Episode 10 with Paul Jarvis
Retaining Clients and Building Profitable Work Relationships

Paul Jarvis is a freelance designer, author and creator. He went from a college dropout to creating a job for himself in the 1990s that’s been more stable than any corporate career. He’s worked with some of the biggest entrepreneurs and companies in the world like Microsoft, Yahoo, Mercedes-Benz, and Warner Music. He helps thousands of freelancers improve their business with his courses "Creative Class", "Chimp Essentials", and his new book "Company of One".

Retaining Clients and Building Profitable Work Relationships

Paul Jarvis is a freelance designer, author and creator. He went from a college dropout to creating a job for himself in the 1990s that’s been more stable than any corporate career. He’s worked with some of the biggest entrepreneurs and companies in the world like Microsoft, Yahoo, Mercedes-Benz, and Warner Music. He helps thousands of freelancers improve their business with his courses "Creative Class", "Chimp Essentials", and his new book "Company of One".

In this episode, he talks about:

  • How following up with existing clients can get you more work:

    It’s far easier to get more work from people you’ve already worked with.

  • How to really easily make it clear to clients which tasks you can help them with:

    As well as those you don’t do.

  • Why you should have freelance friends from related industries:

    How you can earn more by referring clients to freelancers who do work you don’t.

  • What your client spread should look like:

    Bigger projects may seem like they’ll earn you more, but having too few clients can put you in a dangerous situation.

  • How having the mindset of abundance can help you achieve it:

    Clients want to hire someone who’s already busy, not someone who’s desperate for work.

Full transcript

Juan

You're listening to the Six-Figure Freelancer audio course, brought to you by And Co from Fiverr. We interviewed top professionals who share their exact formulas for success in starting, growing, and maintaining a six-figure freelance career. And I'm your host, Juan Felipe Campos. Okay, freelance masterminds, remember: on every episode of the Audio Course, there's a giveaway of digital goods or resources from our partners that other people don't have access to. To get your audio course resources, subscribe to the audio course on iTunes and then visit and.co/resources. Again, that's a n, d dot c o slash resources to access your digital goods.

Paul

Paul Jarvis is a freelance designer, author and creator. He went from a college dropout to creating a job for himself in the 1990s that’s been more stable than any corporate career. He’s worked with some of the biggest entrepreneurs and companies in the world like Microsoft, Yahoo, Mercedes-Benz, and Warner Music. He helps thousands of freelancers improve their business with his courses "Creative Class", "Chimp Essentials", and his new book "Company of One". Let's hear more from him on this episode of the Six Figure Freelancer Audio Course.

Juan

Paul, thank you so much for coming on the show.

Paul

Yeah, no worries, man. Thanks for having me.

Juan

Paul, you certainly know something about growing and maintaining a six figure career that most of us don't. And on this episode we're going to be talking about actually maintaining a six figure career so we don't keep dipping down past that line. It's very, very difficult to stay there, so can you demystify a little bit for us some things that you've done to make sure that you can maintain a income of abundance and not keep dipping down?

Paul

Yeah, definitely. I think the main thing, and this applies to pretty much every business ever I think is that it's easier to work. It's easier to get business from people you've already worked with than new business, so retention is easier and less costly than acquisition and what I've found in my own career is that if a client is willing to hire me once, they're probably willing to, as long as I do a good job, as long as they do everything that I say I'm going to do when I'm going to do it, charge the thing that I quoted them, then they're gonna want to hire me again. I had a few clients that I worked with for 15 years that I did 12, 13 projects for, so always going back, always following up. I had an, I used to call it my magic email, so if I hadn't heard from a client in a few months in the beginning I used to think, okay, if they're, if they're not contacting me, they don't need any anything from me and I was wrong because when I started to contact them and just say, 'hey, how's your business going and is there anything I can help you with?'

Paul

Most of the time they'd be like, 'Oh yeah, there was actually something that you could do', so always following up with existing clients with people that you've worked with that you and that you did a good job for I think is huge because then you don't have to go out and pound the pavement. Like look for leads you've already got... you've got a pool of leads already there from existing clients, from past clients.

