As a freelancer, you have to kiss a lot of frogs until you’ve gathered an army of princes around you (client base). I know that very well, after almost 13 years in business. There were some toads, too! During my freelancing career, I’ve entered about 280 addresses into my billing system. Which means that I’ve sent them a quote and worked with them at least once. Like I said, lots of frogs. Most of these actually turned out to be princes. But not all of them.
Since I often get asked for advice, especially by newbies or people who’ve just started freelancing, I’d like to share a few words of advice here. It certainly will not help every single person out there, but I do hope that it will help some to find and maintain new contacts pro-actively. A fair piece of warning: Not every kiss (contact) will turn you on (business-wise). But that’s something we shouldn’t be afraid of. It’s just like in real life, really!
First: Pay attention to communication, so that a lead can turn into a prospect and from there lead to a closed deal.
What? Yes! Be aware that communication is key in any relationship, and sometimes you’ll only understand gibberish. Many of my clients have their own “corporate language” and it is not up to me to change that. I’m the one who needs to understand and adapt to them. Otherwise, no deal.
This “corporate language” not only includes their vocabulary, but also the way they communicate. Some expect emails in old-school letter style, others live by the 5-sentence rule. Still, others simply prefer Skype, even when we’re talking about a four or five-figure project. For some, you may find that they sport a strange tonality. But if your communication doesn’t go right from the beginning, your quote can be as attractive as it can be, in the long run, the relationship will fail.
So be open for different communication styles. If you want that client, learn his lingo. The client will only become a prince if you treat him like a king. Find ways and means to keep the distance between transmitter and receiver as low as possible. But keep your tongue out of the game. Don’t get too close! The art of client communication is to get as close as necessary while keeping as much distance as possible. Why that? Because you want to become a part of their posse and at the same time keep enough distance for respect. Keep it at an eye to eye level.
Second: If the kiss doesn’t feel good, let that frog jump back into his pond!
Not every frog is a toad. But sometimes you’ll come across a frog that’s just not a perfect match for you. Then you should let them go. I have let clients go. Most of the time in good spirit. Well, it turned out good whenever I touched base with them in time, before things got sour. It is often predictable when a business relationship is about to hit the rocks. Then it’s necessary to talk openly and to give everybody involved the chance to leave the scene chin up, shaking hands for goodbye. You should never part holding a grudge. This bears advantages for both sides: Parting becomes less painful, the aftermath tends to be much more bearable, and you can still keep in touch if you part with respect and in peace.
When you’re aware of the fact that you’re not the right service provider for a certain client, chances are pretty good that you will also know when you ARE the perfect match. This will boost your self-esteem and you can take on a more confident position. On the other hand, once you notice that a client does not make you happy, chances are good that you know exactly what YOU want. Which is good for your professional development (and personal growth, too).
A good exit strategy always allows for a fresh start: Networking. Maybe it did not work for this client, but they’ll keep you dear to their business heart and they might recommend you to their contacts. Clients appreciate nothing more than a service provider who is honest and doesn’t sell themselves as a Jack of all trades. They appreciate it when we know our limits. No one really believes in Jack of all trades anymore anyway.
Third: Puuuuuffff — And there’s your prince!
In this case, one might think ‘All good’. Wrong! Nothing is more important than to pamper an existing client. It’s not really hard to find new clients. The tough part is to keep them. The first act (communication) plays a major role here, too. But the really important thing is to KEEP that client, to make them want you after they’ve had you (do you see similarities to interpersonal situations? Just saying…).
Let’s adapt the whole client relationship thing to personal relationships: What would you feel like if you were dropped after the first encounter? Right, you’d feel ripped off. Exploited. Used. Well, that’s exactly how your client would feel if you’d neglect them after your first tete-a-tete.
Client relationships work exactly the way romantic relationships do. Especially when the client is special, for whatever reason. This doesn’t mean that you should call them several times a week and ask about their well-being. It is more about getting in touch every now and then to create a desire for your services. A desire for your expertise, your opinion, your skills. This can be a simple click on the star below their XING status message. Or a retweet on Twitter. A card for their birthday / anniversary / newborn baby / what-so-ever. Keep your prince in mind. Care about them. Court them on a professional level.
Yes, I’m still talking about client relationships. Relationships ask to be maintained and nourished. If you succeed you’ll become your client’s queen. That does not make you irreplaceable, but chances are pretty good that you will lead a long, enjoyable business relationship.
Now purse ‘dem lips and get out there!