A freelancer’s single most important success formula

Many freelancers are looking for a magic formula that will find new prospects, convert them into clients and keep those clients. Actually, there really is such a formula. It can be condensed into one word: trust.

Trust is hard to achieve and fragile to keep. We all know from our personal lives that if you betray your friend or spouse just once, things will never be the same again. This goes for clients as well. That is why you need to be open and honest, and your actions transparent.

Establish trust before you know your client

Sometimes I am asked how you can establish trust before you have even had the chance to get in touch with the client—or even before knowing who the client is.

The answer: through your marketing. Whether you market yourself online or offline, make sure you give the prospects enough background to enable them to form an opinion of you as a reliable partner.

That’s how you should position yourself, as a partner. Particularly in today’s uncertain economic times, it is a good survival strategy to move away from the traditional buyer/supplier thinking and switch into partnership mode. You and the client are working towards a common goal.

First, you need to get people to know you, which you do by presenting yourself in places where your would-be clients are. You can probably quickly figure out where you can meet or how to reach your ideal clients.

Second, you create preference. You provide them with all the information they want. Because you don’t know what every individual client wants, you give them a lot. Besides providing all the facts to support your professionalism, be personal, pleasant, friendly, easy-going, just as you would if you wanted to make friends with another person face-to-face.

Trust comes into play as step three. Don’t try shortcuts here, you cannot skip steps one and two and immediately expect people to trust you.

With patience and a little salesmanship, you should soon have a new client!

Create trust when working with the customer

When you have the client’s commitment to work with you, make sure you keep the client’s goals as your bright lodestar.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand everything at the first try. The client will understand and appreciate that you draw on his expertise in his business to find out more. The important thing is to establish rapport; a sense of pushing the project forward together and working towards common goals.

Clients have a tendency to grow nervous if they don’t hear from you. Keep your customer informed. A steady information flow keeps things going and helps iron out any problems that may surface while you’re doing the job.

Deliver what you promised by the time you promised. A day earlier, if at all possible.

Maintain trust after the job is finished

If you find the client is worth keeping (chemistries do play a role in client relationships), stay in contact even after your bill has been paid.

If you think you could introduce your client to someone, perhaps another client of yours, who could benefit her, let her know. This shows you care about her business.

Trust in financial dealings

When it comes to money, the client is at his wariest. That is why it is a good idea to first define the job as accurately as possible and then give a fixed, itemised project fee instead of an hourly rate. The client wants to know how much the end result will cost, period.

A fixed-fee contract also saves you from discussing prices more than once. You have better things to do than spend your time explaining why you spent the 12 hours you state on your invoice on the job, why not 10 or 14.5.

For bigger jobs, it is a good idea to prepare a written contract that both parties sign. Hire a lawyer to do that for you if you are unsure how to protect your interests. Make sure it gets written down that the maximum compensation on your part is the agreed project fee. You don’t want to be sued out of your house and belongings for damages because you failed just this once.

As paranoid as all this may sound, at the same time it helps establish trust between you and the client. If precautions against the worst scenario are documented in the contract, it again increases predictability and therefore trust.

Trust is fragile

Let me repeat: trust is hard to achieve and fragile to keep. Be open, transparent, honest. Maintain dialogue throughout the project. Most clients will understand if you run into trouble halfway through the job, provided you have always communicated with them open-mindedly and in a timely fashion.

It all boils down to whether you are in business to create a benefit for your client or serve your own interest. If your mindset is to do your utmost to be useful for the client, you’re fine. You will instinctively know how to do the right thing, and money will follow.

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