Juan

Yeah, and it's something that actually a lot of a lot of freelancers are kind of accidental entrepreneurs in the sense that they're really great designers who are really great coders and maybe not as great at running a business or doing sales and it can be really challenging for artists or great coders to then put themselves in the sales situation and this totally addresses that. It's like, fine, you don't like doing sales, you don't have to just do great work and then be consistent about following up with them.

Paul

Exactly. A spreadsheet, like literally my quote unquote 'CRM' was a spreadsheet. They just had the client name and when the last time I followed up and at the beginning of every month I would just look like, hey, okay, I haven't followed up with this person. And a two sentence email. That's it. How's your business going? Is there anything that I can help with? I would always get like I would always get work from those emails and it's just like once a month, maybe 20, 30 minutes and boom, I've got a full deck for that month from that.

Juan

So Paul, the elephant in the room for me with this topic is making sure that when people come back to you with work, that it's work that you actually have a process for and that you can service at scale and not something that is going to be a distraction. Because a lot of time clients are like, oh, you do logos. Surely you can do a website. Right? It's like similar. It's kind of creative digital. I don't know. I don't know anything about that space. Do you do that? So how do you make sure that when clients actually come back to you with work that it actually is something that you can service and not something that's going to be a complete distraction and then send you on this rabbit trail?

Paul

For sure. So I think that that's really important is, one to have set processes in place for the work that you do, for every project that you do. And I think a lot of times creatives are like, oh, I don't want to be caged in man by process, but actually think that the opposite is true where creativity, one thrives on constraints and two, if you have a process in place, then all of the administrivia is taken care of for you and all you have to do is focus on the creative work so you can get things done. And then to go back to the other part of the question, I'm always very clear with people exactly the type of work that I do. And so even in the 'getting started guide' that I used to send clients that was a pdf, it would be like these are the things that you can hire me to do. These are the related things that you cannot hire me to do because I do not do these things. And the, the other part of that, so all of the list of I do not do these things was kind of like a lead magnet for my network. So when I was doing web design, I was always very conscious of making friends with people who were writers because every person who gets a website done probably needs some writing on it, developers, marketers, SEO people, video people. So I'd always have like a pool of talent where I trusted these people. I could refer work to them. They referred work to me. So even if it was a job that I couldn't do, I could go to the client and be like, 'Hey, I'm not the right person for this job, but actually know somebody who is'. And in that situation I would just refer work to them because they were referring work to me. But you could take a cut off the top. You could work something out with the videographer or the writer, where it's like can I take like a five percent or 10 percent finder's fee if I bring you work? And most people will be like, heck yeah, you can.

Juan

Yeah.

Paul

Because it's free. It's free work. Basically you're getting a trust by proxy referral that the client trusts you to do the work, then they're going to trust who you recommend.

Juan

Yeah, and this is so smart because I think a lot of us are already doing this kind of intuitively we gravitate to people that are in parallel disciplines in our field and we're like grabbing coffee we're hanging out and we kind of have this like preferred vendors list already of just like friends and people we like. It's just we don't have a process for it and I love the fact that you actually have essentially two menus, so it is a la carte. It's like these are the things that I do. These are the things that I don't do, but you do start looking for people that you can fit in that menu. Let's say if things that you don't do so that you can still monetize those relationships and you still become a good kind of broker of opportunities for clients that do message you back saying, I do need a logo, I do need a business card, and you're like, perfect. I've got a guy for you and I'm getting paid for it. So this is kind of a good way to do it. Yeah.

Paul

And I think it's sometimes people get caught up in their own industry, like a lot of designers just hanging out. So what you were saying a second ago, is really important - to make friends with freelancers in related industries because a lot of times designers will just have like designer friends and designer and writers and it makes sense to make friends and to network. Not just like go to every design conference, but like make friends with people who your clients also need to hire if they're hiring somebody like you.

