As in most fields, customers you’re already in contact with, have seen what you can do and are happy with your product or service; are more likely to become customers again. That said, just because you’ve worked well together in the past doesn’t make their ongoing business a sure thing.
In relation to the growth and success of my remote freelance business, retaining customers has been super important. Long-term working relationships are something I actively pursue and have become the basis of my monthly income.
If you’re a serious freelancer, contractor or consultant, you should work hard on client retention. Here are a few ideas how:
Connect with your clients
In my development business, I’ve worked with lots of different types of client. While you’ll not always find common ground with everyone (as is life), it generally makes working together better if you can find some kind of level.
Ask questions now and again. “How’s the weather where you are?, “How’re the kids?”. Typing those sort of things out feels cheesy, but trust me; it builds rapport, makes your work interaction easier and can form the basis of a lasting partnership.
I’ve seen work from home freelancers struggle with the idea of connecting with their remote colleagues and overseas clients. Sure, we don’t have that everyday face-to-face interaction; but it doesn’t start and end in the office. Make use of tools like Slack for chat, Skype and Google Hangouts for video calling and once in a while, get together for a coffee.
People hire people. Build a relationship, talk about more than work. Be personable, not robotic. Above all, be sincere.
Cut a deal (sometimes)
I’m not a big believer in lowering my rates to get work. Usually, I think that if someone really wants to hire you, they will pay the going rate. At the same time, there are a couple of circumstances where you could think about cutting a deal with regular clients.
Imagine this scenario. An agency client has previously worked with you on a successful project. They have a ton of overflow work coming up in the months ahead and don’t have the capacity to fill it. They look to you as someone who could fill the void but want to negotiate on your usual rate. Say your usual day rate is £300, but the client has 3 months worth of work, they could offer you £250 per day. While this is lower than your regular price, you gain security for a longer period. This can be highly calming for a freelancer.
Retainers would be another angle where I’d potentially cut a deal. X amount of guaranteed monthly income in exchange for Y amount of set-aside hours/days work within that month. These deals can work in your favour as a freelancer. Along with the positive of regular payments, hours unused by the client usually don’t roll over into the next month. This could leave additional time to work on marketing or personal projects while still bringing home a paycheck.
Willingness to be flexible on price (within reason) can lead to longer deals.
Prove your worth
Once you take on a project, it’s time to prove your worth. Be capable and do a solid job. Add value to your clients’ business. You’d think this goes without saying, but I’ve heard some horror stories on past hires from the people I’ve dealt with.
In my experience, people can already be a little wary of hiring freelancers. Especially if you prefer to work remotely or don’t have the largest portfolio. Don’t give them a reason to doubt your integrity. Use your skills to do the best job possible.
The feedback I get is; a good freelancer who is reliable, personable and adds value to their client’s business is worth their weight in gold. Be that person for your clients.
My career as a freelance WordPress developer took off on the basis of this value. Starting out, I impressed an agency with a one-off theme build. The next time the agency had a similar project, they passed it on to me again. This eventually grew to ongoing monthly work and I became the client’s go-to hire for WordPress jobs.
Make yourself indisposable.
Be realistic with deadlines
Clients usually appreciate straight talk. If you’re too busy, you’re too busy – don’t overpromise.
The nature of freelancers is to try and take on as much work as possible. The reasons being, freelance feast and famine is a common occurrence and we simply like to please the people we work with. The fear of turning down work is one you should try to overcome if you want to keep your client relationships strong.
A big part of being a freelancer is managing the expectations of multiple clients. It’s important to not overstretch yourself with deadlines by taking on more than you can handle at any one time. This can cause disappointment if you’re unable to stick to agreed timescales; an unreliable freelancer won’t earn repeat business.
If you think a job will take a week longer than the brief suggests, be sure to communicate this. Be realistic with all time estimates.
Go the extra mile
If you’re looking to improve your client retention, show willing to go the extra mile. There are a few ways you can do this ranging from small touches to really pulling out all the stops.
Ask for feedback on any work you’ve done. Check that your client is happy with what you have produced for them. Send thank you emails when they send a payment on time. Take the time to have regular phone calls.
There could be occasions when the client has a rush job – consider taking it if you have the capacity and can agree on suitable compensation. There will be instances when emergencies surface; your client base will greatly appreciate you jumping to their aid.
If you take care of people, you build their trust. And, in my experience of freelancer-client relationships, they normally take care of you back.