Client Retention: A Key Ingredient for Freelancing Success

Working as a freelance designer is a challenging job. Not only do you have to be a skilled designer, but you also need to be able to find work and run a profitable business. Landing new clients can be a lot of work and can require a considerable amount of time on your part. Once you have the client, retaining that client can be highly beneficial for your business.

A long-term or repeat client could be any number of things. Maybe you’ve designed a website for a client a few years ago and they just came back to you because it’s time to update their site with a fresh design. Or maybe the client needs on-going work each month and they’re hiring you to provide that work in addition to your one-time services of designing their site.

With content management systems most clients no longer have to hire a designer to make basic updates and additions to their sites, but many clients still have a need for a designer to perform various services on an on-going basis or at some point in the future. Hopefully the information presented in this article will reveal the potential that this presents and will help you to land a few on-going clients of your own.

Why is Client Retention Important?

Before we look at the different ways you can work to retain more of your clients, let’s first look at the issue of why you would want to do so.

1. More Time Working, Less Time Finding Clients

Simply put, finding new clients is more costly than retaining existing ones. If you have an existing client that asks you to do some work for them, all of the time that you will be working is going to be generating income for you. Finding new clients requires that you talk to the potential client about their business, their project, and how your services can help them. Most likely you’ll then have to spend some time developing a quote or an estimate, all before you would ever see any income from the client. For larger projects that can involve a significant amount of time.

On-going clients allow you to focus more of your time on income-generating services rather than prospecting or selling your services to potential clients. Most designers prefer actually working on client projects as opposed to handing the business side of securing the work, and on-going clients are great for this reason.

2. Improved Stability of Income

Most freelancers struggle with achieving stability in their income. There will always be some fluctuation, but having even just a few on-going clients can help to improve stability and reduce the risk of very slow times. If you’re not able to find new projects, at least you will have some existing clients that are providing income for you.

3. Familiarity with Clients

When working with a new client, chances are you spend a lot of time getting to know them, their business, the industry, and their customers. In order to do your best work you will need to become very familiar with the client and their situation. This makes it difficult when you are working with a client briefly on a small project, and especially with a low budget. The time to get to know the client inside and out is often not available.

When you are working with a client on a long-term basis you will have the time to get to truly understand their business, and that will make your work easier and more effective. Going back to the first point, when you are on the same page with your clients you can spend more time doing the work and less time researching and analyzing their industry and customers.

4. Familiarity with Projects

In addition to getting to know the client better, you’ll also be more familiar with the specific projects that you will be working on. If a client hires you for a small project to make some updates to their site, you are likely to face some frustrations of working with someone else’s code or spending time just to get familiar with the site and the project. If you are providing on-going services for the client you will be able to work on projects that you have managed yourself in the past and you can avoid some of those frustrations.

5. Referrals from Clients

Referral business is critical to the success of many established freelancers. If you are working with clients on an on-going basis and providing them with an excellent quality of work and customer service, they will be more likely to refer you to their friends and colleagues then they would if you provided a one-time service for them. A long-term relationship with a client gives you a better opportunity to prove the value of your services, and hopefully the client will recognize that and keep you in mind.

6. Fewer Clients to Manage

Managing clients takes time. This can involve estimates, creating invoices, tracking invoices, proving customer service, and more. In general, managing fewer clients on a long-term basis will be easier and require less time for administrative duties as compared to manager a larger number of clients for one-time projects. Again, this goes back to the first point that it leaves more time for income-generating work.

7. Cross Promoting and Up Selling Opportunities

As you manage a client through a period of time you may come across opportunities where you can offer them various products or services that you offer. This is not to say that you should try and sell unnecessary products or services to a client, but if you are working with them on an on-going basis it can open up possibilities to expand that relationship even further. For example, if you are providing on-going maintenance on a site there may be opportunities for you to offer services for copywriting to make changes to pages that aren’t performing well, or to offer SEO services increase traffic to their site.

8. Better Chance to Get Results for the Client

The ultimate measure of success for a designer is the results. Sometimes one of the biggest challenges of a one-time project is having enough involvement to get the needed results. If you have an on-going relationship with a client you will have a greater opportunity to help them achieve success with their website and their business. Having successful clients will lead to more referrals, better items for your portfolio, and invaluable experience that you can apply to other projects as well.

9. Higher Value of Each Client

When you are able to retain a client they are going to be worth more to you than if you simply design their website and then never work with them again. If you’re able to convert some of your clients to long-term clients you will be essentially increasing the value of each new client that you get. Working to find new ways to keep clients may be more profitable than working to market yourself to new potential clients.

10. Gives Stability to Clients

Having an on-going relationship can be equally as beneficial for the client as it is for the designer. Many businesses re-design their site every couple of years, and smaller changes are often required between those re-designs. However, it’s very common for these businesses to bounce from one designer to the next because they’re not completely satisfied with the work of the designer, they need someone who is skilled in other areas, or because the designer is not available for work at the time. Having one designer or one team that provides quality services on a consistent basis can make things much easier for the client.

