Repeat Clients and the Freelance Writer; A Love Story

Repeat clients for freelance writers
Repeat clients are like a love story. . . Mimi Haddon / Getty Images

A writer’s lifeblood depends on repeat clients, just like any other business or service. Think of cultivating clients like a first date. You both put in a lot of initial effort: searching, evaluating, connecting, planning. You decide what to wear and where to meet. Then, you forge ahead with the occasion itself. It goes well. Maybe there were a few hiccups, but that’s normal. You are both left at the end satisfied with how things turned out.

So, what’s your next move?

Well, you could invest all that effort again, but why? It was expensive and exhausting. And what if the next go-round doesn’t work out? What if you end up on one of those bad dates? I bet the other person is thinking the same thing. One of you should reach out!

Why Writers Need Repeat Clients

There are some fairly obvious reasons that you should prefer and pursue additional freelance writing work from established clients as opposed to jumping back into whatever the equivalent of Tinder for writers is (shudder!). But, there are some reasons that may be surprising, too. Let’s take a look.

  • Returning customers save you marketing costs. That’s one less ad to pay for, one less conference to go to and one less business card to buy. Also, keep in mind here that “cost” doesn’t refer only to money, but also to your most precious commodity: your working hours. Every minute you’re marketing is a minute you’re not serving your clients or logging billable hours.
    • They save you administrative costs. The administrative savings definitely skews more toward a time cost, though. Not having to add a customer to your freelance writing business infrastructure (contact list, email list, payment/accounting system) is a blessing. In addition, you avoid the round of emails, meetings, Skypes and phone calls that happen as a new client is trying to decide if you’re “the one.” 
      • Repeat clients save you training and editing time. Like a first date, you spent time getting to know the other person’s preferences. You know they like their documents submitted via Dropbox, that they prefer their invoices via Freshbooks and they want to hear from you via text. In addition, you get an ear for the voice and tone of writing that your clients prefer, which means fewer edits and fewer iterations of a project or a document.
      • They are reliable. Just like you know that second date isn’t going to stand you up while you’re sitting at a fancy restaurant in your best dress, you know this client isn’t going to disappear off the face of the earth, along with your pay.
      • Yup, the pay is more predictable. You know they’re going to pay. You know how they’re going to pay. And, you know when. This is valuable knowledge, especially in a career where the cash flow can get a bit spotty.
      • Repeat clients are easier to sell to than new clients. Since they’ve already seen what you can do, they trust you more. They’re more likely to take you at your word when you tell them their web content really does need an entire facelift (Note: Never tell a date they need an entire facelift.)
      • Repeat clients make your financial future more secure, and this is because they don’t generally repeat just once—they tend to become ongoing, long-term clients who spend more with you and are more likely to recommend you to others.
        • Brand building. If you’re repeatedly serving a client within your niche (or your targeted niche), this helps you to establish yourself as the expert in that area. This repeat client will mention you to his colleagues (who are likely in the same field), which bolsters your reputation and your brand.  
        • Last, but not least, repeat clients mean you’re not ugly, you’re not destined to grow old alone and people really do like you! That is, repeat clients, like repeat dates, are a morale booster. They help instill self-confidence in your writing abilities.

        How Freelance Writers Can Get That Second Date With a Repeat Client

        Look, I’m no dating guru, but I do know the first step here. First and foremost, you must proactively decide if you really want that second date. There is no reason to waste your time on dates or clients who you wouldn’t foist on your worst enemy.

        In addition, not all clients are ideal for you. Sometimes you go on a date because your mom set you up. Sometimes you do a project because a friend asked you to, or because you really needed to pay that credit card bill. It’s ok to decide that a second go-round isn’t for you. Set your sights on a more challenging, lucrative client or outlet.  

        But, if you’re positive this is “the one” and you really want to see where this leads, here’s how to make sure they come back with a ring and a date (I mean, another project).

        • You must do well. You must be on your absolute best behavior during the first date. Writers, that means you will over-deliver on this project, meet the deadline (no excuses) and take feedback and criticism like the professional you are. The first project is your chance to cultivate a credible, professional and trustworthy reputation. Don’t just show up to the first date; sparkle.
        • Simply ask. If you want more business, you have to ask for it. How? Be specific. Have a new project in mind. If you created web content, let them know you’re available to keep it refreshed throughout the year. Offer a retainer or a deal. Bundle together other services, or tell them about additional skills you have that may be of use to them. The best time to do this is immediately after the first project.
        • Stay in your date’s head. You don’t want them to forget you! You want them to think of you and get starry-eyed, right? Follow your clients on social media, and contact them occasionally. Be sure to provide value when you do; for example, share an industry-specific article that may be helpful for them, or let them know about an event they may be interested in.
        • Be gracious. Nobody likes to be rejected. If your client is worried that you’ll turn them down for that second date, why would they ask? One of the most common reasons I’ve heard of for why clients don’t approach freelancers a second time is because of payment issues. If your client pays later than promised, or past the due date, don’t lose your cool. This is very common; money flow issues happen to everyone. Be firm, but be kind and patient. Think long-term. Remember that you’re building bridges.
        • Communicate on a schedule. Don’t just follow up once. Stay relevant. One way to do this is via an occasional email newsletter to all your past clients. I use for this service, because it’s fast, easy and affordable. This is the best way to let past clients know about new services, recent successes, upcoming vacation time and discounts and specials. (By the way, these are things that should also be shared on your website, social media platforms or blog.)
        • Make it personal. Nurture a human connection outside of work, just like you would in a traditional job. How might this look for freelance writers? Let your client know you enjoyed working with them, or that their field is of particular interest to you. Follow them on social media and share the valuable news with them. Set up a Google alert with their company name, and keep up-to-date on their successes. Consider holiday cards. In general, just be present. Just like when you’re dating, the only way not to be forgotten is to make sure you’re not forgettable.
        • Save the day. In an emergency, businesses flail around trying to set things right tout suite. They’ll come to you because another writer has failed them, or disappeared. They’ll be desperate. This is another opportunity to be gracious and show them how a professional acts. Take on their rush job, turn it around for them, and chances are they’ll never look at another freelance writer or freelance editor again. (It’s almost like your date worked out and you tied the knot or something!)
        • Be cool. No one wants to date the person who swipes right on everyone (ewww. . .) People like to be in a popular, exclusive club. Be exclusive to your clients by offering private discounts, or broadcasting times of year where you will only accept work from already-established clients. People also like to be around success. Convey an aura of accomplishment by sharing your achievements, such as through an email newsletter or via social media. Brag about what you know and what you do for your clients. Make sure they know they’re in the “in” crowd—with you.

        Conclusion: Living Happily Ever After

        So, who wants repeat clients?

        1. Freelance writers who are in it for the long-haul, and who desire a stable income and secure future.
        2. Writers who have limited hours or who are trying to maximize their production and efficiency.
        3. Writers who hate marketing or the face-to-face work necessary to onboard new customers, such as shy writers or those who are introverts.

        Luckily for all of the above, growing a roster of repeat clients isn’t too difficult. Simply thinking about it in terms of professionalism and relationship development will lead you to the right actions and interactions.

        If you invest the time with this in mind, you’ll establish a clientele list that is a series of love stories—that is, a set of carefully cultivated human relationships built on mutual trust and support.

        I guess you’re not very faithful after all! It's ok, we’ll just call you a serial monogamist!