The Five Stages of Working with Freelance Clients

Did you know that your relationships with your long-term freelancing clients go through the same stages that other interpersonal relationships go through?

Of course, if you understand that there is a relationship behind each of your dealings with a client, this only makes sense.

As a freelancer, it’s important to understand each of these relationship stages so that you can avoid address the challenges that arise in each stage. Your client relationships are key to your success as a freelancer.

In this post, I identify each client relationship stage and explain how you can handle some of the challenges that arise.

Stage #1: Acquaintance and Definite Interest

The earliest stage of your client relationship begins when you meet them. As a prospect, they are not yet your client, but have shown a definite interest in working with you.

A definite interest means more than just a single, random interaction. Perhaps they are asking questions about your business such as trying to learn more about the type of work that you do. Perhaps they are communicating regularly with you through social media.

The challenge here is that you need to make a good enough impression on the client during the acquaintance stage so that the prospect moves to the next stage and actually becomes your client.

Make sure that your social media profiles and freelancing website are up to date so that you can make the right impression.

Stage #2: Engagement

The next stage of a freelancer/client relationship is the engagement. In this stage, the client actually engages you to work on a project with them.

During the engagement phase, the client is normally very excited about working with you. They may send you a request for a proposal, but as long as your response fits their budget and needs they will hire you.

The danger during this phase is to get so caught up in the client’s excitement about working with you that you fail to get a detailed agreement from them. Always get the terms of your agreement in writing. If appropriate, use a contract.

Stage #3: Honeymoon

You’ll know that you’re in the honeymoon stage with your client if they seem to be complimenting you all the time. During the honeymoon phase, the client may act as though you can do no wrong.

It’s during the honeymoon phase that you are most likely to get additional business from the client. The honeymoon phase is also the ideal time to ask your client for a testimonial.

One challenge in this phase is that you want to maintain the client’s good perception of you as long as possible. One way to do this is to overdeliver (exceed expectations) whenever it is practical.

Beware of moving into the next phase, though.

Stage #4: Taken for Granted

As a freelancer, you most likely to want to avoid this phase. As in an interpersonal relationship, being taken for granted as a freelancer can mean the beginning of the end.

As a freelancer, you’re taking the client for granted when you let the quality of your work to slip and just do enough to get by. Likewise, a client is taking a freelancer for granted when they regularly fail to provide adequate time or pay for a project.

Although this can be a negative phase, you can overcome the negativity by working harder on the freelancer/client relationship. By now, you probably understand the client’s business that you can make suggestions that really add value to the client’s business–so make those suggestions and try to move back into the honeymoon phase.

Stage #5: The Breakup

If you failed to rekindle the client’s excitement about working with you, you may find that your relationship with a client comes to an end. Like any breakup, a freelancer/client breakup can be hard.

Not only does breaking up with a client represent a reduction in income, you may also find yourself missing the client interactions. Sadly, many freelancers miss the warning signs that mean that a client is about to end the relationship, so the breakup may come suddenly.

As a professional, your goal should always be to leave a client relationship in as positive a manner as possible. If you’ve made mistakes on the client’s work, apologize and offer to correct the problems. Above all, do not become angry or lash out at your former client for ending the relationship.

You never know. They may want to work with you again one day.

Your Turn

Did I miss any of the stages of a freelancer/client relationship? What relationship struggles have you faced with your clients and how did you overcome them?

Share your answers in the comments.

Image by woodleywonderworks

Comments

  1. says

    Hi Laura,

    Great article. What about the ‘happily married’ stage? It’s not quite the heady romance of the honeymoon period but a more stable and dependable kind of relationship where clients depend on a freelancer knowing they’ll deliver and overdeliver, time and time again. Both parties work to nurture and develop the relationship. Communication is open; there may be the odd slip up on one side or the other, but the bond is strong enough to take it.

    Yes, one way or another all good things come to an end, but I like to think that some freelance-client relationships are built to last! It’s worth aiming for and isn’t as rare as some others out there might have us believe.

    Lisa

  2. says

    Hi Lisa Russell–Great addition! I like it. :)

    Of course, the happily “married” stage would be the ideal that we should strive for with all of our client relationships. That would be a trusting and healthy ongoing relationship with a long-term client. However, I have a feeling that, as in romantic relationships, this stage is not easy to achieve.

  3. says

    Great post! I like the idea of a “happily married” stage, followed by an “old married couple” stage. You know, where you call the client and you already know what he’s going to say and he ASKS you to nag him so things stay on track.

  4. says

    Very nice. But what are the signals on the client’s end that he/she is losing interest in you? In my case, if a working relationship ends I just take it to mean my writing style ceased to fit what the client is working on. I get so many different projects from a client. Some are so interesting they are a breeze, exciting and fun to do. Others are so BORING that I struggle to type every word….

  5. Jack Krall says

    I think I may be entering the break-up stage with a client. We’ve worked together about a year. They’ve always been a little spotty with their communication but I’ve always felt that had more to do with their management style than it did with me. Recently, however, it’s gotten much worse.

    They’ve also been very slow to send payments from the beginning. Sometimes as much as four months after invoicing. Still they’ve sent me some great work and we’ve done some interesting projects.

    In the past month or so they’ve also decided to do a couple pieces “in-house” that they had already paid me deposits on. I suspect this can’t be a good sign. There has been no advance discussion. I simply found out after the fact, “Oh, that’s done.”

    All of which leads me to the following question: When one feels the client pulling away, should one do anything to address it? Should I ask them why they decided to do those projects in house? If so, should my tone be “concerned” or lighter? Just curious?

    Meanwhile, we’re mid-stream with one large project. Rather than address the cancellations, is it wiser to simply remain positive and enthusiastic, exceed expectations on this project and hope for the best?

    Thanks for any responses in advance. Love this site!

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