The hardest part of being a freelancer is getting new clients. Putting together your portfolio, hounding people on social media, writing on LinkedIn, only to land a quick $300 job for a client you’ll never see again. No one got into the freelance game to self-promote.
What if you could take that $300 one-time client and turn them into a $30k per year client? You could spend more time doing what you love, which is why you became a freelancer in the first place.
Being on the other end of the deal (the client) while running a publishing company, I know what it’s like to have great freelancers in the areas of writing, art, layout, and technology, and what it’s like to have not so great ones. Here’s how I chose who to give repeat business to.
What’s My Deadline?
There’s always a deadline. Every project needs to be published to make money — it does no one any good if it just sits on your computer collecting digital dust.
Good freelancers get to work in a timely manner so that it’s completed before the deadline. Great freelancers get to work immediately.
To be clear: anyone who gets something turned in by the deadline is A+ in my book. Thank you for doing the job as we discussed.
You’d be shocked at how hard it is to find people who meet the standards of being a ‘good’ freelancer. I used to hound people to get their work turned in. It was like calling a dog with a steak made of money, and they just sat there doing nothing!
Never miss your deadline.
A great freelancer thinks not only about their deadline, but their client’s deadline. They know there’s more to be done on my end before the project is finished, and the faster they can get their work turned in the less stressed I’m going to be. It’s a thing of beauty to have a freelancer who puts their client first.
How Good Am I Going to Look?
If you landed a client then your work must be pretty good for the price you were asking. If that’s at a low price point, you may have caught my interest early on, when I’m shopping for ‘good enough’ work to keep me under budget.
‘Good Enough’ is subjective.
One client will think you are amazing, while another will think you suck. Quality, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Those beholders cut the checks, though, and good work isn’t so subjective that you can get by saying something is ‘impressionistic’ all the time.
You need to work on your craft. Make your work so good that ‘subjective’ applies to every person who sees it. But the quality of your work isn’t the only thing I’m talking about here.
You could be great, incredible even, but still not a good fit for my project. Think about how my project is going to look with your work attached.
What you create for your clients needs to fit their project. That might mean making the best work you possibly can (usually that’s the case), but even more important is focusing on making work that fits seamlessly with the project, possibly alongside other creators on the freelance team who are less skilled than you.
If I’ve hired you, then we’ve already discussed the project. You know what I’m trying to accomplish. If all you’re thinking about is how to best position yourself for the negotiation then it doesn’t matter how good your work is. You won’t be a good fit.
Being able to anticipate what the client needs out of you is how you produce the best quality for their project. Don’t try to outshine the client, make the client be the one who shines. They’re paying the bills, after all.
How Difficult Are You Going to Be?
When I launched my first project on Kickstarter, I needed some decent artwork for cheap. I found an artist who had such high quality in her work that I doubted I was going be able to afford her.
Looking through her portfolio, I saw that she also had some rudimentary line work that looked good enough to fit my needs. They obviously took her less time than the nice paintings that attracted my attention, and I might be able to get something from her for a cheaper price.
Fortunately, she knew how to scale her work to fit my budget. I was elated because not only was this freelancer going to work on my early projects, but she had the skills to continue on with my future projects, at which point I would be able to pay more.
That freelancer worked for every project I published. I didn’t keep her on because she was better than others, nor because she was faster.
I kept working with her because she made my life easier.
Part of this is the price — if you nickel and dime your clients, you’re not thinking about their needs. And the thing they need most is less stress. The best way to keep a client is to be thoughtful and polite.
If you’ve ever worked in tech, you’ve probably met the programmer with too many degrees and a specialized skill set who makes even more than your boss. He might be good, but he’s also a total dick. Your boss likely deals with it because he can’t find anyone else who can do that job.
As a freelancer, you can’t be that guy. Your clients can find others who will do the same job you’re providing. Be polite, think of their needs, and they’ll find a way to keep you forever.
Putting It All Together
You don’t need to hit every point above to gain a ‘forever client’. What you need is to deploy the 2-out-3 Rule. Fast, good, or nice — nail at least two of these to get some repeat business or all three to never search for new clients again.
As someone who’s been on the client-side of things, I’ll tell you that the best point to get down is the last one. If you are willing to work with my needs, I’ll always find a way to keep your pockets full.