marketable piece for the freelancer!
Be as transparent as possible when discussing a future freelance transaction. If the client asks for rates, provide them, or provide a reason why they aren’t available. For example, a freelance editor or general contractor must know specific information before providing a quote. As soon as a client finds missing or misleading information, the business relationship begins to fall apart. Don’t let it slip away before it’s begun. If you have a website, make sure it’s updated with the information you are verbally giving potential customers.
Communication is key to everything. When you communicate clearly with clients well before they are clients, you start building trust right away. This trust not only keeps the clients coming back to you but drives them to be more likely to recommend you to others. You want to give clients a good feeling about interactions with you.
Remember, though, to let the client direct the communication. Let them determine the frequency of emails, for example, and remember to keep the topic of the communication necessary. That means that communications are always about the project, milestones, etc., and never about unnecessary or unrelated topics.
After you have the client, you want to keep the client. Make them happy by fulfilling, if not exceeding, their expectations for every project. Use the following tips to keep projects moving in a positive direction.
Build a Map
Every project needs a clear path with solid deliverables. Can you have a rough draft done by next week? Will you offer edits, and when will they be delivered? Create something tangible that shows them what they will get throughout the project.
Writing out a plan also binds you and the client to the work. Talking is easily dismissed; having proof of promised deliverables through email or a contract backs up everyone. Enforcing agreements with written copies gives everyone something to view, as well, so clients are less likely to ask for updates. Always meet deadlines and clients will trust your future project maps.
Keep Accurate Records
Make sure everything, including those project maps, are documented and signed. There must be proof that the work is finished to everyone’s speculations. Many freelancers use an online project management system to share these files, giving both parties constant access. This also avoids misunderstandings, as notifications of changes will be sent to both parties. This protects the freelancer and the client.
Remember the communication mentioned above, and use it. Make sure it happens, especially on the promised delivery dates. If something goes wrong and the product cannot be delivered as promised, communicate clearly what happened and what you will do to fix it. Leaving a client wondering is the worst thing to do. If necessary, set reminders, mark a calendar, do whatever is necessary to make sure the client has consistent communication. If the client wants to know more about the project on a day outside the promised delivery day, talk to him or her. Always share information on the project to help build client confidence in you.
Respond to Clients
This may seem obvious, but some freelancers aren’t responsive to clients. This is a mistake. While you don’t need to respond immediately, don’t leave a client waiting for too long, either. Establish clear turnaround times to clients, such as 24 hours for an email or an hour for a text. Set up work hours, if necessary, but be clear how and when you will respond. No matter how busy you get, always take time out for clients, never waiting more than 24 hours to respond.
Finding and keeping clients is part of the circle of business life. Learn from mistakes and keep at it until you have a solid customer base.