The Freelancer Promise Land: Recurring Clients
New freelancers are always trying to calculate how long it will take before things are smooth sailing. Dispel that idea from your mind right now. Stop trying to measure how long freelancing will be “hard” before it gets “easy.” It will never be easy. What it may eventually become, is stable. Stable does not mean you can sit back and start acting like a full-time employee again, but it does mean that you might tip. Tip, in this case, meaning that more of your work comes from clients finding you rather than you finding clients. The best way to tip, to get to this point of stability where life as a freelancer really starts paying off, is to have recurring clients.
STAYING TOP OF MIND
A freelancer doesn’t land a recurring client, they make one. The more comfortable a client is with you the more likely they are to throw work your way without you having to do anything. It can take quite a while for clients to find new freelancers, so the minute they feel enough confidence in you that they can skip the job search process altogether, they will. How does one build that kind of relationship? Network. Networking doesn’t end when you land a job. Networking is an active endeavor. Making a connection and then following it up three years later will bear zero fruit. You need to actively maintain your network and engage the people in it. Be at the front of everyone’s mind.
It would be nice to keep up with your entire network. That of course isn’t feasible, so you should really prioritize people who you’ve worked with previously (and hopefully liked you). Maintaining these relationships are easier, as you've already met. They have a proven track record of your performance. They are more likely to offer you work or recommend you because they have more confidence that you’ll make them look good. Despite that, you still want to be strategic with how you reach out. If there’s a client you hope will give you recurring work, don’t reach out to them the day after your last contract with them ended. Clearly they don’t have any more work for you right now. Also, try not to wait until you’re out of a job. If you know one job is coming to an end and you’ll definitely have some free space in your schedule, start to reach out then. This way it doesn’t look like you’re turning to said client as a last resort. You want them to know that you’re reaching out because you really like them.
RELATIONSHIPS OVER JOBS
Freelance work is transient. They have no one boss or client. That’s the whole thing. Understandably, it can be a bit difficult to build long lasting relationships with clients when one thinks of all jobs as finite. There is nothing wrong with doing one-off jobs for clients you may never see again, but if you’re looking for recurring clients, you need to develop relationships. Every good business thinks about their different customer categories, with the most important being the returning customer or, “regular.” This is how you should be thinking of these relationships. You aren’t becoming an employee again, you are fostering regular customers. Staying top of mind while away from a client is important, but the best time to build a relationship is while you’re working for a client. If you notice that your client is going to need more work done soon, don’t be afraid to offer your services. Chances are, they were going to ask you the same thing. If the work they need done isn’t within your expertise, offer them the services of a different freelancer you know. This way the client knows that you genuinely care about their success and not just landing a job. Another good tip is to complement clients on the work you did together when it launches. Often the work we do with clients doesn’t emerge until months after our contract is done. This is a great time to reach out. Whatever you can do to show a client that they’re more than a paycheck to you is invaluable.
Having recurring clients isn’t just up to you, it’s up to the client too. They need to be comfortable with having a recurring freelancer. This is why maybe the most important part of building client relationships is choosing the right clients. There are some clients that send you awesome exciting work but maybe it was just a one-time thing. They had a vacancy and needed a freelancer, but aren’t looking to adopt that approach in the future. There are other clients who really want to keep giving you work but simply don’t have the consistent budget to do so. Should you completely avoid clients you don’t think will have ongoing work? Of course not. The best way to understand a client’s situation is to work for them. If they end up not having more work for you, you’re a freelancer get used to it. They might have work for you in the future, so stay top of mind. Once you've gotten a sense of a clients' situation, you know whether to invest the time and energy keeping up with them, or to skedaddle once the contract is done.
When selecting which clients to build stronger relationships with, it’s important to diversify. You don’t want to get too comfortable with one client and put all your eggs in that basket. That clients’ work could dry up and then you’ve got nothing to fall back on. You should aim to have a diverse range of recurring clients.
There are certainly freelancers out there that enjoy the chase of new work, but for many of us, recurring clients is a great pathway to success and stability.