Staying in touch with past clients is the best way to grow your freelance writing business. Learn why and how in this easy to follow guide.
As a writer, you’re selling yourself in a market where the supply is higher than the demand. Whether you’re pitching for a job on a freelancing site such as Conyac or trying to get published in the New York Times, the best way to increase your conversion rate is to follow-up.
However, for us writers, this often doesn’t come naturally. After all, you’re really a kind of artist, and you’d rather focus on your craft, right? No worries — this guide will help you get a handle on this essential part of growing your freelance career.
What is a Follow-up?
A follow-up is simply correspondence after the initial contact. Whether the person prefers to communicate via email, some kind of messenger app, or the telephone, it’s essential to keep in touch in the right way.
We’re human, and we forget things. We’re also busy. We all have someone we’ve been meaning to get back to. Well, our prospects and past clients are no different. A follow-up serves to remind them that they’ve forgotten to contact us. It also shows them we care and are keen to be of service.
Following-up on Freelancing Sites
If you’re sourcing clients via a freelancing job marketplace website, there are two scenarios where you should be following up; prospects and past clients.
1. Following up on Pitches
Platforms such as Conyac have a marketplace where clients post job briefs and freelancers pitch to get the job. The best clients are the ones who are experienced. You can see that they have a long track record of positive feedback from other freelancers. They know what they want, and they know how to communicate it clearly. They’re also reasonable people and will treat you with dignity and respect.
The flip side of this is that they are very selective. To win their business, you will need to take the time to read job briefs and tailor your pitches carefully. Just copying-and-pasting a generic template without customizing it won’t work.
Even if you’re the best person for the job, often other candidates will present themselves better. In this case, one way you can stand out is to follow-up with the prospect. However, usually, platforms don’t allow you to message the prospect unless they have first initiated a message thread with you. Thus, be sure to add an appropriate call-to-action at the end of your pitch to encourage them to do this.
And, it goes without saying, to calibrate your tone and approach when following up. Don’t just say, “Hey there — any updates? Can we do this?” Try to think about what might be going through the prospect’s mind and follow-up with something to assure them that you are the best choice.
Of course, be sure not to pester them too much. Calibrate your frequency according to the situation. If they’re not planning on making a choice for a month, but just wanted to post the job and wait for applicants, then perhaps following up weekly would make sense. If they are going to select someone soon, then consider following up daily. Go with your gut feeling as to what is an appropriate frequency. You want to appear keen and ready — not desperate or annoying.
2. Following up on Inquiries
Some freelancing sites allow you to set up listings for specific services. Conyac is one example. If your service is in demand and your listing is compelling, you may receive inquiries. Beyond responding promptly, in the right tone, and providing all information the prospect asks for, you should also make it a habit to follow-up.
A prospect may change their mind or find another option. However, now that you know who they are and that they had an interest in one of your service offerings at one time, you can try to follow up. Of course, nobody wants to hear from someone who is pushy, so calibrate your approach. Find an excuse to get back in touch and perhaps provide them with some new information.
3. Following up on Past Clients
In most cases, you’ll end up just doing a small one-off task for a client. If both sides left each other with good feedback, then it makes sense to try and keep in touch.
Winning new business takes much more time and effort than getting work from past clients. The way to do this is to follow-up, but you need to do it in the right way. Below are four approaches that you might use on a case-by-case basis. For them to work, you first must have a sincere interest in your clients and learn a bit about them.
Random: If you stumble something that makes you think of a client, let them know. They will appreciate your thinking of them, and if they have suitable work, you will get it. A prospect of mine was spending a lot on video ads running in the subway. I took photos and emailed them sharing what a great impression they were making.
Timed: Perhaps your client had a specific date in mind when they would use your writing in some way. Add a reminder in your calendar to follow up with a note to ask them how things turned out. For example, I edited a pitch deck for a client whose first language wasn’t English. I followed up, and they said it helped them a lot.
Monthly, Quarterly, or Half-Yearly: On a set date, check-in with clients to ask if they have more work that needs to be done. You might just catch them at the right time. The optimal frequency will vary depending on the client, their situation, and type of work.
I’d suggest a combination of all of the above. My current gig, working for Xtra, Inc. is my best ever. I landed it by keeping in touch with two of the key decision-makers for years. They brought me in for some coaching and consulting gigs. And, I now work for them on a full-time basis (still as an external contractor, though).
Following-up With Publications
Seeking to get published and paid for your writing? Pitching to publications can be tough. However, if you just send your pitch and wait to hear back, you are limiting your chances significantly. Your original pitch may have got lost in the shuffle. Or, the publisher’s needs may have changed. Following up can get you a job that may otherwise have been lost.
The time you should wait before following up will vary. If the pitch is time-sensitive, consider following up within 24—48 hours. If not, perhaps after 10 days—2 weeks.
Use social media to your advantage. If the person to whom you are pitching manages the publication’s social media, perhaps you can stay visible to them by regularly sharing their posts and commenting on them. This behavior can’t replace following up directly about being published by them, but it can help. Of course, your overall social media presence needs to be appealing to them, and your engagement shouldn’t cross the line where it gets annoying or feels like stalking.
Tracking Prospects and Clients
One of the keys to becoming a successful freelancer is keeping well-organized. When it comes to managing relationships with clients and tracking pitches, there is no single approach or tool that works for everyone.
Simple and free online tools include Google services such as Contacts, Calendar, and Sheets. If you want to step things up, a task manager such as Asana or Trello might make sense. Later, if you outgrow these tools, consider CRM (customer relationship management) tools that are designed for freelancers and solopreneurs such as Less Annoying CRM (funny name!) or Nimble.
It’s Not All About Money
Working as a solo freelancer can be lonely and isolating. While there are various steps you can take to alleviate this, one more thing is forming meaningful relationships with your clients. Of course, you can’t cross the boundaries of being professional. And, if you’re on a freelancing site, their Terms of Service may prohibit exchanging direct contact details. Nevertheless, within these constraints, you can still show that you care.
I’ve hired many freelancers over the years, and the ones who came across as caring about the work they did for me, and whether or not it contributed to my success stuck in my mind. The ROI from dropping a note to clients is great, but that is not the most abundant reward. When we reach the end of our lives, the good relationships we had will mean the most to us.
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