Freelancing is an excellent opportunity to realize your entrepreneurial dream. However, to be successful it’s important to properly position yourself, and one of the best goals to strive for is winning more long-term customers.
In fact, long-term clients are just better; as the famous adage says, it’s easier to sell to existing customers than find new ones. This principle is especially true in the world of freelancing. In a business model reliant upon every hour of your time, the prospecting process decreases your effective hourly rate in the long run.
Assume, for example, that to win a single customer, you must invest two hours of prospecting time. If your hourly rate is $25, each new client actually costs you $50 to acquire. Multiply this over the course of a year, and the opportunity costs can really start to add up.
Now, look at a slightly different model: winning and maintaining a select group of customers. Your rate remains $25 per hour; however, you minimize the acquisition costs by prospecting less. This all sounds great in theory, right? But exactly how do you retain long-term freelancing gigs? Here are four ways.
1. Stop thinking like a freelancer.
Unfortunately, many clients have negative perceptions about “freelancers.” A multitude of factors contribute to this stereotype, in particular your fellow freelancing brethren taken as a whole: Specifically, most people who have engaged in outsourcing jobs have hired their share of unreliable contractors. So they’re distrustful.
To overcome this distrust, you should position yourself as a strategic consultant. Freelancers are expendable, but you are certainly not. Put your clients’ needs above your own and always speak in their terms. Instead of thinking in terms of projects, be proactive and regularly make new recommendations. Doing so will ensure that customers gain value — and will also keep you busy.
2. Know your market value.
There’s no Kelley Blue Book to assess freelancer value. However, a quick search on Upwork.com (formerly oDesk) will give you a fairly accurate estimate of your worth. When setting your hourly rate, ask yourself this question: “If I were a client, what would I be willing to pay someone with my skills?” If you’re a lawyer, then you may expect to command a higher rate than someone doing data entry.
Once you’ve established your general market value, it’s time to undercut the market by at least 25 percent (at least initially). Remember, your goal is to win long-term engagements. By delivering value to clients from your first interactions, you will create a positive perception and increase your chances of winning more business.
3. Reduce the risk of doing business with you.
If you’re not getting many nibbles for long-term hourly work, perhaps it’s time to package your skills into a low-risk offering.
Many freelance engagements begin as short-term, fixed-price contracts. These types of opportunities typically involve completing a specific deliverable for a pre-defined budget. In my case, initial contracts require me to write a marketing plan. Other examples: Accountants may perform an audit, IT professionals may do a system vulnerability review and graphic artists may design a new branding concept.
In any case, initial contracts are excellent situations to illustrate your value and map yourself into the long-term plan. If the client is counting on you to present a success plan, why wouldn’t you include yourself in such a plan?
4. Insist on regular meetings.
When a client mentions a problem he or she is facing, you should start to see dollar signs. As a consultant, your job is to assess the situation and offer solutions. When you solve problems, clients are more than happy to part with their money.
Virtual workers often make the mistake of avoiding regular contact with clients. If you never talk to your customers, how can you truly know what their problems are? If you don’t know their problems, then it is impossible to consistently deliver solutions.
Weekly meetings are not only beneficial for solving client needs but crucial to the viability of your freelancing career. Each meeting is your opportunity to renew your relationship and implied agreement. En route, it’s important to take excellent meeting minutes, noting any challenges your customer faces.
After the meeting, slice up your minutes into an action plan. Show the client that you understand the situation and have developed a solution. Indicate that you will move forward with the proposed solution unless the client advises otherwise. This allows both parties to understand the terms without waiting around for explicit approval. Some people are simply too busy to respond to your emails.
Freelancing success is only a few solid clients away. Focus on winning and keeping a handful of customers, and you’ll never look back.