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Having “come up” in Corporate America, when I embarked on my freelance career I took it for granted that everyone else running a freelance business inherently understood the basic tenets of account management. As I began to spend more time on freelance forums, I realized the path to freelancing can take many forms—rarely a straight line from office job to home office, with many either moving directly into freelancing as a first-foray into the working world, or coming from completely unrelated fields to land on a specific business niche.
One of my unique selling propositions (USPs) is my ability to leverage the discipline and flexibility I gained from working in a corporate environment—tight deadlines, design-by-committee, office politics, ego massaging, compromise and much more—to deliver high quality work in an on-time, on-message and on-budget manner.
The biggest of these disciplines is skillful follow-up. The fact is, if you’re trying to land more sophisticated and higher-paying business clients, you need to operate your business more like they do. Incorporating effective follow-up (not too much, not too little) can help position you as a consummate professional worthy of landing that big account.
Follow up, Follow up, Follow up
To many, follow-up in its many forms is an inherent best practice, but a surprising number of practitioners skip this step, feeling like they’re “bothering” clients and prospects, or, frankly, skipping it to save time or effort.
I promise you that mastering the art of effective follow-up will pay exponential dividends. What defines effective follow-up and how can you incorporate it into your freelancing practice?
There are a few points along the client’s lifecycle that provide the perfect opportunity for follow-up. Here are some key times to follow up that you may not think about:
After you’ve responded to an inbound inquiry from a prospect
You’ve answered the prospect’s initial inquiry and then it’s crickets for the next couple of days… weeks… months…
Don’t throw your hands up! There was a reason that client reached out to you; it’s now your job to dig deeper to find out what challenge they were trying to solve. Don’t automatically assume something you said put the prospect off. There are potentially many reasons why prospects get cold feet, and while sometimes it can be due to pricing concerns or other reasons related to your services, quite often busy professionals are just that: busy.
Make it your best practice to always think about how you can add value by making your prospects’ and clients’ jobs easier. You can help facilitate your busy prospect’s search for a new partner by proactively prompting them to make a decision.
The simple act of sending an email a few days after the initial response to ensure they received the requested information and to ask if there are any other questions you can answer will often net you a grateful response for reminding them to get this particular task done—and they’ll appreciate your eagerness and organization.
After you’ve been rejected
While this is a bitter pill to swallow, your follow-up efforts here will either net you answers you can use to improve your services or can even save the account.
I once had an agency client that regularly hammered me with jobs suddenly go silent. Since it was summer, I first assumed it may just have been the summer slump. Putting my marketing hat on, I crafted a summertime promotion to existing clients offering a discount to keep work flowing in. When my efforts still did not get a response from this particular client, I swallowed my pride and reached out directly to the president letting him know I was checking in to see if I had displeased him in some way, offering a 50 percent discount on the next project to make it right.
Within five minutes, I received a reply explaining that due to a miscommunication between one of their account managers and me regarding a project, they had experienced an issue with one of their clients. I was grateful for the opportunity to explain my side of the story and as a bonus, the agency agreed we could work together again.
Along the same lines, when bidding for a new project, never skulk away after you’ve been rejected. First and foremost, thank the prospect for the opportunity and their time. Second, ask what you could have done differently, and third, ask for another opportunity. What’s the worst that can happen?
The moral of this story is to always be searching—never assume anything. Always be searching for projects, clients, answers and information that you can use to build your business—even if it stings.
When you’ve shipped the project off and now it’s radio silence
You’ve completed the project and shipped it off—it’s Miller Time, right? Not so fast. Even if you’ve been paid promptly, if you haven’t received any feedback on your work from the client, you should check in. In many cases, your busy client is simply satisfied and has moved on to the next task on her to-do list, but in some cases, there could be an issue or misunderstanding that your client simply doesn’t want to address face-to-face.
If you’re thinking about the long game—repeat work and referrals—you need to sniff out and address any dissatisfaction before it escalates. Besides, checking in with your client after shipping off a project is a great way stay top-of-mind with them.
As small business owners we wear many hats, but never let a lack of time keep you from implementing a disciplined follow-up routine. And, while it’s important to maintain a constant and open line of communication with prospects and clients, it’s equally important to know when to cut the line.
There’s no set-in-stone formula for just the right level of follow-up, but with practice and testing, you’ll gain the confidence needed to lose your fear of constructive criticism and to fine-tune your senses to pick up on subtle queues that tell you when you may be becoming annoying.
Tiffany Taylor specializes in B2B technology and financial services writing, turning complex concepts into engaging content your clients and prospects want to consume.