11. Faster Turnaround Time

On-going relationships also allow projects and minor maintenance to be done faster. There is no need to go out and find the right designer, it simply involves communicating the needs to the designer and work can be started very quickly in most cases. The faster turnaround time is better for both the designer and the client.

How Can You Retain More of Your Clients?

Ok, so now that we have looked at some compelling reasons for working with clients on an on-going basis you may be wondering what you can do to make that happen. The truth is that long-term clients will probably always be only a portion of your business as not every client will have the needs or the budget to continually hire the designer for work. However, there are a number of things that you can do to increase the opportunities that you have and to do a better job of meeting the needs of the client.

1. Provide Excellent Service

It all starts with doing a great job for the client and keeping them happy. This includes the quality of your design work, customer service, and communication. Clients simply won’t stay with a designer if they are not pleased with the work and the service that they are receiving. Excellent service on the other hand could encourage them to stay with you and try other services that you offer rather than going elsewhere.

This point is potentially a very large topic and it’s impossible to cover it in detail in this post, but here are a few things to always keep in mind:

  • Be honest with clients – A long-term designer/client relationship must have open and honest communication. This will lead to a greater degree of trust and confidence, and that is when the client will want to retain your services, or at least to hire you again at some point in the future.
  • Do what’s best for the client – The client’s best interests should always be the focus. Don’t attempt to develop on-going relationships with clients by selling services that they don’t need or that will not generate results for them. Be fair and treat them well, and this will lead to stronger relationships with clients.
  • Be someone that they enjoy working with – While you don’t need to be best friends with your clients, they should at least be comfortable working with you. There are plenty of talented designers out there and people generally chose to hire those that they enjoy working with.

2. Provide Options

Each client is unique and their on-going needs will also be unique. If possible, provide your clients with a few options so that you can better meet their needs. For example, maintenance at an hourly rate could be most appropriate for clients who want to manage their own site but may need occasional help or design work here and there. Offering on-going services at a monthly rate may be a better fit for clients who know they will have a somewhat consistent need for work from a designer (Chris Coyier has a brief, but excellent, article on this concept called The Heating Company Analogy). Other clients may prefer project-based pricing, essentially adding services to the work you’ve already done (for example, content creation or SEO services).

If it’s possible for you, make an effort to give clients options so that your on-going services will be a great fit for them. By making the services fit with the client rather than trying to force the client to fit with the services, you should be able to convert more of your one-time clients into long-term clients.

3. Offer a Range of Services

Web designers have the opportunity to offer a wide variety of related services that are needed by many clients. This may include web design, web development, app development, logo design, print design (business cards, posters, flyers, etc.), SEO, social media marketing, PPC campaign management, content development, and more. If you’re hoping to turn more one-time design projects into long-term or repeat clients, one of the best ways to do that is by offering a wider range of services. As you land web design clients you’ll be able to offer them additional services, or even a package including multiple services. Some services in particular, such as SEO and social media marketing, are well-suited to an on-going relationship with the client.

4. Offer Competitive Rates for On-going Work

Because repeat and on-going clients save you the time of finding new clients and securing the work, you may be able to offer slightly lower rates for your on-going clients and still be able to maintain a very profitable relationship. On-going work from a designer can become costly very quickly for most small clients, so offering competitive rates may help to convince some clients that it is worthwhile for them to continue the relationship.

5. Find Out What Services Your Clients Need

As I mentioned earlier, offering a variety of services can greatly improve your chances of landing on-going work. However, you may not always know exactly what your client needs and they may not always know exactly what you are capable of doing for them. Take a few minutes to communicate with your clients and ask them if there are other related services that they need, you may just be able to help them out and continue the relationship. If it’s not a service that you are currently willing or able to offer, you may want to consider adding it if several clients have mentioned an interest.

6. Contact Past Clients

In addition to opportunities for retaining more of your clients from here into the future, you probably also have a number of past clients that you haven’t had any communication with in some time. It can prove to be a great use of your time to reach out to these past customers to check in and see if they have any needs that you can help them with. If you offer a variety of services be sure that they know what you can do for them, and you may wind up with some repeat clients this way, especially if they were pleased with your work the first time around.

7. Have a Client/Customer Newsletter

One of the keys to on-going relationships with clients is simply staying in close contact with them. Sending out a periodic newsletter to your customers and clients can do just that. The newsletter could include industry news that may be relevant to them, brief articles, and your own news and announcements. Then when your clients need some type of work you will probably be at the front of their mind, and you could even offer special promotions or discounts to your existing clients through the newsletter.

What’s Your Experience?

Have you found on-going client relationships to be beneficial to your business? Do you do anything to find these types of clients or to encourage repeat work? Feel free to share in the comments.

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