The real key to becoming a successful freelancer is making lasting connections with clients. Yes, you should deliver a good product, on time. That helps solidify your connections, but there’s more to it. It’s about who you are and the level of customer service you offer each client.
You may not think of yourself as a customer service agent when you’re professional title is content writer (like me), but interpersonal skills play a huge role in every job. If someone doesn’t like you, it doesn’t matter how good your work is, they won’t work with you unless they have to.
The benefits of creating lasting connections as a freelancer make it imperative to present strong interpersonal skills no matter what. Even if your client is asking you to do something you know is grammatically wrong. Even if their comments on your content are all about why there are so many commas. Even if, last minute, they want to take the piece in a difference direction. No matter how annoying it gets, you need to be kind, available, and accommodating.
LASTING RELATIONSHIPS MEANS REPEAT BUSINESS
One of the hardest things to accomplish as a freelancer is getting steady work. You may have months where you’re burning the candle at both ends to get everything done, and you may have months where the only thing on today’s To Do List is the laundry.
The give-and-take of freelancing means it’s better to know you have regulars. These are the clients who will keep coming back, Work may not always be consistent, but you know they’ll pop up every now and again and give your bank account a boost.
Some of these clients are also the people you can go to when work is slow and ask if they have anything for you. I’ve got a few like this, where I’m comfortable reaching out and saying something like, I know we don’t have anything on the schedule right now, but I’ve got some extra time this month if you’d like to send anything my way. It’s not pushy, and usually the inquiry pays off.
These regulars are also often really good about sharing your information when their colleagues ask for referrals. I’ve got one regular who I connected with through a mutual friend. They work for a sizable company and I’ll get emails with work from people I don’t know who work there, because my name is being passed around (Yay!). Eventually, I may not even hear from my initial contact, but will still get work from that client as a business.
LASTING RELATIONSHIPS MEAN PEOPLE TAKE YOU WITH THEM
This perk of building strong, professional relationships was not one I saw coming. I didn’t factor in that in today’s workforce, people change jobs frequently and move companies often. I had originally envisioned my career as being with the same company for as long as possible. That ended up lasting 15 years, which may seem like an eternity to those who entered the workforce after me.
As a freelancer now, the trend to move jobs has proven highly beneficial once I’ve made a strong connection because that person takes our working relationship with them.
Whenever I get a message from a client that they’re moving on, I always make sure to tell them how much I appreciated working with them and that I hope we get the chance to work together again. I mean it every time I say it too.
While not all my clients move into a position where they can take me with them, some have. One editor in particular has brought me along from where we first met, to two different companies. As his career has grown, so have my own freelancing opportunities. We started working together at a smaller company, then a start-up that still wasn’t sure of its direction. Now, we work together at a national brand.
I’ve also had clients get promotions and handed me down as a freelancer to others. This is great too since it means I don’t lose an opportunity just because my contact has moved on. For example, I have an old colleague who has always pulled me in to do work for her. Initially, the work I did for her connected me to another department within the company. Now she oversees that whole department and has kept me in the loop with work.
LASTING RELATIONSHIPS MEAN REFERRALS
I work with a lot of clients who are sole proprietors of have very small businesses. They don’t often have a lot of work for me, and I don’t bring in a lot of money from them. It could be easy to overlook these clients as a strong outlet for relationship building, but you’d be wrong to do that.
Often, my smaller clients are the best people to establish strong relationships with. That’s because they know everyone else who also has a small business in their area/industry. These are people who don’t have the staff to do what you do. They all need freelancers.
My rate of referrals is significantly higher from my small business clients than anywhere else. There have been months where my connections with these clients have saved my bottom line.
These clients are also the friendliest and most willing to connect with you. They’ll offer advice and ask you for your opinions. They appreciate your passion because they are still in that zone with their own business. It’s a sweet niche to build strong relationships. You never know, after all, when a small business will take off, taking you along with them.
DO YOU HAVE THE SKILLS TO RELATIONSHIP BUILD?
Connecting with people isn’t something everyone is great at, but if you’re a freelancer, you must be at least passable at drawing people in and keeping them coming back for your work.
My best tip for accomplishing this is being present. When I’m emailing or talking on the phone with a client, I am not thinking about what else I have to get done. I’m being as responsive to them as possible, hearing (reading) what they want and delivering. I try to connect on a personal level when I can to show my interest in their work goes beyond what they’re paying me to do. I also always talk about how much I like learning new things, and that’s what being a freelancer enables me to do.
I do disagree with clients from time-to-time, but do so carefully and politely, And, I never say ‘no’ to a change, even if I don’t think it’s the best choice. The client is always right after all.
Making connections to clients that I know will last as long as I continue freelancing has made this risky career change feel stable. The money coming in each month isn’t consistent, but I never feel alone, thanks to the lasting relationships I’ve worked to build.