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I <3 freelancing for rad clients

August 27, 2009

My son is now an “entrepreneur.” That’s what you’re called when you don’t have a job.  ~ Ted Turner

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I got my first official copywriting client. Boo-yah, baby! I’m totally stoked. Were it not for the obvious lame-factor, I’d be jumping around like a squirrel that just consumed an unhealthy amount of Red Bull. Not that any amount would be healthy for a squirrel…

I feel very, very lucky. As a newbie freelancer, having my first experience with a client be a positive one is just as encouraging as it is reassuring. I’ve been given the opportunity to work with a fellow female entrepreneur that faced hard beginnings and now successfully runs her own educational institution. Hello, inspiration! Since she’s local, I also got to come out of my den and partake in a face-to-face consultation with her.  Things couldn’t have gone better. We communicated effectively, she gave me very clear instructions on what she was looking for and I feel absolutely confident with the ideas I’ve been drafting up to this point. Oh yah, and she fed me coffee and homemade banana bread! Seriously, it doesn’t get any sweeter than that (thank you, client of my dreams).

So in celebration, I’ve come up with some ideas for how to appreciate and hold onto those heavenly clients on your list. Even better? I’ve included detailed examples of how I’ve incorporated them into my own practices. Ready, set…go!

  1. Offer a discount, free service or product…sometimes: I know, I uttered “free”. How dare I. But before you turn around and leave, hear me out. I’m not suggesting you write pro bono all the time or undersell yourself. What I am saying is keep your client’s interests at heart and understand that the payoff is oftentimes worth it. It can help you secure a potential client or keep an old client coming back for more. For example, I offer a 15% discount to new clients on their first project. This helps me build credibility and trust. It also means a potential client who might be unsure about investing in my services will be more likely to take the risk. Why? Because they don’t have to shell out as much cash before having proof of my abilities and accountability. I even offer a 5% discount on a future project to clients who land me a successful new referral. This is a win-win situation – your client has incentive and you get new business.
  2. Talent is good. Unbeatable customer service is better: Be honest about your abilities, turn-around time and expectations. No pussy-footing. Clients appreciate a straight-forward attitude. But what’s equally important is that you genuinely care about your client’s needs. Don’t be solely focused on the moolah. If you want to succeed as a freelancer, you must first help your client succeed. It’s called customer service and clients remember their personal experience with a provider – and whether it was a positive or negative one – even more than the quality of the finished product. Listen carefully, suggest positive solutions, share your knowledge and give them the attention they deserve. Once you’ve handed them a totally kickass completed project and they’ve paid you your dues, send them a thank-you. A personalized note to show your gratitude will go a long way and really set you apart from others, but even an email will do. By taking a real interest in my client’s needs and vision, I’ve been able to secure more work. How did I do this? I listened more than I talked, I incorporated her ideas into my own brainstorming and communicated them to her, I made myself available to her at times that were convenient for her since I knew she had a busy school to run, and I was never anything less than professional, friendly and enthusiastic.
  3. Give them what they expect…then give them something they weren’t expecting: This type of business isn’t about exercising your artistic freedom, even if we are creative professionals. Clients have a set of expectations they require you to meet. So deliver on your promises and don’t be the guy who took the horse and ran with it or they’ll just regret hiring you for the job. They may even spread the bad word to others via fire-breathing rage…and you really don’t want your reputation burned (word-of-mouth is a powerful networking tool, after all). Giving them what they want is good, but if you really want to emblazon your Chiclet-smile and impeccable grammar on their memories, give them something they weren’t expecting. Go that extra mile. Throw in a sidebar for free. Finish the project ahead of deadline. Agree to meet them in-person for lunch or coffee to discuss their project rather than communicating solely over phone or email. Make yourself memorable and you’ll become the go-to for future projects.

This industry has some fierce competition. I know because it gives me the heebie-jeebies everyday. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned early on, it’s that how you deal with clients can make or break your freelancing career. And the last thing you want is to lose the golden ones.

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