Juan

Before we continue with this episode, I wanted to quickly tell you a bit about AND CO from Fiverr. It's software to run your business with everything from invoicing, payments, time tracking, task management, and even freelance contracts and proposals. And the best part? It's completely free. Sometimes people ask what's the catch? And the truth is there is none. Fiverr is a healthy business that simply wants to give back to the community, no matter if you're a Fiverr user yet or not. Without entrepreneurs like yourself, Fiverr wouldn't exist. AND CO is a way to give back and help you do more of what you do best. To get started, claim your free account today by visiting and.co. Now onto the episode.

Juan

Right. Okay. That makes a lot of sense. Okay, so let's say someone is putting these things in place so like, okay, I have my a la carte menu for things I do do things that I don't do that I can monetize and I'm able to scale this. Let's dive into the things that you actually do. How do you start building processes around that and make sure that you're not doing too many things at once? Because I noticed this is a problem with six figure freelancers all over. They start taking on things that are very big budget. Like I need a $20,000 website, I need a $30,000 website. If you do enough of those, there you go. That's six figures, but you can't continue to do that because your clients don't need $20,000 websites every year. So how do you make sure that the things that you do have in your car are adding up to enough six figures and that you're pricing them right for it to actually be a six figure business model and not just that one good year that you had in 2012 that now you can't replicate again.

Paul

Yeah. So I think what you said is so important that there's kinda two ways to do it right where you have like or two projects that take you over the six figure mark or you have many projects, maybe 12 or 15 projects or 20 projects that take you over the six figure mark and a lot of people think it would be easier to just do like, okay, if I just do this one project and I'm set, but then if you're doing that and you're working with one client for a year, you're not really building your network, you're not building your portfolio, you're not building contact with other potential leads. Right? So when that person goes away, typically people don't need... like if they needed six figures of work from one person year after year after year, they'd hire an employee. That's basically what an employee does. So the reason they're hiring an employee... or a freelancer is because they don't need that.

Paul

They need that work now, but they don't need that work again and again and again, like right after another. So what I always did was I always made sure that no single client of mine was responsible for like a third or more of my income because then I would be getting into that place where I would just be focusing on... Like I didn't want to be an employee, so why would I be taking on a client who's basically treating me like an employee? So I was always looking for, for myself, it was about a project a month so I could do 12 projects in a year and that would take me well over six figures and so that way I was always doing some like sales or business development or connecting. So there was always some part of the month where I was working on expanding my network and expanding the people that I'm in touch with that may need my services as well as focusing on the work and doing the work.

Paul

And then what I ended up doing was just raising my rates instead of increasing. So not going from like 12 to 20 projects a year. I just stuck with about 12 projects. But it's like, okay, well I'm charging $10,000, now I'm charging 12, now I'm charging 15, now I'm charging 20, but I was still doing the same amount of work so I could keep turning clients over and over again. So I ended up with a pool like we were talking about in the beginning where by the time I got through the pool there would be years had passed and then the first client from that pool would be like, okay, it's been like three, four years. They need a website refresh. Then they would go back to the start of the line and then it was almost like a conveyor belt of a couple dozen clients that I was working with at any given time. And a few would drop off because their businesses wouldn't work out in, a few would come back in. But it was, it really was that conveyor belt that just kept the money coming in and kept the projects coming in.

Juan

Okay. So there's a really good lesson in here about essentially a sweet spot of fulfillment that you can get to. Because if you have too few clients, then any given client will have more than 30 percent of your income, which is scary because if you get fired from that one client, like essentially they control your finances. So okay, you don't want to be so in that end of the spectrum that you're essentially an employee. But then on the other end of things, you don't want to have too many clients to where now you're essentially delivering bad work, a. Or b, you're forced to start hiring people under you and then at that point you're not really a freelancer or you're an agency owner and that has its own set of challenges and opportunities. So what you're suggesting is figuring out where that sweet spot is for you, where you have more than two or three or whatever many clients, but not so many that you're an agency owner. And then if anything, increasing your prices time over time, which totally speaks to the whole point of this episode, which is maintaining a six figure career and as a freelancer as opposed to how do you graduate and then become an agency owner. Paul, can you see like maybe any other trend other than the ones that we've talked about that are really important to talk about for people that want to maintain the six figure mark? Have you spotted any other golden nuggets here?

