Freelance long enough and at some point someone will tell you that it costs ten times more to find a new client than to keep an old one. Or twenty times more. Or a hundred. Or just more than you can afford.
Whatever the real figure, retaining clients who have already trusted you with their work is always going to be cheaper than advertising for a replacement. More importantly, it’s a lot easier. That’s because if it’s a strain for us to find clients, it’s no easier for buyers to find reliable freelancers. Sometimes, all it takes is a small amount of regular nudging to ensure that a buyer who came to you once keeps coming back for more.
Here are some of the ways you can painlessly poke your clients in the ribs:
Provide Regular Valuable Information
In the good old days, websites would ask users to tick a box showing that they agreed to receive a regular newsletter packed with fantastic tips, advice and special offers.
The good old days are still here.
To be effective, those emails have to be genuinely interesting. They have to provide information that the reader can use — tips to get more out of a product are always a good idea — or special offers that feel exclusive and will save the reader money. They also have to be regular. Once a month is usually the right frequency to keep you fresh in a client’s mind without bothering them.
You can write a corporate blog as well, of course. That can be useful too. But clients have to choose to visit your blog or to hit the subscribe button. Signing them up to receive your newsletter comes when they’re at their hottest and brings your message — and your reminder — directly to them.
Sometimes, the smallest thing can be enough to remind a client that you’re still around, that the two of you have a relationship… and that he should be giving you more work.
A Christmas card or a birthday card can do it.
One site that makes that a little easier is JackCards.com. This lets you enter your clients’ birthday details, choose the cards a year in advance and receive them stamped, addressed and ready to mail just before the event. All you’ll have to do is write your greeting — and add that you’re still available for big projects that pay well.
If you’re really feeling generous, you could go a little further and send out presents. That costs a lot more but it also makes a much deeper impression. Restrict it to your most valuable clients — that 20 percent responsible for 80 percent of your income — and you should find that it pays you in spades.
Google is one company that’s very good at doing this. Each year, it sends out freebies to its top AdSense publishers and advertisers. Past gifts for advertisers have included a mini-fridge, while publishers have enjoyed digital picture frames, wireless mouse kits and 2GB memory cards.
Note that each of these gifts combines two elements. The items themselves are useful and imaginative (no ballpoint pens or printed coffee mugs from the Googleplex); and they have Google’s logo on them. That might seem a little crass but it’s tastefully done, and it’s where Google gets back part of the value of the gift (the part that goes beyond gratitude.) Every time the recipient uses the present, he remembers the company who sent it.
That’s advertising worth paying for.
PersonalizationMall.com is one option if you want to follow Google’s footsteps but their selection is a bit dull. A better choice might be to ask Etchstar to scratch your logo onto an electronic product, or if you’ve got more than 50 clients you want to please, ask Gelaskins to create a unique design for an iPod Nano.
We only said that these were “almost” effortless ways to keep your clients. When you’re used to working with people through email, telephone and Instant Messaging, a face-to-face meeting can seem a little strange — and a lot of work.
But it’s also very powerful.
Nothing cements a business relationship harder than actually meeting, talking and tossing around ideas.
Obviously, if you’re working in Idaho and your clients are in New York, San Diego and Burkina Faso, that’s not going to be easy. But when one of them happens to passing through, or if you’re visiting West Africa, it pays to make the effort, meet and sip some beans.
Make Sure They’re Getting Results
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how great the gift you send, how useful the information you supply or how well you get on over a cup of coffee and a croissant. If your client isn’t making money — or doesn’t expect to — you won’t either.
The best way to make sure that your clients will come back to you then is the simplest: ask how they’re getting on. Try to find out what the results are from your work and see if you can come up with ways to improve them.
That’s not always easy. It requires a little tact. You want to sound helpful, not nosey. But get it right — and make your clients rich — and beyond doing the job, you won’t have to make any effort at all to keep them.