Several years ago I made it to the top 0.1% of freelance writers in the writing and translation category on elance.com, and today I’m going to share 3 steps I took to earn and maintain long-term, profitable relationships with valuable clients.
#1. Start with Great Communication
Let Your Client Know You Care about their Business
In my experience, there are two types of freelancers … those that care about finishing a project as quickly as possible so they can get paid, and those that care about building great relationships so they can enjoy ongoing work from clients who wouldn’t think of hiring anyone else.
If you were hiring a writer, which type of freelancer would you want to work with?
Every freelance writer knows that it’s best to make sure that you and your client are on the same page about the scope of work, delivery date, and that it’s important to set mutually agreed upon expectations at the beginning of a contract, but great freelancers don’t stop there.
One way to separate yourself from other writers competing for work is to ask smart questions from the outset that communicate to your client that you care about their immediate and long-term business goals.
Ask what he or she hopes to accomplish with the content you’re writing. Does your client want an article which moves people toward completing a purchase? Does your client hope that people who read what you write will opt-in to receive a newsletter? What is the demographic or persona that your client hopes to target with this content?
While it’s wise not to overwhelm your client with 25 detailed questions (you’ll be labeled as “that needy writer” or worse), sometimes asking a few meaningful questions can communicate that clients should view you as a real asset – someone who cares about the success of their project, their brand, and who could probably offer ideas to improve their content strategy if the client continues to work with you.
Oh, and by the way – if you know exactly what your client is looking for, you’ll set yourself up to hit a home-run with the content you deliver.
#2. Set Clear Expectations
And Then Over-Deliver (Within Reason)
After you have a good sense of the project, the next step to winning your client’s heart is to exceed expectations in a surprising or creative way. Knock his or her socks off!
While you shouldn’t do a lot of extra work without compensation (this sets unrealistic expectations going forward), finding small ways to go above and beyond for your client, and delivering your work a day or two early is sure to impress, and he or she will remember that when they’re handing out the next assignment. It’s especially helpful if that “something extra” supports their business goal in some way.
A few ways you could accomplish this:
- • If you’re writing a review of a product, find a piece of research from a respected organization which supports the claim you’re making about why their product is useful or necessary. If your client sells bedding, include research which supports how important a good night’s sleep is or how much more productive someone can be when they sleep better. This illustrates how your client’s product solves a real problem and pushes readers toward a purchase decision.
- • Find third-party reviews online (ideally from a brand or publication people recognize) and include impact quotes within the content to help build reader trust in your client’s product or brand.
- • Add Calls to Action to Opt-In for Their Newsletter or include links in the copy to help readers land on other relevant pages on your client’s website or blog (this will save them time when publishing your content).
Identify clients who are likely to award additional work, and consider the extra effort you put forth on the first writing assignment an investment of time that will pay off in the long run.
One important point to consider, though:
Don’t work for free … if your client asked for an 800-word article you should not deliver 1600 words. There are two risks you face if you over-deliver in this way:
- You set the unrealistic expectation that you’ll deliver twice as much as your client requested every time you’re offered an assignment. You’re setting your client up for disappointment on the next assignment … your agreed-upon rate will seem too high or your effort level will seem too low, which will quickly sour the relationship.
- If your client asked for 800 words, he or she may not want 1600 words. The last thing you want to do is to leave your client feeling like you didn’t pay close attention to the project details. Instead find clever ways to adhere to project guidelines while offering some extra-effort additions which your client will appreciate.
#3. When You Fail (And You Will)
You Can Still Make a Great First Impression
At some point every writer will deliver copy which isn’t exactly what their client wanted.
This can happen for a number of reasons, and it may not be your fault, but there’s one thing you can do to pre-empt any anger or disappointment on the part of your client: deliver your work with a short message which puts their mind at ease and reinforces that you’re a great writer to work with.
A few tips for crafting a terrific content-delivery message:
- Keep it Short – You want to deliver what your client needs without asking them to do a lot of extra reading.
- Highlight Your Effort – Your client might be too busy to notice the ways in which you went above and beyond. Take a moment to share what you did (and why) so he or she is sure to take note.
- Make a Promise – On the off-chance that your client isn’t fully satisfied, offer a rewrite at no cost. Offering this upon delivery will go a long way with your client. It builds trust and earns respect.
Here’s an example of a content-delivery message I’ve used in the past when delivering a writing assignment to a new client:
Hi, [Name] –
Great news – I finished your assignment a day early! It’s attached for your review.
To make sure this project accomplished [the business goal we discussed before beginning work] I [took these additional steps] to make sure you’re thrilled with [the finished content].
Please take a look, and if for any reason you’re not 100% satisfied please let me know right away – I’ll be happy to re-work this at no charge so that it’s exactly what you’re looking for.
Thanks again for offering me the chance to work with you on this. I had a lot of fun with it, and hope you’ll think of me the next time you need a writer!
Don’t worry – while it may seem like guaranteeing satisfaction up-front will cause clients to take advantage of you by requesting a lot of re-writes, I’ve found that the opposite is true.
On the rare occasion when the work I delivered did miss the mark, clients often responded with something like:
“Well, this isn’t exactly what I had in mind, but it is good and will still work for us – next time let’s focus on X and Y a little more instead of spending so much time writing about Z.”
Did you catch that? He wrote next time.
The satisfaction guarantee builds trust and makes people want to work with you again because they feel there’s less risk in doing so. Rather than sour what could be a good ongoing working relationship for them, most clients will accept the work and offer additional direction they probably should have offered to begin with.
To businesses, the value of talented freelance writers who guarantee that their work will meet or exceeds expectations is significant, especially if they can hire these writers again and again at a fair rate. Savvy clients understand that it’s in their best interest to make it work and retain you as an asset.
Freelance Writers Should Spend Their Time Writing
There’s an art to successfully pitching your writing services to clients, but impressing and retaining every new client you get is the best way to keep your freelance writing income steady.
Follow these 3 tips and you’ll spend your time writing meaningful content for clients who appreciate you, avoid the hustle of constantly writing pitches to try to land new clients or contracts, and before long you’ll have a thriving freelance writing business you can be proud of.
If you’re a freelance writer I’d love to hear a strategy you’ve used to retain important clients. Please share your experience in the comments below!
Image: Freelance Writer Letter