Landing more and better-paying clients is certainly a proven way to boost your income as a freelance professional. But you can do just as well (if not better) by getting more repeat business from your existing clients.
Think of all the marketing effort you have to exert to get someone's attention for the first time. Whether you find most of your clients via referrals, networking, direct mail or some other means, getting a prospect to notice you (and trust you enough to award you a project!) is no easy feat.
Compare this with the effort it takes to pick up a ringing phone and listen as your client says, "We've got another job for you."
I know which scenario I prefer!
In this training episode, I'll show you what freelancers and self-employed service providers in a variety of professions are doing to get more work from existing clients.
#1: Partner With Your Clients
Kathy Goughenour, founder and head trainer at Expert VA Training, suggests that one great way to drum up more repeat business is to help your clients become more successful. "Don't wait for clients to tell you what they want you to do," she recommends. "Instead, consider yourself a partner in their businesses and share your ideas on how they can build their businesses."
One quick and easy way to do this, says Goughenour, is to subscribe to the Help a Reporter Out service (HARO). HARO is a free service that sends emails three times a day with requests from reporters and journalists for story sources.
"It's a great way for you and your clients to get free publicity and to make more connections," says Goughenour. "Scan HARO emails, and when you see one that matches your clients' specialization, forward it to the appropriate client along with an offer to respond on their behalf."
Goughenour says that it takes only about five minutes a day to scan the HARO emails. And it not only benefits your clients, it also benefits you on four levels:
- Your clients will love the initiative you took in sending these opportunities, as well as your suggestions on how to respond to them.
- You'll get your name in front of your clients on a regular basis and in a positive, helpful way, which will often result in repeat business for you.
- If you're a marketing or public relations freelancer, this could lead to some project work (the result of either your client getting new publicity or your client hiring you to formally respond to these queries).
- You may find PR opportunities for yourself in HARO. In fact, as a result of responding to HARO requests, Goughenour has been quoted in Huffington Post, Women's Day magazine, and many other magazines, books and blogs.
Goughenour adds that you can even use this idea to convert potential clients to paying clients. "Send an applicable HARO opportunity to a potential client with a note that you do this for all your clients," she suggests. "Within the last six months, I've converted two potential clients to paying clients using this tactic."
#2: Become a Trusted Resource
Similarly, Deborah Corn, principal of Print Pro Quo Print & Integrated Project Management, attributes much of her client retention success to her willingness to give first. "If you don't nickel-and-dime clients with the small stuff, they will be loyal when it comes to the big stuff," she says.
"Create and nurture relationships. And if the opportunity arises, educate your clients on relevant industry developments, trends and technologies. If you are thought of as a resource for information and help, as well as a resource for whatever you are already a resource for, they will more than likely come to you when it's time to implement. And they'll keep coming back!"
Freelance print and web designer Alison Meeks agrees. "Many of my clients are small businesses, and most are not very tech savvy," she says. "Sometimes they have heard the buzzwords in the media but don't know if they apply to them or how to implement good ideas.
"By talking with them to learn more about their goals - and by educating them on what's available and how we can take advantage of the net to help meet those goals - they can make better decisions. It also allows them to budget for the work they can't manage right now, and it positions me as a trusted adviser."
#3: Offer a Lunch-and-Learn
What's your area of expertise? Search engine optimization? Social media? Writing white papers? Pete Savage, marketing consultant and co-author of The Wealthy Freelancer, recommends putting together an informative presentation on the subject and offering it to your clients. "Pack it full of relevant, high-value content and offer to deliver it to your client's team in the form of a "˜lunch-and-learn' on their premises," he says.
According to Pete, this technique yields benefits all around. For your client, the staff will get some free training (and free lunch!). The benefits to you are twofold:
- You elevate your perceived status in the eyes of your main contact.
- You get to meet other people within the company who don't yet know you but may have need for your services.
