By March 24, 2013 Read More →

7 strategies for freelancer success

What gets in the way of a freelancer’s success more than anything else?

by Anthony Chatfield

Work from Home Wisdom - biggest obstacle to freelancer success, Anthony ChatfieldIt’s not productivity or working at home. It’s not cash flow or taxes. The single biggest obstacle that a freelancer has (by a margin of 2 to 1 over any other complaint) is client retention. How do you not only find new clients, but keep them on the books, ordering new content month after month?

It’s not easy, and for many a freelancer it’s only the tip of the iceberg. There are dozens of other small issues that pop up as a result or cause of your retention problems.

But no matter how much you hate talking on the phone, following up with old clients, going to lunch meetings, or sending holiday cards, I’ve learned one thing in my years as a writer and freelancer – it is MUCH easier to keep an existing client happy than to go out and find a new one.

The Cost of One New Client

Consider for a moment just how hard it is to sign a new client. How much time and energy you pour into just finding that client (forget the time it takes to build trust so they’ll hire you for the big stuff later).

Even if you are a wizard on Elance or Odesk and have a contact list longer than this blog post, it takes hours to engage a prospect, multiple calls or emails to close a deal, and days to get the project started.

I’ve fine tuned my processes to a point, and it still costs upwards of $500 (including advertising, bidding, and my time) to acquire one new client.

So if that same client never hires me for more than $500 worth of work, I’m in a hole, right? More likely I just work a lot more hours every week.

The Solution

The best way to ensure your clients stick around, order from you over and over again, and make all the hard work you put in landing that contract worthwhile is to build a long lasting relationship with them.

Learn their likes and dislikes, their pet peeves, what times to call them, and when to followup. Heck, learn what type of ice cream they like and the names of their pets if you can do it without being creepy.

By focusing on a handful of very simple tasks that most freelancers overlook, you can become the go-to writer, designer, or programmer for every one of your clients. They’ll see you as a member of their team, not just another freelancer-in-a-box that can be easily replaced.

Here are the most important things you can do as a freelancer to ensure you maintain those relationships, not just now but for months or even years to come.

#1 – Become a Member of Their Team

None of this “I will do X for you” stuff. You are a member of their team from the moment they sign that contract, click the “hire” button, or say “get to work”. Act like it.

This means always thinking of a project as YOURS as much as theirs.

If your client gets positive feedback for the content you create, the next time they need content created, you’ll be at the top of their list.

If they get negative feedback, or if the project just never takes off, they’ll hire someone else. So make yourself an irreplaceable member of the team – to the point that when they think of those content needs, they think of you.

This is as much about how you talk about a project and interact with a client as what you produce. Quality is a must – that’s a no brainer – but you should also use inclusive terms to describe your work.

What do we want to do about this?

How will our customers see this?

Are we ready to move to the editing phase?

You’ll be surprised how much of a difference this stuff can make.

#2 – Create a Repeatable Process

For a long time, I waited for my clients to tell me what they wanted. The problem is that, nine times out of ten, they had no idea what they wanted.

They knew they wanted an eBook or some articles for their website, but how those articles or the eBook would be formatted, what style it would be written in, and which keywords I would use?

No idea.

It’s easy, as a freelancer, to think “it’s not my business”, but when the guidelines are unclear, it’s impossible to create what they want. Why? Because we have no idea what they want.

So today I have systems in place that automate a lot of this. I tell my clients when they hire me exactly how the process will go. If they have a different system, great, I’m flexible. But more often than not, I can hear the relief in their voices that I’m going to guide them through the project.

I create outlines, research keywords, set milestones, and send drafts at key points. I interview them for details I need, describe my invoicing procedure in advance, and have contracts and confidentiality agreements on hand if they are needed.

The better prepared you are for every aspect of a project, the smoother it will flow, and the more likely they are to hire you again.

#3 – Personalize Communications

This is a simple one, but a powerful step nonetheless.

When you send an email you address them by name, so why not when you send an invoice, or a draft, or a contact request on Skype or Facebook?

Every time you communicate with your client, or any member of your client’s team, make it personal. Get to know them, ask how they are doing, and integrate your personality into the message. They will remember it and feel a stronger connection with you and your services.

Anthony will be back soon with Part 2 of his 7 strategies for freelancer success.

Enjoyed this? Read more of Anthony’s insights into working from home as a freelancer.

He digs even deeper into how to build strong, long lasting relationships with your clients (along with many other tips and strategies for freelancers of all stripes) on his personal blog,

And you can see his home office on the Attic Home Offices Gallery.

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4 Comments on "7 strategies for freelancer success"

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  1. Delia Bourne says:

    I totally agree with your post…using inclusive terms does make a dramatic difference to how an inhouse team reacts to a freelancer. At the beginning there can be a “you and us” attitude but by demonstrating that you consider yourself one of the team that attitude can change instantly.

    • Thanks Delia – it’s really incredible how much of a difference we’ve seen it make. Kind of cool to become part of that team too. Instead of being disposable as just another freelancer, the client starts to see and treat you as a protected member of their team – best place to be.

  2. Kaitlyn says:

    Really good tips. Totally agree – it’s about having the right attitude.