Paul

Yeah, I mean the biggest thing that I've seen with the people that I've talked to is that in order to maintain it you need to focus on not just doing the business but running your business so you have to treat it like a, because really it is a business, but you have to treat it like a business. So I know a lot of freelancers, they get so busy with work and current projects that they push off the business development, the leads, the networking and all of that. So then they enter this feast or famine where it's always like they're completely swamped and booked with client work currently or there is just a mad dash to find more work. And what I found really worked to really like level out the money where like I kinda know how much I'm making all the time because I'm always doing some work that I'm getting paid to do, but also some networking, connecting, communicating, talking to people, sending out articles that potential clients could like. So I'm always dealing with leads so I'm always doing a little bit and I kind of always had like one day of administration a week. So I knew that okay, I'd be working four days and then one day would be the working on my business, not just in my business. And that was huge for me.

Juan

Perfect. Okay. So this is the question that actually funny enough, I asked Kaleigh on a different episode of the same series, what her breakdown was for working on the business instead of in the business. And your answer is essentially 20 percent. Like if one out of the five days out of the week, I'm assuming you just worked Monday through Friday, is dedicated to working on your business. Essentially putting yourself on more of a CEO role and working on the processes working on... I'm assuming you do like accounting and taxes and like all of the boring office stuff on that day?

Paul

I get that set up for my accountant and lawyer to do. I don't know, I'm not smart enough to do those things.

Juan

Okay. Okay. But it's still in that world, let's say of tasks. What day of the week it it? Do you have any input on that? Is it when you start the week? Is it as you're wrapping up the week?

Paul

To be honest, I changed it a bunch of times. I had it as a Wednesday just as like - I'm going to make it the middle day - because whatever. But then what I found really worked the best for me was Monday. Like I just felt like Monday was the day - and it's such a personal preference too, but it's just like Monday I'm getting back into the swing of work. Coming off of a weekend like I, my brain is more in kind of butterfly mode where it can kind of like dart all over the place and so I can do all the admin stuff which isn't really focused or deep work whatsoever. Whereas like the writing or designing that I was doing required like very focused mindful work, so if I could kind of ease into my work day with a bit of administration, putting some numbers in a spreadsheet or doing some emails or calls, sending out that magic email I talked about, that kind of stuff worked out really well for me on Monday, so I kept that as Monday instead of Wednesday.

Juan

I like that. Yeah. Transitions your brain from the weekend into workflow mode instead of expecting it to be able to operate for six hour chunks of just creative work. Okay. There is a difference here though between our listeners are all over the place in terms of their career. Some of them are very early on. Some of them are more later stage and they actually are already hitting that six figure mark. How would the breakdown be? How should the breakdown be, in your recommendation, between someone that is getting started and their time split of fulfillment work and admin work as opposed to someone that is more later stage, like in your level where you can afford to spend 20 percent of your time on admin work. Does that make sense? So the question is essentially if you're early stage, how much time should you be spending? Because probably many people are thinking, I can't afford to lose an entire day of my week to work on admin stuff.

Paul

But can you afford not to? I think my answer is it doesn't matter. Like I don't think you can afford not to work on your business because working on your business is both the admin work and the biz dev work. So like if you're not actively looking for clients, like you may be set for this month but are you set for next month? But if you're always working slightly ahead of your schedule, like the way that I worked was I was always booked a few months in advance because I was always doing that business development cycle every week where I was talking to people and being like, well, and it's a good... It also, it's like this weird psychology thing where when you tell a potential client like I'm fully booked right now but I can, I can slot you in in a month and a half and I can only put you in the calendar if one you signed my contract, and two you give me a down payment.

Paul

Then the person on the other end is thinking like, this person must be good. This is fully booked right now. So like I would never tell a client that, that I have space immediately because that seems like this weird psychological thing. Like why isn't this person busy right now? So even if it's just like I'm busy this week, I can like, if you're, if you want, if you really need the money. Like I'm busy today. I can start tomorrow. I'm busy this week. I can start next week, I'm busy this month. I can start in six like it doesn't matter, but do something where there is a little bit of a wait. Because then the person is going to start to think like, maybe I should hire this person. Like if other people are hiring them and they're busy, I should. I should hire them to.