"I recently put together a lunch-and-learn on the topic of direct mail for a client of mine, and 15 marketing people showed up," says Pete. "Within a week, I had one project from that presentation, which paid for the lunch tab many times over. And now I have more than a dozen new, warm prospects to call on."
#4: Create a Fee Schedule
Pete also suggests creating a fee schedule and distributing it to all clients. "This is an effective tool to have in your marketing arsenal because it's so disarming," says Pete. "It's a great advertisement for all your services, but it doesn't look anything like an ad. That means clients are more likely to read it and hang on to it."
A fee schedule is easy to create. Start by making a two-column document on your computer. In the left column, list your services. In the right column, list your fees (or fee range) for each service. That's it!
"Don't just send it once and leave it at that," says Pete. "Update it every 6-to-12 months and send a new copy to all your clients. After receiving my fee schedule, one client of mine, an experienced marketing manager for a huge blue-chip company, told me she'd never seen one before and that it would be a great help to her when budgeting projects. I got a lot of business from that client over the next several years."
After receiving Pete's fee schedule, another client told him, "The fact that you have a fee schedule tells me you know what you're doing. I like that you can give me a specific price or range on a project, rather than say, "˜Well, it depends.' When freelancers tell me "˜It depends,' I take it to mean they've never done that project before, or they have no idea whether or not their services are fairly priced."
According to Pete, since receiving the fee schedule, this client has essentially gone shopping and "ordered" a slew of new projects from him.
Having a fee schedule also impresses potential new clients and motivates them to hire you. Say you're a graphic designer and you've never designed a banner ad but you'd like to. What's stopping you from putting "˜Banner Ad' on your fee schedule? Nothing! Your fee schedule should include all the services you're capable of doing, even if they're new to you. When clients see a service listed on your fee schedule, they will, of course, assume you can deliver it.
#5: Engage, Engage, Engage!
"I strategically engage with my "˜sweet spot' client via social media," says motivational speaker and life coach Jenn Lee. "I'm not trying to sell them in this engagement, but really understand who they are as individuals, their interests, what's bothering them at or in work, and so on. Then, when I see a potential "˜need' or opportunity pop up, I have the relationship already built to approach them with the solution. And many times, that solution is not me!"
Jenn says that her potential clients love the fact that she has their best interests in mind - that she doesn't position her services as the only solution to every challenge. "They love me for thinking about them first, which often means that when the right opportunity for me appears, I'm the one they call!"
#6: Do a Fantastic Job for Big-Enough Clients
"There's no magic to getting repeat business," says Gordon Graham, who writes for business-to-business companies as That White Paper Guy. "You just have to deliver fantastic work to a client big enough to hire you over and over again."
Plain old, average work won't win you any raving fans. So take a few minutes to give every deliverable an extra polish. Have a colleague look them over for you; maybe do a work exchange where you do the same for them. Go the extra mile. For example, Gordon delivers a bundle of sources with every white paper. "Most writers never think of that," he says, "so if the client wants to check a reference, they have to call you up for your sources."
Smaller companies or startups likely have only one product. They may come back to Gordon, but not for a long time. He prefers larger companies with multiple products, numerous product managers or a super-busy marketing department that's run off their feet.
"That's where a helpful freelancer can easily score repeat business," he says.
#7: Ask to Be Introduced to Others in the Organization
Here's one last tip. If you go after the corporate market - and especially midsized to large companies - ask your main contact at the client to introduce you to other individuals within the company who could potentially hire you.
For instance, one of my copywriting clients is a large software company where each marketing manager makes his or her own project decisions, including decisions about when to use a freelance writer and which writer to hire.
I had worked on some projects for one of the managers in that company, and he was very happy with the quality of my work. So, after two or three months of working with him, I asked him if he would introduce me to some of his colleagues, which he happily agreed to do.
Thanks to his endorsement, I was able to land projects with two other managers in his company, and today I continually get projects from four of the company's marketing managers. (One of them recently awarded me almost $8,000 of work in just one month!)
What Works for You?
What about you? What's been your most effective strategy to get more repeat business?
Let us know in the comments area below.