Freelancing is a complex and constantly evolving beast. So it would be absurdly reductionist to try to boil it all down to one single most important element. Right?
I did it anyway.
If I had to choose just 1 thing that was most important to a freelancer’s success, it would be client retention. It can be seen in my own career; what allowed me to enjoy success for so many years while making ample mistakes was my 100% client retention rate.
Retaining clients is a main component of the snowballing effect that freelancers rely on to build their careers. Creating a base of regular clients gives you a strong core from which to build. It can be difficult to find new clients when you’re starting out, but a whole host of sins become forgivable in your sales process if you’re keeping the clients you get. Even if you’re terrible at landing new clients, you’ll eventually become successful if your client retention rate is good (of course, things go much faster if you’re not terrible at landing new clients).
A major goal for any freelancer should be to create demand for themselves. A high demand allows you to take advantage of all the best perks of freelancing- raising your rates, choosing your projects, creating high-value opportunities, etc. It’s extremely difficult to create demand for yourself if you’re not getting enough repeat business. You may have heard this referred to as the ‘leaky bucket’ effect. It’s much easier to fix the hole in the bucket than to take a bunch of extra trips to the water source.
How to Retain Clients
Client retention is more complex than you might think. It begins before you’ve even started looking for work. Your target client is extremely important to client retention because they’ll need to be likely to hire you for more work. For example: an ad agency or design firm will likely have more than one project for a graphic designer, while someone who wants wedding invitations designed probably doesn’t.
Once you start a job, it becomes all about client service, which is more than just doing good work. In fact, the work is a smaller consideration when compared to elements like reliability and communication. This may seem counter-intuitive to a creative freelancer since their whole world is often their work, but from a clients perspective, it’s much more important that they know what is going on and every deadline is being met. While it’s no cause for slacking off (and slightly depressing), plenty of clients will not be able to tell the difference between a passible product and a great product.
In conclusion, have a plan. Knowing, even in part, which clients you want to target and how you intend to satisfy those clients makes it a much more straightforward task to retain a high percentage of clients.