To build a sustainable freelance career you need to look beyond the basics – attracting new clients – and start thinking about how to keep the clients you have coming back for more. However, if you follow a few simple rules, you can have clients who thank you for your work, give you positive feedback and testimonials, pay you fairly, pass on your name to colleagues and ask you to do more work for them on a regular basis.
Put every client first
Make them feel as if they’re the only person in the only company you work for. Sure, you might be juggling six other projects with wildly conflicting briefs/house styles/subjects/demands/deadlines, but the client doesn’t need to know this. They want to be top of your list every time. If you can pull this off, then maybe you’ll be top of their list, too.
Do the best job possible
It’s all too easy to imagine that you might be able to get away with cutting corners. After all, no one’s watching! You might think, surely that desk editor won’t be checking every page? Perhaps no one other than me really notices serial comma consistency? But think again. For every ten brilliant jobs you do that apparently go unnoticed, it will be the one that gets rushed and botched that attracts attention. Take pride in all your work and you will be rewarded, not least by the satisfaction of having done an excellent job every time.
Know how to communicate
You’ve got the client's phone number and email address… so keep in touch. Let them know you’ve received the work safely and are raring to go. Don’t wait until the end of a project to ask questions. Find out what you need to know when you need to know it. And let them know when you’re sending things back. Having said all that – keep your communications succinct. Your client is busy and you should use their time wisely. Be careful, too, with the personal details you reveal. You might work on a desk at the end of your bed (maybe you don’t even have a desk), but your client doesn’t necessarily need to know this.
Stay on brief
The client’s given you a brief for a reason – so follow it. It’s fine to ask for clarification of particular points, but don’t start questioning every detail. Use the brief as a tool to inform your work and help you give the client what they’ve asked for. (It’s as if they’ve given you the answers!) A client may send you a really long and intricate brief, and reams of house style guidelines, which can seem like a bit of a headache – until you get a client who gives you a one-liner. Then you really need to consider how to give them exactly what they want. It’s sensible to assume that a client who gives you a short brief is either pushed for time or needs a little guidance through the editorial process. Whichever, don’t overload them with loads of niggling queries. Try to hand them back a finished product that’s ready to go.
When you send the work back, say thank you
If you especially enjoyed a job or think the product is great, tell the client, and explain (briefly) why. If your client sees you as a real person with preferences and particular strengths, this can lead to more work, more interesting or better-paid work, or even work that is tailored specifically to you. Finally, don’t ever take your clients for granted. It doesn’t hurt to say thank you for the work. The people who employ you are human, and they like to be thanked as much as you do.