Imagine you are a freelance client. It’s Saturday morning. The sun is shining and you are having a hearty breakfast platter with steaming, hot coffee.
An email ticks in.. You pull up your phone. The email is from your freelancer.
“Good morning, I wanted to give you a quick status update on the marketing project.
As part of building a growth engine, the search ads are stable and our avg. sale is $50 with a cost per sale of about $25 (2x return).
This week, we had 100 sales, with the Buzz Lightyear-toy being the most popular (63% of sales). The Facebook campaigns are live as of this morning and the SEO campaign will go live tomorrow.
Here’s what I’ll do next…
- Prepare the email campaign (deadline: Friday)
- Interview freelancers for the outreach program (one Tuesday, one Wednesday and one Friday)
- Research if Pinterest would be a relevant channel for us to use for scaling (deadline: Wednesday)
Attached is a detailed report for the week.
If you are interested in more details, I have attached a detailed analysis. Unless you have any questions or comments, no reply needed.
What’s going on here? Why does it work?
If you’re a client, getting a simple (timely) update like that you’ll feel relieved. The summary works because we know that our client is busy and depending on much time they available, they can choose the executive summary or the detailed update.
The detailed analysis serves to build trust while making sure that we as freelancers communicate everything necessary so that there are no surprises and the client doesn’t come back later and say “you didn’t tell me that”.
Take a look at what my old clients have said:
Most clients have never working with someone at the top of their game
When trying to get dream clients that love you, there are two core aspects:
- A client that is reasonable and a good fit
- A freelancer that is professional
Getting reasonable clients is more out of our control than us being professional. While we can’t control that entirely, we can look for it in clients before we take them on. Typically, the biggest difference we can make for ourselves consists of three things:
- Picking the right market
- Vetting clients and making sure they are a good fit
- Not being desperate
Online platforms like Upwork and Freelancer.com has many projects with clients that expect the moon but only want to pay $10.
That is clearly going to be a bad experience but I have found many good clients there as well. So if you are using online platforms, be extra cautious.
Picking the right market is about finding clients who can and want to pay for you delivering extra value and appreciate the relationship you are trying to build.
Some clients are super price-sensitive and prefer a transactional relationship whereas others are less price-sensitive and more focused on results or convenience such as saving time.
The simple way to figure this out is by asking them. That’s why I like to get on a phone call to talk about their project before starting.
Vetting the client to make sure you have the same expectations is critical in getting clients that will love you.
If they are not who you are prepared to work with, them simply tell them that unfortunately you are not able to help but there are many other great freelancers out there who will be a good fit.
It is very important not to be desperate for the money because it will lead you to take on projects that are going to fail, and potentially send you into a downward spiral. Having a job or cash reserve, in the beginning, will help you with that until you work out the quirks of your preferred type of client.
We have more control over the second part: ourselves.
One of the most surprising things I’ve learned freelancing is that most clients have actually never worked with someone really great – particularly not a freelancer.
So, often they won’t know what ‘great’ looks like, why they need it and most importantly why they should pay more for it.
While it might be challenging for them to understand upfront, in my experience, as soon as clients see for themselves, they love it.
These are clients fighting to keep me even though some has a humble budget and they have to rearrange other things.
Many won’t even realize the number of things you can do for them and the headache you can help them with before you show them.
Why would you even want to be someone at the top of their game?
Being a top performer builds trust with your clients. That means less micromanagement, more room to be creative (if that’s your thing), when there is a challenge you’ll get the benefit of the doubt because you’re typically trustworthy.
And most importantly it means you can negotiate more money for yourself and better deals. As mentioned above you’ll also have greater ‘job’ security because they can’t afford to let you go due to your impact on the business.
Every client wants to trust you and wants to be able to trust your work. It is the most powerful thing for them because it means they can be hands off or focus on solving other problems.
They might not all be aware of it but think about it. Why would someone hire you if they wouldn’t want to trust you doing work on their business?
The challenge they might have is that could have been scammed or even just had shitty work done before by another freelancer – or they may not be self aware enough to realize that their instructions to their freelancers aren’t good.
You will also be able to ask for more money because you are not only doing tasks better but also taking more responsibility ~ which translates to less headache for clients (if they value that -which most do- most don’t even know the value that it brings to have someone like that and how it can transform their business).
You’ll also be able to get much more repeat business and referrals. Not only do you get awesome testimonials but build amazing relationships and you’ll never have to look for work again!
