As a freelancer, you’ll likely work with a variety of clients throughout your career. Though some clients will come and go, it’s important to maintain good relationships with different people or businesses that you work with. Not only can this strengthen the quality of your work, but it can also land you more work (and for longer periods of time). Plus, clients that value your work ethic are more likely to recommend you to people who might need freelance services.
Working as a freelance writer for the past 10 years, I’ve learned through trial and error - and great advice from other freelancers - about how to build better relationships with freelance clients. This includes both what to do (and not to do) when it comes to maintaining your gigs. Josh Ellis wrote a piece for Indy about what not to do when it comes to being a freelancer, so here's the flip side of that: Five steps you can take to strengthen relationships with your own freelance clients.
“Having worked on both sides, both as a freelancer and a person who hires freelancers, there is nothing more important than being responsive,” says Michelle Martin, a freelance writer who works with a variety of marketing clients. Like Martin, I’ve also worked on both sides and can echo her sentiment: time is everything, especially for clients who rely on meeting tight deadlines.
“If your clients have questions or edits, don't make them wait and wonder,” Martin explains. “I've worked with some outstanding freelancers who, sadly, were too slow [to respond]. It puts your client in a bad spot and makes the client wonder if you really care about the work.”
When a client comes through with a request, even if I can’t address it right away, I try my best to at least respond back with a quick email letting them know I received their message and that I’ll get to it as soon as I can. While work-life balance is always important to adhere to, responding at your earliest availability at a time that’s reasonable for you can go a long way for your clients.
There is nothing more important than being responsive.
Choose logic over emotion
Working as a freelancer often comes with many responsibilities, including managing your own schedule and juggling priorities for different clients, who will have varying personalities and needs. It can be easy to react emotionally when something doesn’t go as planned, especially when deadlines are pressing. However, reacting with logic instead of emotion can both save and strengthen relationships with freelance clients.
Being on both ends of the spectrum, I’ve been the sender and receiver of emotionally-charged emails. As the receiver, it can make me wary of working with that person because it’s important to remain professional, even in difficult circumstances. I want to be able to trust my freelancers to react logically and keep their cool both for the sake of our work relationship and the work product itself. As the sender, I risked damaging my relationships by reacting with emotion.
Active listening, mindfulness and even taking a step back when needed can all help you react logically and, in turn, be a better work partner. I always try to state the facts as they are without speaking in first- or second-person language, but if I need to express my position, I speak in “I” statements only rather than “you” statements (a.k.a., never point a finger at someone else).
I speak in “I” statements only rather than “you” statements.
Hold yourself accountable
As a freelancer, you’re your own boss - and that means it’s your job to hold yourself accountable for your work. “I fact-check and edit my own work before filing a story, and state clearly that I'm available for edits if need be,” explains longtime freelance writer Annie Zaleski. “Being known as a writer who sends along clean copy - but also realizes that if changes are needed, that's fine - signals that I understand the ultimate goal is making sure the final piece is the best it can be.”
Holding yourself accountable also means adhering to deadlines. Missing a deadline can wreak havoc on clients, who often rely on freelancers to complete their work on time so they can then meet their own personal deadlines. I think of it as a chain reaction - if I turn in my work late, it means the person who receives my work will unexpectedly fall behind on their own duties, making someone else late, and so on. When I hired freelancers, missing a deadline usually resulted in not working with that person again, even if they were great at what they did.
Ask for feedback
Especially when working with new clients, I always take time to ask for feedback. Not only does this help me better understand that client’s needs, it shows my client that I’m open and willing to learn how to offer the best product or services possible. While getting something right on the first pass is always a goal, learning what you’ve done well - or can improve on - can help you build better relationships with your clients, therefore improving your overall work and happiness.
“Clients are busy, so as a freelancer, one thing that's helped me build relationships is being proactive,” Zaleski says. “In practice, that starts with simple tasks, such as me reaching out to a source myself rather than having the client do that. But it's also anticipating what questions a client might have, and answering them preemptively.”
Martin adds that asking your clients what they really need can also go a long way in being proactive. “Some projects are very straightforward with a quick turnaround - maybe your client needs an article or infographic developed in the next few days,” she describes. “But there are times when your client might have a request for something that isn't the best solution for their business needs.”
This, Martin continues, is where freelancers can step in and help their clients find the best way forward as experts in their services. “That's when you should take the time to ask what they want to accomplish and talk through the best tactics and strategies to meet their objectives,” she says. “This process ultimately ends with a better product and helps clients better reach their business goals.”
By practicing these five steps and making responsiveness, logic, accountability, feedback and proactiveness a part of your everyday workstyle, you can build lasting - and rewarding - relationships with freelance clients, or simply strengthen the ones you already have and value.