For many freelancers, securing strong, long-term relationships with clients is the key to building a successful business. With strong client relationships, you can spend more hours actually working (and earning money!), and less time endlessly applying for new jobs each month. The question is, how do you get to this point?
When you are first starting out as a freelancer, it can feel difficult to genuinely build strong relationships with clients, and it can feel like you’re bouncing from one-off job to one-off job for months.
Here, we’re going to show you how to build relationships with your clients that will withstand the test of time.
- Why is it important to build long-term relationships with clients?
- Tips to build long-lasting relationships with your clients
- How to maintain that strong relationship
- Tips on keeping in touch with former clients
Why is it important to build long-term, strong relationships with clients?
You might be perfectly happy working with new clients every single month – or you might be wondering why exactly having long-term clients can benefit you.
Before showing you how to build strong relationships, let’s first cover why they are so important:
1. Stable income for your business
Undeniably, one of the biggest risk factors for freelancers is not having a stable income each month. With all the freedom and independence that comes with freelancing, you also have to accept that your income is not going to be as stable as that of traditional job.
However, building strong relationships with clients that give you regular work can get you much closer to a stable income. Having a set amount you know you will receive each month gives you a safety net that is invaluable when you are a freelancer.
Indirectly, stable clients will also allow you to earn more money. You will spend less time looking for new clients, which is time that you don’t get paid.
2. Build trust with the client and other clients
Having long-term clients not only builds trust between you and that client but also with other potential businesses that may want to work with you.
If you put yourself in an employer’s shoes, are you more likely to work with the person that has countless one-off contracts on their portfolio, or the person who has worked with the same few brands for years?
Building strong relationships shows that you can be trusted, that your work is of a consistently high standard, and provides you with a strong foundation of testimonials to present to new clients.
3. Increase referrals
Finally, having strong relationships with clients is a great way to increase your referrals for more work.
If you have a client that trusts you and relies on you for a high-quality of work every time, it follows that they will be happy to recommend your services to other business owners they know without worrying they’ll be referring someone to an untrustworthy freelancer!
Building strong relationships with your existing clients is therefore an essential way of building strong relationships with new clients.
According to our latest freelancer study, 50% of freelancers have built a strong, long-term relationship with their clients, with half of their current clients being repeat clients.
How to build lasting strong relationships with your clients:
1. Do your best work
To build strong relationships with clients you need to always provide your best work. Remember, a contract will oftentimes not begin as a promise for long-term work – rather, it will look like a one-off project. You must look beyond that one contract and see the potential for long-term work if you do the job right.
Providing a consistently high standard of work is the best way to show your clients that you are the real deal. If you show you can complete a project to your client’s exact requirements in a timely manner, it only follows that they will return to you for repeat work, rather than take a chance on another freelancer.
2. Little things that make the difference
Doing your best work and building trust with your clients goes hand in hand. In order to build strong relationships with clients, you need to be reliable, great at your job, and trustworthy with the work they give you. However, that stems beyond the simple assignment in your inbox.
Building trust can, of course, be achieved in a number of ways, from simply replying to emails promptly and professionally, to suggesting an edit you’ve spotted elsewhere on their website.
Strive to maintain a professional, helpful presence in your capacity as a freelancer and you will naturally build trust with your clients.
3. Identify what your client needs
A great way to build relationships that last with your clients is to identify what they might need from you in the future.
Most businesses hire a freelancer because they do not have the in-house expertise to do the job themselves. As such, you will be able to offer your expert opinion on aspects of the business that may stem outside your small project.
For example, if you are hired to write the copy for a business website, as copywriter you may then be able to explain the benefits of keeping a regularly updated blog and offer your services for this. The key here is to identify where you could genuinely be of help, and which opportunities are worth your time.
4. Be thankful for the opportunity
Your client surely has many options to work with other professionals in your niche (no matter which one it may be), and they decided to work with you. That’s amazing, and their decision allows you to keep working on your own as a freelancer.
Tell them, or better, show them that you appreciate that business relationship. The simple gestures are what matter, so send them an honest thank-you e-mail.
You can also get a step further and offer them something else.
For example, if you’ve designed a website for a small business, tell your friends and acquaintances about it your social media networks.
“Hey, go check my last design. [Client’s name] was an incredible client to work with and [its product / service] is amazing!”
That’s free promotion for them and a very sweet detail that the client will appreciate.
Very important: don’t forget them in the long term. Do they reach a milestone in their business? Congratulate them. Is your client’s birthday? Congratulate him.
This personal approach will make a huge difference in separating you from the crowd.
5. Make your client feel special
Now, we’re not saying you should ‘suck-up’ to your client, but there are a few little things you can do that will, in turn, make your contract run smoothly, from the tiny ‘attention to detail’ pick-ups that can make their day, to ensuring you have a rewarding and pleasant contract.