Juan

I love that. I love that. Basically, you know, if someone's listening to this and they're like, you don't get it right now I'm in survival mode. It's like, yeah, if you're acting like you're in survival mode, guess what? You're going to stay in survival mode and if you want to get into abundance mode, you have to start acting like someone that's in abundance mode and it's gonna show in your tone. It's going to show in your speed of answering emails. It's going to show and how you negotiate deals. If you actually are exposed to that many opportunities and people are perceptive to that and they will see this person is booked and essentially it starts becoming true because you're mimicking the habits of people that have the end result that you're trying to replicate. In this case it's you, Paul and someone that's early stage can really, really take out of your rule book on doing things better.

Paul

Thanks. And that's the thing too is that a lot of people are like, oh well - the comment that I hear the most when I, when I talk to other people about freelancing is like, 'oh, that's okay. That works for you because you're where you're at'. And I'm like, no, I work the same way from the beginning. Like the reason I am where I'm at is because I've been doing these things. I've had these habits. I've had these systems and processes in place from when I started to now and that's why things have worked out as opposed to operating one way and then switching when some magical like confetti rains down from the ceiling and like a success flag and like, I dunno, I dunno what that means, I don't know how that works, but I think we have to operate, in kind of like you're saying, yeah, we have to operate in the same way because people finding like potential clients can smell desperation, right?

Paul

Like they just, they just have this weird sense of and I think trying to limit your exposure to being in that situation, whether it's like building up a buffer, both of money from the job you do before you go freelance or trying to cut your expenses down as much as you can, so the money you make goes a lot further. Like whatever you can do to make it so you don't 100 percent need this client right now is just going to do wonders in terms of like their perception that they have because you're right. Like people can just be like, oh, this person. Like maybe they're really desperate for the work. Like maybe they're, maybe they're not the right fit for this if they can't find work. Whereas if you're like, I totally want to work with you, but we need to like, you need to follow some of my rules first, you need to follow my processes and systems and you need to wait a little bit, but I'm worth it. I promise you. And then like they're like 'ooooh', there's like a velvet rope now, and like people want to be waiting in line with the velvet rope.

Juan

Okay, freelance masterminds. Do not forget to pick up your digital resources from this episode. It's very simple. You just subscribe to the show on iTunes and then once you've done that, visit and.co/resources. Subscribe on iTunes and then visit a n, d dot c dot o slash resources to get your digital goods. See on the next one.

Juan

Paul, as you continue to grow and take your business forward into the next level, where's the best place for people to stay in touch with you and learn more about what you're doing?

Paul

Yeah, so the thing that I, because I do a lot of things right now, but the main way to follow along and keep in touch is my newsletter that's called the Sunday Dispatches and I've written it... It's an article a week, every Sunday. I've written it since, uh, November 2012 and that is on pjrvs.com, which is impossible to remember. So if you just google my name, Google Paul Jarvis, I'm the first couple of pages of Google for my name. Not for all of Google, that would be cool.

Juan

Haha, just go to google.com. It'll redirect to Paul Jarvis.

Paul

My newsletter the Sunday Dispatches. That's the best way to keep in touch and to follow along.

Juan

Amazing, Paul, thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing all of this with us.

Paul

Cool, thanks man.

Juan Felipe Campos
About your host

Juan Felipe Campos

Juan Felipe Campos serves as VP of Technology at Manos Accelerator in partnership with Google Launchpad. As a freelancer, Juan has worked on growth and customer acquisition for VC-funded startups including Ease, Admix, Timeular, and AND CO from Fiverr. He hosts the Six Figure Freelancer audio course/YouTube channel, leads the Freelance Masterminds Facebook Group, and is passionate about helping remote workers make more money and live life on their own terms. His companies have been featured in major publications including Entrepreneur, Huffington Post, Inc. Magazine, and Forbes.

next episode:
How to Budget Your Time and Attention