The art of freelancing

Hectic’s guide to starting and growing your freelancing career

Chapter 6

Long-term partnerships: Building long-lasting client relationships

If you’re new to freelancing, navigating client relationships creates intense uncertainty. They’re not really your bosses, but they’re also more than just friends or casual acquaintances.

Learning how to communicate and negotiate can take time. This is especially true with clients who can be hard to work with. But no matter your experience, remember that clients are people too. Creating genuine connections goes a long way toward building strong professional relationships.

Working for yourself offers a great opportunity to build lasting connections with others in your field, a pursuit with endless personal and professional benefits. 

Perfect your approach

Just like any relationship, client-freelancer connections thrive when both parties meet on the same level. As you begin working together, feel out what they prefer in terms of communication. Some may be casual while others like to keep your discussions strictly business. Chatting, texting, or messaging are typically acceptable, but some people prefer phone calls or emails.

Your preferences matter too. If you’re not comfortable giving out a personal number for communication or chatting over FaceTime, offer an alternative. Most people are happy to find a happy medium.

Good communication practices, including proper grammar and appropriate language, are musts. Even if a client is more casual in their tone, following this rule creates a professional, authoritative impression for your business. Another best practice is to use proactive communication to keep your clients updated on project progress and dates as they like to know where things stand. Don’t always wait for them to reach out with questions. Instead, send regular updates to keep them in the loop.

The last key to a good approach is to follow the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do to you) with your response times, manner of communication, and respect. Don’t leave messages unanswered for days, avoid calling after work hours, and respect your clients’ boundaries. When you do, clients will eagerly invite you to join on new projects.

Practice conflict management

You aren’t always going to agree with your clients — and that’s okay! As long as you can de-escalate the situation and resolve the conflict, these disagreements won’t be a problem.

Calm your negative feelings by trying to think from the client’s point of view. Empathize with their needs and why they are reacting the way they are. With this insight, you can keep the discussion from being too emotionally charged. Your response will be more professional, allowing for a productive conversation.

In these situations, sometimes it’s important to remember that clients are not bosses. You are both on equal ground in your relationship. It’s okay to have reasonable disagreements and to stand your ground when you’re in the right. Be firm, but not rude, to protect yourself and your work when necessary.

Avoid canned responses

Tired of typing up new proposals or messages to send to prospective clients? You can save time by creating templated responses. Unfortunately, using canned communication often sends the wrong message.

Pre-written messages sound off, lacking the flow that defines human speech. <tweet-link>Sending a canned response tells the client that you don’t value them enough to invest a bit of time on real communication. Clients want to work with you, so take the time to build the relationship from the start.<tweet-link>

If you feel like you don’t have the time to engage with potential clients, you probably need to re-evaluate your business.

Spending too much time on proposals and bids? What you’re doing isn’t working. Adjust your approach to increase your hire rate and spend less time chasing new work.

Have too much work to do? You’re probably not charging enough if you have to overwork yourself to make the amount you need. Either raise your rates or adjust your personal spending.

Can’t find opportunities that you’re qualified for? Look for free or low-cost courses/certifications that will make you more attractive to clients.

Keep things positive

Many client relationships end with the project for a variety of reasons. In this scenario, keep things positive — even when you’re not thrilled about the way it ended. Offer to fix the problems the client found with your work (within reason). Thank them for the opportunity to work together. You can also ask for a testimonial or permission to use them as a referral for other work.

<tweet-link>When you end your partnership on a good note, you increase your chances of getting repeat work. If the client needs more help later on, you want to be the first person to come to mind for a good reason, not a bad one.<tweet-link>

It never hurts to reach out to a client you haven’t heard from in awhile. You can check in on the success of the project you completed or simply ask if they have any work they might need you for. With the right timing, you can revive a connection that leads to long-term opportunities.