Rescuing Your Freelance Career: Winning Clients Back

Rescuing Your Freelance Career: Winning Clients Back

As a freelancer, how long could you personally go without doing any client work?

A day or two? A week? A month?

Whatever the answer, there’s likely to be a time when work dries up for a while – either through sheer chance – or maybe even because of a family situation, a medical issue, a technical problem… and so on. You can quickly find yourself heading toward that week or month without any jobs coming in.

To make matter’s worse – the longer a ‘quiet spell’ continues, the harder it is to pick things back up. Clients can move on, your marketing slips, you don’t have many recent testimonials, etc.

So, what do you do?

For me, the very best answer has been to revisit the lowest hanging fruit there is – your old clients.

Your old clients already know you. They (hopefully) know that you deliver a good product, in a reasonable timescale – with good communication. Compare that to a potential new client for a second – and you’ll realise that there’s a LOT of hard selling, marketing and relationship building work that your past working relationship as already done for you.

So, you lift out your diary or open your LinkedIn account – but, one crucial question remains:

How do you re-open those client doors and start to see work coming back in?

Here are 5 solid ways that you can go about it…

Cover photo credit: Corey Hearne 

Photo by William Iven

1. Just get in touch

If you’ve got a slightly fragile ego like me, it’s a hard to accept that clients do sometimes just outright forget about you. I’ve learned not to worry about it – and you shouldn’t either – they’re busy, and could well be dealing with a significant number of freelancers.

You can do a lot worse than just sending them an email, Skype message, SMS – or any other form of communication you used during your time working for them. If you were more familiar, getting in touch on social media can work well too.

It shouldn’t be a plea for work – in fact, you should actively avoid looking like you’re only getting in touch with them to get at their bank account! Ask them how the project is going – or send them a link to something that might be useful for them.

The next point is really important here:

Have the mindset that you’re there to help them – nothing more.

This might not end up with you getting immediate work – but, if you can keep in touch like this (especially if you’re going to be doing it with a handful of clients) I’d almost guarantee that something positive will come from it.

2. Offer your time

Another reason previous clients represent such a good opportunity is the fact that you know a fair amount about their business. This gives you a great ‘in’ when it comes to offering something that they’ll find useful.

There are a million possible examples here:

“Hi Tom, it’s Stephen here. I’m keen to try out a few new After Effects templates I’ve picked up and wondered if you could use a few free hours help with the videos you’re using in your social campaigns at the moment?”

Again, make sure you don’t come off as being desperate – but, like the example above – if there’s something in it for both of you, chances are you’ll be okay.

I’m not usually an advocate of giving your time away for free – but when you’re looking to pick work back up, it can be a good strategic tool that gets your foot back in the door with clients who might otherwise move on.

Photo by rawpixel

3. Offer services they’re likely to need

If you know that your client has bought a particular product or service from you before – there’s a good chance they still have a need for it – or certainly something along the same lines.

The thing is, even though you know you’ve got something up your sleeve that could benefit a client, they might not – so get in touch and talk to them about it.

“Hi Tom, Stephen here. I hope the photos I shot for the website are working well! I thought I’d get in touch because a lot of my clients like to change their product images when it’s approaching Christmas – so I thought I’d see if that was something I could help with?”

Clearly, you’ll need to think of the logical next service you can offer or that your customer might need – but when you do, there’s no harm in extending this approach to other lapsed clients.

4. New customer deals

Hang on. This is about old clients, isn’t it?

It definitely is – but new client deals are another great way to get back in touch with people you’ve worked for before – especially when you throw a little flattery in to the mix.

“Hi Tom, Stephen here. I’ve put a special bundle together for some of my new clients and I thought since I really enjoyed working on your project – it would be crazy not to offer it to you too! Let me know when you’re free and I’ll tell you a bit more about it!”

If you’ve provided a good service before, clients will like the fact that you’ve thought about them again – especially if it means they’re getting a good deal on your services.

Of course, you’ll have to think up a deal to offer them – but when you’ve got their ear again, this is a nice problem to have!

Photo by Nik MacMillan

5. Talk about how you can improve

Until now, we haven’t talked about what happens if a client has become an ex-client because of an issue they had with you, the service you provide or the work you did – but, believe it or not, there’s even an opportunity to build bridges if you were the one who dropped the ball.

Getting in touch, dropping the defensiveness and being humble is a great way to start:

“Hi Tom, Stephen here. I realise things didn’t go exactly the way you hoped they would when we worked together in the summer. I wondered, would you mind if I took 5 minutes of your time to chat and see what I could do to avoid dropping the ball like that again?”

People often like to sound off – and, if you can resist the urge to turn the blame around on them, this actually gives you a chance to ask for the business again.

“Based on me taking onboard and acting on what we’ve talked about today – would there be any chance we could give another project together a try?”

You might think this is fruitless – but let me tell you, there are plenty of freelancers out there who would never even consider a move like this – and there are plenty more who think their service is impeccable at all times. Talking to a customer in this way is a strong indication that they’re working with someone who’ll learn, develop and take responsibility; a rare set of skills – and something that clients will often enormously appreciate.

The bottom line

Ultimately, when it comes to winning customers back – you stand a very good chance, but you do need to be certain that you don’t look desperate.

Desperation is a big warning flag – one that can indicate to a client that you’re going to shamble your way through whatever they can offer – just for a payday. What’s more, it’s also a fine way for unscrupulous clients to take advantage of a difficult time.

Each of the approaches here will work beautifully if you genuinely want to offer your clients something that is valuable to them – so keep that in mind, and start reaching back out today…

Read next: How Great Freelancers Deal with Making Mistakes for Clients


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