A steady stream of work is the holy grail of freelancing. Our type of work is often all over the place, with some weeks and months super busy, while during others work is barely scraping the barrel.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was something we could do to create consistency out of something inherently fluctuant? There is! One of the main strategies to creating a more steady income stream - aside from diversifying your income - is creating a loyal client base. Here’s how to do it.
This should almost go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. It’s extremely important to always be professional as a freelancer. This may mean biting your tongue sometimes, or waiting before you send that email. Your reputation depends on your ability to stand up for yourself in a polite and matter-of-fact way while showing empathy and understanding. Knowing how and when to take it on the chin and apologise is helpful too. The world is smaller than you think, so it’s super important to always remain professional. You never know, you may work with that person again later in life.
Keep to deadlines
Keeping to deadlines is a large part of what makes up your credibility. It’s basically as straightforward as this: under no circumstances should you miss a deadline. Treat it as a sacred promise. Unless something out of your control happens, in which case a polite email to your client explaining why you’re going to miss the deadline is a good idea. Always offer a new deadline at the same time - and missing that one is not an option, no matter what happens. It may result in a few late nights or social events missed, but it’s got to be done.
Find a niche
Whether you like it or not, if you’re a freelancer, you are your brand. It helps tremendously if you’re engraved in people’s minds as the go-to person for a particular type of work. Whether it’s writing about dogs, photographing weddings or creating works of art of beloved pets - if you work in a niche it’s easier for people to remember you or recommend you to others. That doesn’t mean you can’t veer away from your niche if the opportunity arises, it just means that your marketing and branding is aimed at one particular area within an industry to increase your brand’s (i.e. you!) awareness.
Communication is key when you’re a freelancer. You have to be proactive about work as in most cases, it isn’t just going to come to you. But in some ways, freelancing is similar to having a salaried job. Just as you’d let your boss know you’re wanting to take leave, you would let your clients know too. The difference is that in the first example you have to ask for permission, whereas as a freelancer the executive decision lies with you. This is great, but it also means you have to implement some good practices around planning to avoid leaving your clients hanging. You could let your clients know about your upcoming leave two months in advance. If it’s possible in your line of work, offer to do some work for them ahead of time so they are sorted while you’re away. Most clients, especially if you work for them regularly, will probably take you up on the offer - which may result in your busiest weeks of the year before your holiday!
Always deliver exceptional quality work
Delivering exceptional quality work every single time goes hand in hand with never missing a deadline. Together, they form the foundation of your reputation. Your passion and commitment to your craft will shine through in the quality of your work. We’re all human and we all make mistakes - but those key values weigh heavier. It’s said you only get one first impression, and that’s very much the case with freelancing. To form a professional collaborative relationship with a client, you need to give them your best effort and work every single time.
Show commitment and flexibility
Let’s say you normally have a turnaround time of two weeks, but your client needs the work done in two days. Showing flexibility when there’s an urgent situation, to help your client out, will be beneficial to you in the long run. A combination of being proactive, flexible and producing quality work shows your commitment. What goes around, comes around. In saying that, your mental health is important too, so don’t feel like you always have to say yes to everything. When one door closes, another opens. It’s finding that balance between being the best freelancer your client could wish for and keeping your sanity, that often proves most difficult.
Be human, show you care
At the end of the day, we’re all human. A great professional relationship is built on more than the points above. Ask how your client’s day has been. How they’re handling the current environment. If they’re looking forward to a new season or if they have particular hobbies they enjoy doing in their free time. Forming a genuine connection with the person providing you with work is such a crucial part of building a loyal client base. It’s a two-way street as well, your clients are more likely to show empathy to you when you’ve shown it to them. Above all, it’s fun to talk about something else than work now and again. Your clients are the closest thing you have to colleagues as a freelancer, so treat them with kindness and respect.
Wrapping it up
Building a regular income stream may take quite a while, but you can start straight away on building a loyal client base. It all starts with your first client. Hopefully, the points above will help you create strong professional relationships, built on a steady foundation. You’ll be able to reap the benefits from starting on the right foot for the duration of your entire career. Freelancing is for a large part business relationship management, and you’re the manager!