The following post is an excerpt from my new e-Book series, How to Become an e-Learning Freelancer. The three volumes in the series are designed to be easy-to-use, practical guides to getting your freelance e-Learning career off the ground. Learn more here!
In my first few months as an e-Learning freelancer, each time I found a new client, I felt amazing. People wanted to work with me! I was getting paid to do what I love! Every new relationship felt like a validating triumph: it was all further proof that I was running a legitimate, successful business.
As time passed, many of my clients stayed with me, some chose to take their business elsewhere, and I lost touch with others. And while a certain ebb and flow of clients is common for freelancers, I nonetheless missed out on a lot of opportunities, because I didn’t understand the importance of retaining customers. So this week, I’d like to take some time to talk about just how important it is to put work into your freelance client relationships—and why a long-term partner is always better than a short-term customer.
The Mindset for Keeping Customers: Think Long Term
When you finish an e-Learning project with a customer, it’s easy to forget about all of the things that have come out of it that you can take advantage of in a future project with the same client. I’ve found that the three most important are:
- Trust. When first working with a new client, it’s important to develop a trusting relationship, and that takes time. On the client’s end, as you work with them, they’ll come to trust in your abilities to produce good work as well as your commitment to achieving their goals. On your end, in a trusting client relationship, you don’t have to worry about how they’ll respond or act. All of this leads to the client being more likely to give you additional business, and you being able to take on that business with minimal worry and stress. While trust is not a tangible benefit, it is the biggest asset you’ll have in all of your customer relationships. Think of it this way: In your first projects with a client, you’ll be investing time and money in building that trust—and it’s better for your business to pursue projects where you don’t have to make that same investment every time.
- Brand Knowledge. As you proceed through a client project, you’ll need to become familiar with their brand—everything from what they stand for to how they want to be represented. If the client has a strong, consistent brand, you won’t have to re-familiarize yourself with their needs each time you work with them. In addition, the more intimately you get to know their brand, the more you build trust with each of your clients, creating a relationship where you can skip the “get to know the brand” stage and skip right to the project’s specific needs. Take a moment to think about this from the client’s side: It’s a lot easier for them to go with someone who understands their brand rather than trying to find someone else and educate them.
- A streamlined negotiation and project set-up process. As you have repeat customers over the years, you’ll find that you’ll save a lot of time just through an understanding of their project launch needs. For example, the client will know the rates you charge going in, and you’ll know what level of detail they want to see in a project proposal. This is another area where intimacy breeds efficiency: The better you understand how they work, the less time you waste while making a project happen.
As you’re thinking about these ideas, I encourage you to think about what your mindset is when you’re courting a new client. Are you pursuing their business for the money, and not thinking past a one-time engagement? That’s part of any freelancer’s goals, certainly, but I’ve found that more success comes from having a long-term relationship be one of your key goals. This can positively affect your behaviors and practices—whether you’re keeping better track of your project documents in the hopes of reusing them later, or simply showing additional respect to the client to build more trust. It can be a challenge to change your thinking from “I just want this project to go well” to “This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” but in the long run, the latter will better help you invest in the success of your business.
[This topic continues in my e-Book series, How to Become an e-Learning Freelancer.]