Journalism Advice

7 Ways to Be a Successful Freelancer—and Book More Repeat Assignments

Make your clients love you—and want to give you more work for higher rates—with these tips

It’s one of the keys to a successful freelancing career: Spending less time hustling to get the gig, and more time doing more work for repeat clients.

How can you get your clients to come back, again and again, for more? Read on for words of advice from media pros who work frequently with freelancers—and relish building long-standing relationship with the best of them.

1. Understand what your client really wants
What do employers really want? It’s a question as old as freelancing itself.

On the surface, clients want freelancers to complete a task: write a blog post, draft a press release, compose a social media calendar. In reality, clients want something deeper and less tangible. They want us to make their lives easier. They want us to solve problems, and not create more.

2. Anticipate—and prevent—predictable problems

Preventing problems down the line is the key to making your client’s life easier. So, be upfront from the get-go about your needs and expectations.

That could mean hashing out a project timetable to better suit your needs, negotiating a more reasonable fee or adjusting project scope. Whatever you do, don’t leave those conversations for later. It’s always better to have everything out on the table in advance.

3. Be “present,” even if you’re off-site
“A great freelancer is someone who is able to be ‘present’ even if they are off-site and not part of the everyday team,” said Tom Lorenzo, vice president of creative at Situation Interactive, a digital shop that specializes in arts, culture and entertainment clients including Broadway shows, TV networks and New York City attractions.

“It’s all about communication,” he said. “They are great at keeping you updated, hopping on the phone and knowing when they need to leave their cave and come into the office to talk face to face.”

4. Understand the power of regular communication
It’s true: Communication is the glue that holds the client/freelancer relationship together.

That means going beyond an email that says “Here’s the work you requested.” It means always responding in a timely manner, proactively checking in when the client has gone quiet and suggesting in-person meetings as needed. It also means going out of your way to understand their needs and strengthen your bond—asking questions about the business as a whole, learning about your client’s role within the company and suggesting new ways to help them meet their goals.

5. Be open—and transparent
Basically, you have to use your people skills to become a valuable part of the team, even if your freelance status marks you as a temporary hired hand.

“Soft skills go a long way,” agreed Christian Santos, senior creative recruiter for Salt, an award-winning global staffing agency. The number one quality he looks for in a solid freelancer? “Complete transparency.”

“Be open about what you’re looking for regarding environment, compensation and the actual work itself,” he said. “Everyone should be on the same page to avoid any unexpected confusion or frustration.”

6. Be someone people want to work with
Once you’ve gotten the gig, Santos said: “Treat people well when you’re on a job. More doors will open.”

Kristen Gaerlan, senior copywriter at advertising agency Publicis, can attest to the importance of performing once you’ve landed a client. She collaborates with freelancers on a frequent basis, and tells a horror story of a particular person who didn’t bring his A game.

“He spent most of his time making small talk with people rather than doing his job,” she says. “It was obvious to the whole team that he was slowing us down on a huge project. Multiple people brought it up to our executive creative director, who then took it to HR.”

Can you guess what happened to this poor soul? “He was out the next day,” Gaerlan said. And you can bet they didn’t invite him back. He went from a freelancer who got the gig to a freelancer who lost the gig, because he caused more problems than he solved.

7. Go the extra mile
Do the work you were hired to do, of course, but go beyond that. Build positive connections with your team, make them glad you’re on board, and make yourself indispensable. Remember—your co-workers’ opinions can hold as much weight as the person who hired you.

“Freelancers have to prove themselves a bit more,” Gaerlan said. “If you’re not doing the job, the company won’t hesitate to trim the fat. Building rapport and earning respect is part of the game.”

In the freelance game, you’re competing with lots of other folks who are just as talented as you. It’s crucial that you set yourself apart. Make your employer’s life easier, and you’ll be the one freelancer everyone wants to hire.

Curious what employers are doing to retain great freelancers like you? Check out 7 Ways to Keep—and Not Have to Replace—Your Best Freelancers.

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