Recently I parted ways with a long time client. It was an agonizing decision: my contact person had always been wonderful to work with. The projects I worked on were always right up my alley. So why did I ditch this seemingly perfect client? Their payment came from a third party, and typically took up to a year to arrive. And if I didn’t put pressure on them, I’d probably never get paid at all.
I had prepped myself for this for months. I told myself that before taking another project, I’ll explain the problem and suggest better payment terms. If no improvement could be made, I’ll pass on the job. However, I accepted ‘just one more’ assignment a few too many times before I finally bit the bullet.
There is an old adage in the business world that “employees don’t quit jobs, they quit managers.” The idea is rather basic and reminds us that it is most often the people and not the actual job that generates turnover.
I think this philosophy holds true to running a freelance based business. But consider it this way: “clients don’t quit projects, they quit freelancers.” Heck, a client might be using a freelancer to begin with because they quit an agency that was driving them nuts.
What I want to talk about here are some ways to develop a business based on clients that don’t want to quit. After all, if we effectively retain our clients we will spend less time searching for new ones. Not to mention that extremely happy clients will most often refer new business.
Creatives need a detailed brief. Without it we are feeling in the dark, with little clue of our destination.
We need targeted information from our clients to deliver high quality finished work that meets the client’s expectations. We want to deliver polished work and we need the right information to do that.
As freelancers, it’s up to us to direct our clients on how to deliver an informed and detailed brief. Often this means putting together a questionnaire that clients fill out. This could be a website form, PDF, or text document, whichever you and your client are comfortable using. Ultimately, you need to collect the information needed for the project brief.
Only experienced clients will be familiar with compiling creative briefs and most clients will need some hand holding through the process. Whether you use a formal questionnaire, or ask questions over the phone, will depend on you and your clients. However, don’t discount the need to collect this project brief information, it’s how every one of your projects should get started.
A topic that affects freelancers, especially those new to the freelance world, is separating your personal life and ‘me time’ from work. After all, if you’re sitting at home in your underwear working on a design for a client – it doesn’t really feel much like work.
To better understand why freelancers have this problem, let’s look at why workers of the typical 9-5 office job don’t have to deal with this as much as us work-at-home types. When you take on a typical job, you’re given: your hours to be at work, a work email, and typically a phone number (or extension number), which your boss, and depending on the type of work, possibly your clients know this.
If you work for a small marketing agency and a client needs to get in touch with you at the end of the day, a quick glance at the watch to see that it’s 4:30pm means that the client needs to ring you quickly, as you’ll soon be getting ready to leave. If it’s after your 5pm finish, or an out of hours time such as the weekend, then the contact mediums are obvious; send an email or leave a voicemail. Since your hours are 9-5 on Monday-Friday, it’s easy to work out approximately when you’ll get the all important message.
Last week I had a meeting with a new prospective client that got seriously off-track. She burst into the café where we were meeting, flopped down and launched into a story about this crazy thing that had just happened to her. She had me giggling so hard that I had to dab tears from my eyes. Turns out, I had a similar story, so, of course, I had to share mine.
For a long while after that discussion there was no talk of business, just knee-slapping stories and riotous laughter. It was only an hour later, when we were both merrily pretending to wolf down cheeseburgers, that I remembered I was in search of a new client, not a new BFF. But with all those laughter-induced endorphins running through me, I couldn’t help but wonder: would it be so wrong if she turned out to be both?
I was called recently about a freelance job for a local corporate entity and met to speak with the marketing director. After a few days, I received an e-mail informing me I was one of six “finalists” for the assignment. The message contained a list of several advertising campaigns, a rebranding of the logo, signage and billboards. It said all finalists were to do these for a presentation in two weeks. My first thought was…not fit to be printed here.
I contacted the marketing director and asked if he was serious about asking for such an amount of work, in such a short amount of time, on speculation. I pointed out that no bid had been discussed and without knowing the fee structure, even working on speculation was too risky. He replied that I could do as much as I wanted, but the person who did the most would probably win the assignments.
I asked if he was willing to sign a non-disclosure agreement that indicated I was to retain the intellectual property. He replied that the legal department was “out of town” and wouldn’t “be back in time.”
I knew what they were trying to do, so I wrote up a marketing plan that showed why the outline they had handed out was flawed and how I would approach it. I did not design one thing they asked.
When people tell me that their freelancing business has been slow, I suggest that they pick up the phone and start making calls. Reason: Since cold calls have worked well for me, I encourage others to try them as well.
Talk about kicking the proverbial hornet’s nest. I’m often treated to a diatribe on how much the person hates being cold called.
And I can’t help but agreeing. Why? Because cold calling has a much-deserved bad reputation.
You’ve probably had a family dinner interrupted by those telemarketers who call households between 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. They know you’ll be home. And that you’re probably trying to enjoy a meal with your family. The fact that they’re calling at a bad time just doesn’t seem to register. Continue Reading
You know what you call a client that knows exactly what they want, does not require revisions, always pays you on time and loves colored eggs? You call them the Easter Bunny because they do not exist.
In a perfect world all client relationships would go this smoothly. Unfortunately, it’s not a perfect world. As a freelancer, you have horror stories, but here are five strategies to help you work through these difficult situations. Continue Reading
Sorry if you’re a lovestruck freelancer, but this isn’t an article about proposing marriage.
Instead, it’s about handling requests for bids, proposals, quotes, or whatever you’d like to call them. Specifically, the ones that come your way by chance. Continue Reading
Sometimes, there’s just nothing you can do when a client disappears. Things can be great for a long time, but then they don’t call you for work. You’re sure they’ve found someone else to complete the projects you used to get, when–poof! The client is back.
That’s cause enough to toss some confetti, because freelancers are often left out of the loop when it comes to working with companies. So if you seem to be cut off from communication or told that nothing new has come up for you to work on, take heart–that client you thought was gone could make a comeback.
As freelancers, we have many ways to interact with our peers to help us keep abreast of new ideas and emerging trends. We network with others like ourselves for moral support, for answers to business questions, and to develop strategies and skills and resources that can make us more successful.
You may belong to online discussion groups, get electronic newsletters and paper journals and magazines, or tune into regular podcasts. Perhaps there is a local group of designers, or writers, or trainers, or whatever your particular line of business may be, and you get together from time to time to share ideas and experiences.
This is an excellent practice, especially as independent freelancers do not have the natural social settings that employees of corporations do. We have to build our own social and professional connections, to assemble sources of ideas that we can draw on to enhance our own businesses.
Just don’t stop there. If all of your networking is with people like you, and little of it is with people who look like your clients, you are probably missing some great opportunities to grow your business.
Note that the “networking” I’m talking about here extends to any method of gathering more information that can help your business. That includes reading newsletters and listening to podcasts, for instance. And it includes learning how to be a better writer or designer or whatever you are, and not just to direct connections to more projects and clients. Continue Reading
Presenting designs to clients is a tricky part of the project cycle. You need to convince the client that your vision is worth following, and there’s a lot at stake. On one side of the outcome spectrum lies helpful feedback and renewed motivation; on the other side there are endless design iterations and versioning nightmares. (Ever named a file HomepageFinalForRealThisTimeVersion7.psd?) So how do you consistently land yourself on the better side of the project? The answer is simple: good communication. Moving a project forward without getting bitten later hinges on the ability to state your position clearly as well as listen to feedback from others. Here are some presentation tips that will improve your communication skills and make the design presentation a less harrowing experience. Continue Reading