Some clients are more advanced in terms of hiring and managing and will appreciate that you influence other team members to be more like you professionally. This is more of a rarity but certainly an extra benefit.
The 5 commandments
Let’s take a further look at what being at the top of your freelancing game and loved by your clients look like. These will be a mix of frameworks and situational specifics to give you a wide overview.
Don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself
First of all, I see a lot of people intentionally or unintentionally put pressure on themselves to be good at something they haven’t really done before. It will put you in a situation where you feel the need to deliver something you have no idea how to do.
I’ve found that clients are typically happy if you try to help them with extra projects besides what you were hired for, even if you are new to the topic as long as you are upfront about it.
There is a fine line between that and taking on small projects that are slightly above your level. It often makes sense -especially if you are comfortable giving your client a few extra hours for free to learn and level up.
The way I like to approach that is to draft a fair time estimate of each part of the project that I don’t feel sure how to do and how long it will likely take me to learn. If you don’t know, go look for content on how to do that task or ask a friend who has the experience, if you know someone.
Rather than putting pressure on yourself to perform at something you’ve never done before (be true to yourself), enter with the mindset that this is something we need to learn step by step and to do that, each step requires practice. Multiple times.
Are you and your client thinking big enough?
Another one is that every other freelancer is crowding a tiny space (e.g. talking about conversions in online marketing) instead of the bigger picture.
What happens when clients get the conversions they dream about? What’s next? Do they want to stabilize the sales? Change to organic marketing channels? Scale? Build a team? Figure that out and see if you can help them with the whole thing or a bigger portion instead of just the first step.
If you are in online marketing, consider helping your client build a growth engine instead. It’s sometimes about playing in a much bigger field.
The same applies if you are a freelance copywriter: how about learning the strategy behind the articles you are paid to write, so you can help your client figure out what’s next?
Properly understanding the field your client is playing is a huge service for them because if you have more expertise than they do, you can help propose solutions for their business they didn’t even know existed.
A freelance ‘code of conduct’ will blow their mind away
One of the simplest things we can do to make clients love working with us is to bring good etiquette to the relationship.
Freelancers are unfortunately notorious for disappearing mid-project and many of the freelancers that charge a cheap rate are terrible at communicating effectively with their clients.
It leads to the client getting a headache and exchanging them for another freelancer as soon as they can – not to mention if a client has two (or more) freelancers with a different skill set working on the same project, it will be difficult to work together and the other freelancer doesn’t want to bring you on to other projects.
You see, a great way to get more referral work is by connecting with other top freelancers and refer clients to each other.
Freelancers are often brought on to a project because they worked well with another freelancer in the past (often clients will ask their freelancers if they can recommend other freelancers with a specific set of skills they need).
Make their life easier and be honest
The way to make others love working with you is to make life easier for everyone you work with. When you send emails, don’t make them look for links, etc., include it!
And keep people in the loop (no one likes surprises). If something fucks up, which it will at some point (because no one is perfect) tell them what you are already doing to fix it. They’ll trust you more if you do.
.. And my personal favorite: if you say you’ll do something, do it!
When you are meeting clients or having a call with them, take notes and update the client after via an email recap immediately after.
Something that I notice many people do is bring problems to a client without solutions. Don’t. Eventually, you’ll be seen as the person who brings problems to them. If there is a challenge in the project, brainstorm a few different solutions and ask for their recommendation on which one to pursue.
There is a huge difference in having the client have to use their brain power, limited cognition and busy time to think up solutions for you.
Showing them that you can think on your feet and make good decisions will give you extra points in the book. After working together for a while, they might even want you to simply execute without asking them because you’ve built up trust.
Especially if you are a new freelancer and billing hourly, doing these things simply means you can earn more money (but be fair when billing them).
If you are unsure about how to do something, tell them upfront and show them a few solutions for you to learn and ask for their recommendation.
Ask for feedback and update your client regularly
This one might feel uncomfortable which is why so many people don’t do it: Ask for regular (e.g. weekly) feedback.
That way you make sure there are no long term surprises and you know you are heading in the right direction, working on the things that matter the most to your client.
Let’s end with a biggie: don’t EVER let the client ask for an update – they will let you know if you are overcommunicating (this is probably the number #1 problem among freelancers).
If they ask you for an update, you know you have failed. There is nothing more annoying than having to ask the status of your project.
As a rule of thumb, keep them updated about their business and make their decisions easy (that’s how the decision to pay you more and give you more work is easy too!).