• Advice

The best-paid freelancers make clients look good. Here's why.

My #1 freelance client just got yelled at by her client.

And yes, that’s my problem too.

As a freelancer, I am always aware not only of making myself look good, but of making my client look good for their boss/customers/clients.

The thing my client got yelled at about wasn’t my fault. But I worked extra hard in a time crunch to make sure that she got what she needed in order to repair her relationship with her client. I do this for her because she’s my #1 client.

And I’m her #1 freelancer because I do this for her.

Being attuned to where my clients are getting squeezed or are facing an issue, either by covering for them when they’re in a bind, consulting them when they’ve made a mistake, etc., makes me a trusted advisor. I’m their go-to.

This makes our relationship rock-solid. I’m becoming the person who is so invaluable that they give me all the business they have and recommend me to everyone they know. And they don’t blink an eye if I raise my rates.

Most of you would do this naturally, so what I’m saying is really, really obvious. Great.

But some freelancers might say: You’re going to all that extra work, are they paying you for it? Don’t you always talk about protecting your time and getting paid for everything that you do? What I’m saying is: know when to break the rule. Have them, but break them for your best clients and (selectively) for the clients who you hope become your best clients.

Obviously I’m getting paid an hourly rate for any extra time I spend, but I don’t charge them extra for a rush job. This is a personal choice, and it depends on your client; some clients ask for rushes all the time and expect you to just drop everything to work on their stuff, without having built any relationship with you. Yeah, no. But for clients that are paying me well and have respected my time in the past: hell yes, I will go above and beyond for you. You deserve that from me.

It’s really important that you set boundaries with clients. Late fees, revision fees, hourly rates, rush fees, etc. But to mix metaphors, don’t burn bridges before they’re built...and definitely don’t incinerate them after they’re built by throwing an extra charge into a desperate conversation with your best client who really needs that bridge right now.

Over time, it pays off: I have a few very loyal clients who will (mostly) reciprocate by giving me something I need. They’ll give me testimonials. They’ll push back deadlines for me.

Eventually, I saw that making clients look good is so crucial to my business that I've changed how I talk to clients I'm trying to land. Instead of talking about who I am, I talk about how I make their life easier and make problems go away. Classic Marketing 101, possibly even a cliche, but worth repeating over and over and reminding yourself before every client conversation you ever have.

Freelancers, how do you make your clients look good? What “extras” do you provide for your best clients?