- Treat them as you’d like to be treated: Sounds screamingly obvious, but ensuring you treat your client exactly as you’d expect to be treated will ensure a harmonious relationship. Delivering to their expectations will fulfill your contract, but to make a real impact you should aim to build a professional relationship that’s foundation is built on respect and courtesy. You will be remembered for all the right reasons.
- Take note of their interests and any possible professional clashes: Is your client getting geared up for a big sports match, looking forward to a family birthday or jetting off on holiday? You have deadlines as do they, so take a few minutes to discuss their passions, what they’re looking forward to and how both your deadlines can fit in around them.
- Give them the red carpet treatment: Does your new client have a penchant for Hobnobs, or maybe a passion for coffee? Knowing their individual likes and having them prepared for them when they arrive in the office can make you memorable on their otherwise forgetfully busy day.
- Don’t just deliver your contractual obligations – SMASH THEM! Everyone has deadlines and it’s safe to say that getting tasks done on time and to the highest possible standard is always satisfying. Make them feel special by praising their help and assistance (if they’ve provided it) and letting them know how it has helped you to complete your contract on time, on spec and above all, beyond their expectations.
- Let them know what’s important to you: It’s not all about the client – have a think about what makes you feel special when contracting. Is it the promise of repeat business, a blindingly good referral or maybe even simply being told the difference your hard work has made during your time with the client? Whatever it may be, consider what it means to you and how you can let the client know.
- Look ahead: Remember that your current contract could be the gateway to your contracting future. Take a few moments today to think about your clients and how you can make them feel special.
How to maintain a good relationship
Maintaining strong relationships with your clients does not need to be difficult, and in fact, will feel more and more natural as you secure more long-term clients and need to spread your time pitching for new jobs less.
One of the best ways to maintain your strong relationships is through communication. Regular communication with your clients is the number one way to build trust and identify any issues long before they become detrimental to your relationship.
Make sure you always reply to messages promptly (within working hours of course), address any issues you have, or your client may have, and constantly look for ways to improve your relationship with your clients.
If you treat maintaining your relationships with your existing clients in the same way you would handle pitching for new job opportunities, you will not have a problem.
Tips for keeping in touch with former clients
It’s not all about getting new clients as a freelancer. You need to focus on nurturing your older connections, too.
A seasoned freelancer knows that is much easier to work with somebody who already knows you than winning over an unfamiliar person. So staying connected with former clients should be in your business strategy.
So here are a few techniques that will help you keep in touch with your former clients and make use of already built relationships.
First and foremost, make sure you know what your former clients are up to. If they have new projects coming up, you can just straight out offer your assistance.
“Congratulations on reaching goal X or finishing project Y, I noticed your website might need some maintenance here and would be glad to help you out if you’re interested”.
The main point is to keep track of what the clients are up to, follow their social media pages to stay up to date. If they´re not big on social media check their websites or type their names out in Google once a month and be ready when an opportunity arises.
2. Have a good reason to contact them
Contacting clients without a reason can often feel awkward. Research will help you overcome that sometimes, but there can be a lot of “excuses” for contacting a former client.
You could, for example, offer them a special deal. Be careful to not undercut your prices significantly, this is just about reminding them that you’re still out there. Holidays such as Christmas are another great occasion for leaving them a sweet, short message and keeping your name present, e.g. by sending Christmas cheers.
3. Consider newsletters
Newsletters are an excellent tool for making sure nobody on your mailing list forgets you and keeping them updated on top of that. However, they can be pretty time-consuming. Choose carefully how often you want to send newsletters out – it can be as often as once a week, but a quarterly newsletter can work just as well depending on your goals.
There are a lot of things you can pack in a newsletter. Tell your former clients what new experiences you have gained, share any courses you have finished or what you are up to now, or share your new ideas with them and be vocal about things you are excited about. Linking useful and informative articles can help you fill out the pages with useful content.
4. Keep it short and to the point
Avoid being seen as just another spammer – you want to be the friendly freelancer who is just checking in to see how a client is doing. Don’t bury the receiving side in emails containing two-digit paragraphs. It is extremely unlikely that anybody will actually have the time to read a long email. Just keep it short and simple.
5. Don’t be put off by lack of response
Keeping in touch with your former clients doesn’t always work out. Sometimes you will spend hours on your newsletter, send it out and then receive so little feedback that it makes you wonder whether it was worth it. Don’t be put off though – reflect on your strategy, adapt accordingly and become better. Often you won’t get an answer, but sometimes you’ll get a new project all thanks to keeping in touch so keep at it.
Tip: If you are based in the same city as your past client, consider showing up or suggesting that you meet for coffee or lunch. Such meetings can also be very successful.
Are you looking for long-term clients to stabilize your freelance business? Share with us the challenges you’ve faced and how you’ve tried to overcome them in the comments!