Freelancing has become increasingly competitive over the past few years. According to MBO Partners “State of Independence Report”, the independent workforce has a “growing headcount of 17.7 million independent workers, up 5% from 2012 and 10% from 2011 – the base year.”
This clearly shows a 5% increase each year and is predicted to continue on this path. But with so many freelancers and more to come, how do you stay popular? How do you become the go to source for projects in your field?
Create Long Term Value for your Clients
Completing projects timely and to the clients expectations should be a given. You want and need to create a long lasting relationship with your clients that sets you apart from every other freelancer out there. If you believe that you are the only person who can fulfill a project you are already in trouble. So how do you keep your clients coming back?
- Set realistic expectations.
Be clear in the scope, be transparent in the process, fair in cost and honest in about the time it will take to complete the project.
- Be consistent.
While this may sound like basic knowledge, consistency can make or break the trust a client has in you. If you take 2 weeks to write a 50 page report one time and 2 months for the next, you may be looking for a new client.
- Give discounts.
Companies give discounts to clients who give all their work to them and so should you. It doesn’t have to be a lot but if you receive repeated projects that are creating a solid stream of income for you, giving a 5% discount on the project can go a long way.
- Be courteous.
As an independent contractor, life is busy and often clients can be quite demanding. Never respond when you are annoyed or angry because something has changed again, or the client has called for the 10th time the same day with questions. Take a breath and remember to smile.
- Communicate with your client.
Things happen, the scope of the projects change, you are sick, material prices went up or you need more help. Call your client and schedule a meeting. Integrate them in the process, update them even if everything goes smooth, ask their feedback or simply check in to say hello. Clients appreciate contractors who keep them in the loop.
- Report regularly.
Depending on your field, you may need to report. It’s important that you set KPI’s and ROI’s in the beginning stages of your project to avoid surprises later. Define goals and expectations clearly and regularly report to your client with easy to follow and understandable reports of the project and how it is coming along. Even benchmark or timeline reports can give you the edge over a competing freelancer.
- Keep in touch.
Sometimes clients don’t have year round projects but when they do, you want them coming back to you. Just because you have finished a project doesn’t mean your work is done. Send a handwritten “Thank you for your business and trust in my work.” A small, thoughtful gift around Christmas time or even a random email where you check in, help keep your name fresh in their mind and show that you value their business.
- Be an expert in your field.
It’s easy to take on things outside your expertise because it brings in extra money. Say you are a photographer and have photoshop experience. Just because you can work in photoshop doesn’t necessarily make you a graphic designer. Stay away from things you know how to do vs things you are a master in. You are an awesome photographer. Stick to that because when the project doesn’t turn out as stellar as a designer could, it will reflect badly upon yourself. Master your craft and sell that craft. It will set you apart from those who dabble a little in everything. Quality over quantity is a good guideline that will guarantee business.
- Appreciate Referrals.
Even small one project referrals can make an impact. Remember, if you get a referral from a client they are happy with you. They are happy with your work and are confident that you will deliver the same quality and in the process make them look good for suggesting you. You could put a referral program in place where you give a discount for every referral or offer a free session. Thank the client who referred you and thank the new client for trusting in you. Then deliver greatness.
- Learn your client.
This is one of the most important aspects of becoming popular and staying popular with clients. Learn their business inside out. Learn how they react, what they expect, what they like and dislike. Then use it to your advantage. Most clients want someone reliable, someone who understands their business and expectations. They don’t want to repeat their needs and wants every other project. If you can impress with knowledge and deliver you make yourself hard to replace. Take the time to learn about their business as a whole and the client him or herself.
- Be different or offer something unique.
The best way to set yourself apart from the masses is to be different or have something that isn’t commonly found. For example, I am a photographer when I am not busy with my regular job. It isn’t just a hobby for me it is a source of income and an outlet for passion. I don’t run a lot of ads or market a lot because word of mouth works wonders for me. I see the world differently and it reflects in my pictures. I have never done standard portraits because they bore me. I get to know my clients, I learn who they are and what they want to be portrayed as and then I get to work. I don’t have a studio, or a lot of equipment, but I do have a unique perspective and that’s what sets me apart. The last couple whose wedding day I accompanied lived out of state but had heard about me through co-workers of parents. If you are good, word travels fast. If you deliver the expectation, they will come back for more.
Little things like this can set you apart from everyone else who is trying to compete for projects from your client. What do you do to set yourself apart? Long standing clients are half the battle for an independent professional. Because in the end, we all just want a steady paycheck, just the terms on how to get it are our own.