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5 Reasons Your Freelance Clients are Leaving

An ideal freelance business will have a level base of steady clients that bring in a reliable income, and a regular flow of new projects that offer interesting challenges and the prospect of growth. That foundation though can suffer an occasional earthquake. Clients you’ve worked with for years will up and leave. There’s no compensation and rarely more notice than an email thanking you for your help and telling you not to send in any work next week. What went wrong?

There are five common reasons:

  1. They’ve Never Been Happy and Now They’ve Found Someone Else

The hardest part of any freelance/client relationship is the beginning. Every client is unique and every freelancer has a different way of working. The new service provider has to learn the business, understand the client’s needs and show that they’re reliable. Once the bedding-in period is over, even if the client isn’t completely happy, the thought of breaking in a new freelancer can be enough for inertia to set in.

At least until something better comes along. That might be someone who arrives with a recommendation, or it could be a competitor who was hired to complete a different project but has made it known that they’d be happy to take on your work too. Either way, that crack in the foundation finally gives way. The client has an exit, and he takes it.

How to Keep Your Client

You can usually tell when you’re not holding onto a client firmly. Satisfied clients throw extra work your way, pay promptly, rarely ask for revisions and often give praise. The relationship is comfortable and warm. Clients who are only moderately satisfied tend to stay silent and accept work that even you’re not entirely happy with.

When you feel that the client is only just satisfied, you’ve only got two choices: accept that you won’t be holding onto him for long and keep an eye out for a replacement; or face the problem head-on and ask the client where he thinks the work could be improved.

  1. The Client is Cutting Back

When hard times hit, companies often like to lay off permanent staff with their fixed costs and replace their labor with freelancers. Sometimes though, it makes more sense to cut the freelance projects and cut loose freelancers who don’t need severance payments. A project that you thought was essential to the company’s wellbeing turns out to be surplus to requirements. You’re out.

How to Keep Your Client

Businesses don’t cut projects that make profits. Try to find ways for the work you’re doing to make money. Content written to attract search traffic, for example, could be made more profitable by introducing ad units or placing affiliate links. Designs could be bundled into products that the client could make available for sale, perhaps with a royalty. You could even agree to lower your costs, perhaps in return for a drop in frequency or a smaller amount of volume. Make your work pay and the client won’t stop swapping dimes for dollars.

  1. You’ve Become Complacent

Inertia can affect freelancers too, If you’ve held onto a client for a long time and you’re happy with the arrangement, then keeping things the same should keep the money flowing in. The more challenging work can come from the irregular projects. But the needs of the client might not be static and what was satisfactory once might be insufficient now. When a happy client thinks your work is slipping, he’ll look for someone else.

How to Keep Your Client

Be aware that even work you’ve been doing for a long time needs to be refreshed and updated. You’ll need to stay in touch with advances in your field and ask yourself how they can be integrated into an ongoing project. At least once a year, look for at least one change that will improve your work. You’ll enjoy it more too.

  1. The Client Has Outgrown You

Freelancers are often a good choice for small businesses that don’t want the responsibility of full-time employees. But when the company grows and your projects become more complex, the client might start looking for a service provider with a broader set of skills. If the company does really well — in part because of the help you’ve provided — it might even want to bring the work in-house where it can be closely monitored. The services of a small, one-person freelance firm no longer seem sufficient.

How to Keep Your Client

When your clients grow you can grow with them. If a project becomes more complex, learn the extra skills that will enable you to keep the job. This is a chance to build experience with the help of a client who trusts your talent and reliability. If the skills are too specialized to add to your portfolio, look to outsource that part of the job to someone else. Clients don’t really care how the work is done or who does it as long as it arrives on time and up to standard. Growing clients are an opportunity to expand, not contract.

  1. The Client Has Stopped Working

Occasionally, the benefits you bring to a client will be so good that he’s able to hang up his mouse and quit working altogether. It doesn’t happen often and it rarely happens solely because of your contribution, but the kinds of clients that hire freelancers can suddenly achieve massive success. That’s great for them, but it’s not so good if it means you lose a source of reliable income.

How to Keep Your Client

No client is going to keep working just to make his freelancers happy, but he won’t mind making his freelancers happy if there’s no cost to him. If the relationship ends happily, ask for references and referrals. Just because he’s stopped working on his business doesn’t mean everyone he knows has stopped working too. And if the client has sold his company, he might still keep his hand in with small projects and non-profit work either of which could need more freelance help.

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