A freelance designer I know was lamenting the loss of her ‘bread and butter’ client. “That’s my mortgage money,” she said, clearly surprised by this turn of events.
Client relationships regularly end before a freelancer wants them to. Even if they start out very promising, the day-to-day realities of contract work can create distance and dissonance. Maybe the services aren’t needed anymore, or maybe the client’s head is turned by someone offering something new and different.
It’s the relationships we take for granted that are often the most vulnerable. As a freelancer, you have no idea what is going on behind-the-scenes. If the phone has been quiet for a while, there may be a reason.
The good news is that there are opportunities at every phase of a client relationship to give back to your clients pro-actively. Here are eight unconventional ways to give back to clients:
Always express enthusiasm for the work – whenever I start a new project, I make sure to let my client know what about that project interests me – whether it’s tackling a new subject matter, a new research method or learning something new about a market we’ve already done a lot of work on. Similarly, at the end of the project, I thank my client for the opportunity and let them know that learning about this new thing was valuable to me. It may be a small thing, but people like to know you enjoy doing their work.
Check in about your work – most of us dislike confrontation, so clients will often withhold when they have issues with your work style or the output. It’s a good idea to check in with a client every so often and ask them if there’s anything that would add more value for them. Be sure to phrase it this way so they can express their thoughts in the most constructive way possible.
Actually using your client’s products or services – I make it a habit to use my client’s products and services and share my experiences with them in a productive way. I will also share interesting things that I heard from others about them or their competitors. Recently a family member waxed poetic about my client’s competitor and I delved into why he appreciated them and shared the (anecdotal) thoughts with my client. She appreciated the insights and looked into them further.
Sharing your work whenever possible – whenever I work on a public project, I share the results with any clients for whom they are relevant. I also invite clients to hear me speak or send blog posts anytime I am sharing anything of relevance to them. Yes, it’s a bit of a helpful PR exercise for me, but more than that, I genuinely want to be helpful to clients.
Share interesting/relevant insights – send relevant articles or online presentations their way or an insight from a conference or course you’re taking.
Introduce your client to people whose skillsets might be complimentary or beneficial. This includes prospective new clients, employees or (non-competitive) consultants.
Get involved in their charitable endeavours – company-sponsored charities often have a strong place in your client’s heart, and they will appreciate your support. I was able to participate when a client company volunteered at a food bank for an afternoon. If a client company has a charitable organization that they donate to, I will donate at the end of the year as a thank you. Or you can give back to an organization that is relevant to your client’s work.
A strategic add-on – often when a client gives me a large project, I will add something on free-of-charge. The key is that it should not require too much work from you and it should be both relevant and valuable to the client. I would not recommend that it be something that they asked for as they could take this as a sign that they will be able to get free work from you in the future.
It’s important not to take long-time working relationships for granted. Little things like those mentioned above will make your client feel appreciated and valued beyond the paycheck they provide.
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