Word of mouth is the number source of the best clients for freelancers, according to a recent survey.
But if you’re struggling to build strong relationships with your clients and get repeat work or referrals, perhaps your clients are frustrated with something about the way you’re working.
We asked a bunch of professionals who’ve worked with freelancers what their biggest problems have been, and how these could be solved. The same issues cropped up again and again, so as freelancers, being conscious of these could help ensure you build stronger relationships with your clients.
Hear it straight from the client’s point of view, and consider how you could be a better freelancer.
1. Lack of communication
Overwhelmingly, the most common concern that clients had with freelancers was their communication (or lack thereof).
Ben Taylor, founder of Home Working Club, says “I often have freelancers apply for jobs with a good pitch, only to then drop the ball and fail to reply to subsequent messages.”
Similarly, Monica Eaton-Cardone, co-founder and COO of Chargebacks911, found that the biggest problem she’s consistently had with freelancers is their tendency to go ‘incommunicado’. She says, “It sometimes seems that trying to get a return phone call – or anything more than a perfunctory text or email response – requires an act of Congress … if not an act of God.”
It’s pretty clear what freelancers can do to overcome this issue, but Taylor recommends maintaining regular contact with clients and potential clients, routing your emails to your phone, and making sure that if you’re away, you let clients know in advance and use auto-replies. “Otherwise they’ll just assume you’re ignoring them, and will often go elsewhere as a result.”
2. Missed deadlines
We’ve all had things crop up at the last minute that can interfere with deadlines, but clients suggest that you can build stronger relationships if you surprise them by delivering work early, or at the very least, communicate if there is going to be a problem.
Gil Gildner, Cofounder of Discosloth, says: “I don’t think people realize how crucial it is to meet agreed-upon deadlines, otherwise an entire pipeline of work can be disrupted… so my biggest tip for freelancers is to make sure you over-deliver. Nobody will be upset at you for over-communicating or delivering a project early!”
Monica Eaton-Cardone also offers advice on meeting deadlines. “I understand that you have other clients and other commitments… I even understand that my deadline could get pushed out from time to time. When that happens, however, a simple courtesy call explaining the situation can accomplish a lot in terms of gaining my confidence … and lowering my stress level!”
3. Scheduling work
Juggling multiple projects also means it can be tough for freelancers to fit new tasks into their schedule as quickly as clients would like. While an in-house developer can quickly make an approved change to a website, a freelancer may need weeks before they’re able to fit the work in.
Stephen Hart, CEO at Cardswitcher suggests working on retainers to address this. “The best solution I’ve found is to hire freelancers on retainers, so every week I have five hours of their time ringfenced. If I get to the end of the week and haven’t used that time for anything pressing, I dip into a backlog of proposed functionality and have them work on that. Working this way means we don’t waste any time and changes can be made relatively quickly.”
If your clients aren’t willing to work on a retainer basis, it again comes back to communication. Being clear with them about how long the task will take you, and why, allows them to set realistic expectations so no one is disappointed.
4. Working outside your expertise
As freelancers, many of us have committed to a job that we weren’t completely comfortable with when we’ve really needed the work. But clients warn against doing this.
Jason Lavis, Managing Director of Out of the Box Innovations, says “Often, a freelancer is keen to get a job, and they’ll agree to anything you ask, and promise that they can do everything. It’s challenging halfway through those projects when you realise that the work is miles away from what you want, with compromise an unlikely endpoint.”
You’ll be much better off if you specialize, according to Cristian Rennella, CEO & CoFounder of oMelhorTrato.com. “The freelancers who have invested the time to be the best in their area of work have been those that I have seen generate the best results in their professions… and also the ones with the most satisfied clients.”
5. Trying to do everything
Being clear about what you specialize in will also allow you to avoid spreading your skillset to thin.
“Freelancers by nature are good at a wide variety of things. However, claiming to have marketable skills in a dozen different disciplines is misleading to us all,” says Kevin Wenning of Intentionally Lost.
“When a freelancer profile says they can do more than five things well I move on immediately, because that signals to me they can do one of those things well and the rest of them they have had some or little experience with… to give me the best result for my money, I need a freelancer to tell me what they have deep knowledge of and stop trying to tell me that they can do every last little thing for me. I’m very happy to pay somebody more to do one thing very very well.”
Cristian Rennella agrees, suggesting that specializing in one particular job allows freelancers to charge more for their knowledge, “as well as ensuring that the client is more satisfied by the quality of their work.” Rather than focusing on the short-term benefit of getting more work, focus on the long-term growth that your continued experience in one particular area can bring.
Not surprisingly, clients want to know they can count on you to get the job done.
But Kim Smith, Content Marketing Manager from GoodFirms, claims reliability is a major issue with many freelancers.
“Finding a content writer that is reliable in terms of quality, delivery and pricing was a difficult task for us. Searching for content writers on a reputed marketplace like Fiverr resolved our issue… We could check multiple things on this one platform – ratings, time taken in delivery, pricing, reviews of past clients and the best part – they could be contacted easily!”
Her advice is to make sure you clearly understand your client’s requirements, are clear about what you are going to provide and in what timeline, keep stakeholders informed, and are open to changes suggested by the client.
Jarrod Partridge of Idea Guru also suggests being clear with clients about your deliverables. “My advice to freelancers would be to deliver what you say you will, and if you can’t do something or don’t understand what you’re being asked, please please please, just ask.”
7. Lack of trust
Along with reliability comes trust, but often clients find it difficult to build this trust at the beginning.
Nate Masterson, Marketing Manager for Maple Holistics, says, “the key to hiring freelancers is to establish trust. How can this be achieved? By implementing “trial periods” before full employment is granted, or by bringing the worker in to work in-house for a predetermined period of time at the beginning of their employment (if possible).”
If it’s not feasible for you to offer a trial period, consider how you can build trust initially through word of mouth or reviews, either on your own website or on third party websites where you sell your services.
Build stronger client relationships
Could any of these major client frustrations could have applied to you in the past? Consider whether there’s something you could do to ensure your future projects avoid each of these scenarios.
If you’re able to address these common client frustrations, you’ll stand out alongside other freelancers, you’ll build a much better working relationship with your clients, and you’ll likely even manage to get some referrals!