Last week, we discussed the warning signs and characteristics of bad freelance clients—and how to avoid getting into a business relationship with one. Now it’s time for the fun part: learning how to identify and pursue the good clients who will help your business be as successful and lucrative as it can be!
What Makes a Client “Good”?
As I mentioned last week, no one is perfect, or all good or bad, but in the context of being an e-Learning freelancer, a good client is one that is a good fit for the work you do and the work that makes you the happiest, and one that you have the right rapport with in order to get through a project smoothly. While it’s easy to be strictly pragmatic about your freelance life, it’s just as important to remember that a good client is not simply one who pays you for your work, but rather is one that helps foster a relationship that benefits both of you.
Why You Need Good Clients
Since we previously covered the risks of bad client relationships, let’s talk about the benefits of having the right clients. Here are a few things that happen when I’m working with good clients:
- I get excited about the work I’m doing! A good client can not only motivate me to get work done, but also remind me why I’m passionate about e-Learning.
- I spend less time with my own insecurities because I’ve built trust with them. When I worry less about questions like “Will they approve the work I did for them?” or “What if I never find freelance work again?”, I’m able to spend more time focusing on moving my business forward. By working with a client I trust, I’m able to have faith that we can resolve any problems and therefore spend more time doing good work.
- I put my best work forward. If I’m working with a client who has trouble paying on time, or one who is hard to work with, I can sometimes get demoralized, which typically lowers my work output both in terms of quantity and quality. It’s not like I do bad work for my bad clients; it’s more that I do my best work when a good client is inspiring me to achieve on their behalf.
Everyone’s priorities are different, so I encourage you to take some time to think about what your freelance life is like when you’re working with your best clients, and make a list of both the intangible benefits (like “I’m less stressed out”) and the tangible ones (like “I get good, actionable feedback that helps me reduce the number of revision cycles I need”). Once you come face-to-face with your own personal list of benefits, hopefully it will become clear how important it is to invest time in making sure the clients you choose to work with are good ones!
The Importance of Good Clients in the Long Term
One of the biggest challenges of the freelance life is investing in your own future. It’s hard enough getting money in the door without having to worry about things you need to save up for, like retirement and health care! But the more you focus on the present, the less satisfying your future is going to be—and because freelancing is all about accumulating (growing your skill set, your client list, and your portfolio), it’s critical that you make smart investments. Simply put, putting work into finding ideal clients is one of the best investments you can make in your own freelance future.
Working to Keep Good Clients vs. Working to Find New Ones
Part of my “investing in finding good clients” strategy is also about making sure that once I find one, I do everything I can to maintain and sustain the relationship. According to Amy Gallo’s article The Value of Keeping the Right Customers, “depending on which study you believe, and what industry you’re in, acquiring a new customer is anywhere from 5 to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one.” While Gallo questions the actual percentage, I believe the underlying idea is crucial: You will find more happiness and success by keeping your best customers than you will by only maintaining short relationships and prioritizing new business over old.
In Larry Myler’s article, Acquiring New Customers is Important, But Retaining Them Accelerates Profitable Growth he adds, “This is not to say that we shouldn’t go out and get new customers, but if we can keep a larger percentage of those customers for a longer life cycle, we build on a revenue foundation that is more profitable and predictable; two factors that have created tremendous wealth for entrepreneurs.”
The bottom line: Working to keep the right customers is a valuable ongoing practice. When you find a good customer, put in the extra effort to build a long-term relationship with them. Send them thank you notes, holiday presents, or even refer business to them; it never hurts to let a client know how valuable they are to you.
The 13 Essential Behaviors of My “Perfect” Client
You may recall that last week, I discussed the benefits of creating a “bad client” profile and using a worksheet to vet any new clients with. I use a similar approach when considering new clients, although I find that I often need to apply a more nuanced approach. (It’s typically easier to use a worksheet to rule out bad clients, but when it comes to picking good ones, I need to think beyond yes-or-no questions.) To do this, I came up with my own list of client behaviors that either work well for me or are strong indicators of future success. Good clients come in many sizes, so it’s important that you come up with your own list of “perfect client behaviors,” and then review that list when you’re considering whether or not to work with a new client.
Here are the 13 essential behaviors of my ideal client:
- They clearly communicate what their needs are both before and during the e-Learning project.
- They establish realistic timelines to complete projects.
- They have realistic expectations of what can be designed or developed with e-Learning materials.
- They are easy to reach when it comes to requesting feedback or addressing issues that come up during the project.
- They pay a fair market amount for the work they ask me to do (and never have a “go with the cheapest quote” mentality).
- They pay on time and according to the terms of our agreements.
- They trust my judgment when it comes to design and development issues, and trust me to know how to address them.
- They don’t regularly add new tasks or change their mind after the project has started.
- They see me as a partner and speak highly of our relationship.
- They understand the value of our relationship and seek me out when they need additional content developed (rather than jumping from one e-Learning freelancer to another).
- They don’t ask me to take shortcuts in designing or developing content and value quality as much as I do.
- They express appreciation for a job well done.
- They tell others about my work and provide a great resource for referrals.
Wouldn’t it be great if all clients were like this? While I’ve never had a client who was all perfect all of the time, I can easily identify the clients who most consistently mirror these behaviors, and spend time making sure I’m working to sustain those relationships. For me, a good client is one that exemplifies most, but not necessarily all, of these traits.
You may also notice that some of the ideas above can’t really be known until a project is in progress. That’s OK; in some instances you may need to take on work only to discover that the client is not a good fit. What’s important is that you know your own personal “ideal client” criteria, and that you’re comparing your client relationships with your own list, and thinking critically about which are (and which aren’t) working.
Hopefully by now a pattern has emerged across the Succeeding as an e-Learning Freelancer series: In every aspect of your freelance life, it’s important to create your own vision of what success looks like—whether that’s in your goals, your values, or the clients you take on—and then continually do the work to make sure that your actions are helping you get there. The challenge will be in staying diligent, so never forget that there’s a huge difference between “simple” and “easy.”
What litmus tests do you use to determine if a client is a good fit for you? What would you add to my list of “things that make the perfect client”? As always, I enjoy hearing from community members like you, and I encourage you to join our Private Facebook Group to discuss this post and related topics. If you prefer Twitter, join the conversation using the hashtag #eLearningBiz!
Editor’s note: This post is part of my ongoing 2017 series, “Succeeding as an e-Learning Freelancer,” a comprehensive look at the ins-and-outs of working independently in the Learning and Development industry. All of the previous posts in the series can be found here.