I know there are thousands -- literally, thousands -- of sites out there with advice on how to attract clients, and jobs, and make money as a freelancer. This isn't about that. This is a post about how to keep your clients once you get them. (Okay, so maybe it's a little about money).
I still freelance occasionally, but most of the time these days, I'm the one hiring freelancers and -- just as importantly -- recommending them to my colleagues and friends.
That is the thing that most of those "How to Be a Freelancer" sites don't mention: for the person on the hiring end, finding a freelancer is often like finding a new hair stylist. First -- they ask their friends and colleagues for recommendations. For a freelancer, word of mouth is the holy grail of marketing because then the jobs find you.
Your reputation matters. (For the list below, we're going to assume that anyone wanting to be a freelancer writer is already a good writer. Being a good writer is only part of the battle for a freelancer. You need to be good AND reliable.)
4 Ways to Become a Freelancer Your Clients Recommend to Others:
1. Meet the deadline. This is one of those things you shouldn't have to say, but, sadly, you do -- kind of like a sign I saw a few months ago, "Don't swim with the sharks while feeding them." Duh. Here's the thing, if someone is hiring you as a freelancer, it's because they need to fill a gap -- usually in either capacity or expertise.
Bottomline: Your clients hire you to solve a problem, not become one. If something happens and you can't meet the deadline (and this does happen -- illness, family emergencies), the key is to let your client know there might be a problem as soon as you see anything on the horizon. If you call the night before a project is due (or worse the day of), you better hope you get voicemail because you aren't going to get sympathy.
2.Ask questions. If you are unclear on any aspect of an assignment, ask questions. Work to develop some insight into your client's processes and culture. Ask for a style guide or for samples of previous publications. If it's still not coming together, do a portion of the assignment -- before the deadline -- and send it in to ask for guidance. The writer currently holding top spot in my rolodex does this and we've found it to work very well for fine tuning voice, focus and structure.
3. Be willing to figure it out. Admittedly, this can be a hard balance to strike (and frankly, some clients are just going to turn out to be, well, clearly insane, and you will never be able to figure out what they want because THEY don't know what they want. But that's also another post). For a client that you would like to have as a regular in your roster, a little bit of judicious initiative can go a long, long way. And the more you dig in and learn where to find sources, or how to navigate the organization (though never start calling around the company without talking to your client), the more valuable you become.
4. Build a relationship with your client. The three writers I turn to first for assignments are all people I have grown to consider friends. Not personal friends necessarily, but work friends. They ask after my kids, we talk about vacations and if they're in town, we'll occasionally go to lunch or for drinks. We take turns buying. The point? Building trust and cordial relations is key to a lasting business relationship.
At the end of the day, it's ultimately about trust. You are responsible to your client, but your client is either the business owner or responsible to someone else for the final product -- so, to a certain extent, they are trusting you with their reputation. Don't take that lightly.
And don't forget that professionalism cuts both ways. A reputable, trustworthy client (I know, you're shocked! shocked! to hear that there are deadbeat clients out there), will not ask you to work without a contract or SIGNED letter of agreement. They won't ask you to write for free. They won't ask you to "audition" by editing something for them -- without pay -- before hiring you.
For some great tips on how to be a professional writer, check out
Lori Widmer at Words on a Page.
What's missing from the list? If you're a freelancer, what do you look for in a client? If you hire freelancers, what do you look for in a writer? Have any Freelance Hell horror stories to share?
Credit (and thanks) for the greenlight image go to my friend Jill. Go visit her on flickr.