The Care and Keeping of Long-Term Clients

long-term-clientBasically, there are two kinds of clients that a freelancer can have:

  • One-time clients–Clients who need your services a single time
  • Long-term clients–Clients who return frequently to use more of your services

Both types of clients are important for a successful freelancing business. Long-term clients can offer you many benefits that one-time clients cannot.

In this post, we’ll focus on long-term clients and how to keep them happy.

Benefits of Having Long-Term Clients

Having long-term clients that bring you repeat business has some obvious benefits:

  • Strengthens your relationship with the client–The more often you perform a project satisfactorily for a client the more the relationship between you grows.
  • Increases the likelihood of getting a referral from the client–If the client is very happy with your work they are much more likely to send other business your way or provide a testimonial.
  • Decreases your marketing costs–While you should continue your marketing, if you know that some clients will be giving you repeat business marketing may take less effort.
  • Reduces your learning curve on new projects–Once you become familiar with what the repeat client wants, you shouldn’t have as big of a learning curve on their projects.

While some gurus and experts encourage you to dump your old clients because they may be holding you back, I would recommend proceeding cautiously with that plan. If a client is returning to you with additional projects, it means that they are likely pleased with your work. If you feel that the terms that you initially negotiated with that client were unfavorable, it is often better to renegotiate than to dump the loyal client.

In the next section, we’ll discuss how to encourage your clients to give you repeat business.

How to Keep a Client Coming Back For More

We probably all agree that repeat clients are good for business, but not all freelancers understand how to encourage repeat business.
While not every client is able to re-use your services (some clients just have the budget and/or the need for one project), there are a few steps you can take to maximize your number of long-term clients:

  1. Go the extra mile–First and foremost, before you can approach a client about additional projects you should make sure that the work that you do for them is of exceptional quality. Make sure to meet all project requirements and deadlines. Whenever possible, gently make suggestions that will help the client’s business.
  2. Be pleasant–It goes without saying that you should treat clients courteously and professionally. However, you should also make it easy for your clients to work with you. Whenever you deal with client, be friendly and maintain a positive attitude. Above all, listen to what your client has to say (even if you don’t particularly agree with them).
  3. Follow up–Your first chance to ask for additional business is at the completion of your first project. You can say something like this: “is there anything else that I can help you with?” If a client initially answers “no,” that doesn’t mean they won’t ever give you repeat business. Check again in about month to see how everything is going.
  4. Add incentives–In the next section, we’ll discuss added incentives that you may choose to provide to clients that are particularly loyal. (Remember, that you have no obligation to provide these incentives. However, if you have a client you really like to deal with, you may choose to reward them in this way.)

Incentives You May Wish to Provide to Loyal Clients

Occasionally, you may wish to reward an established long-term client with incentives that you do not make available to first-time clients. Some possible incentives that you could offer to long-term clients include:

  • Giving existing clients the first shot at any upcoming sales or promotions that your business will be running
  • Providing them with a small finder’s fee or referral fee on any new clients that they refer to you
  • Offering a small frequent buyer’s discount for repeat business
  • Grandfathering existing clients in under your old rates for a time after you raise your rates for new clients
  • Offer them a discount on products that you develop such as books or newsletters

In the next section, I’ll share my own experience with long-term clients.

My Experience

I have several clients that I’ve worked with, on various projects, for nearly eight years. (I also have other repeat clients that I’ve worked with for shorter terms.)

Overall, I have to say that I enjoy working with these clients. They’ve kept me up to date with their requirements, and I can usually start (and finish) one of their projects much more quickly than I could with a first-time client. I’ve also found that they’ve increased the amount of projects that they’ve given me over the years and the size (dollar-wise) of those projects.

Our relationship is such that if I don’t hear from a long-term client over a long period of time I think nothing of contacting them to ask how things are going.

Share Your Experiences with Long-Term Clients

Do you have any long-term clients? How do you keep them happy? Do you provide incentives?

Share your answers in the comments.

Image by morula_org