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Makeda WatermanYou have a list of potential clients for your freelance services in the new gig economy. Now comes the tough part: building relationships to establish a lasting assignment requires work and dedication.

Customer service is key and that starts as near to the top as you can get. Try to speak to someone like the chief executive officer of an organization or a vice-president to develop a relationship for long-term work.

As a freelancer, you’re your own boss, but the person who provides feedback is the client. A client needs to be respected and open communication is essential to successfully fulfil a project.

And it’s important to be able to present ideas effectively, particularly since it’s now common for companies to request webinar meetings when selecting a freelancer.

The freelancers who rise to the top are assertive, friendly, enthusiastic and passionate about their work. Before searching for work, here are some tips to ensure success in your freelance business.

Be prompt in answering emails and phone calls

If you have a full-time job and are moonlighting as a freelancer, a handheld device connected to business emails is essential. At the same time, remember to set business hours because responding to clients late at night can give an impression you work 12 hours a day.

It can happen to anyone but merely forgetting to respond to a question or a request from a client can turn into the end of a relationship. Clients want to know that you’re available when important changes come up.

You should respond to clients within 24 hours of their email or phone call. Companies want to feel as if they have your undivided attention.

Be respectful when discussing invoice inquiries

It’s common for a client to forget to pay a freelancer. One of the best ways to ask when an invoice will be paid is to send a reminder before making accusations.

Ask a company to sign a contract before starting the work. An agreement will outline the following terms of payment:

  • late fees;
  • turnaround time for payment of completed work;
  • insufficient funds fees for cheques;
  • method of payment (i.e., PayPal, cheque, FreshBooks).

You can avoid conflicts by including work, assignment and payment terms in a contract. It will be helpful for your records and if a client has a question, you can refer them to the contract for information.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions

At the beginning of a freelance career, most people make the mistake of trying to appear like a seasoned professional by figuring out difficult parts of an assignment on their own.

The truth is, companies love it when freelancers ask questions because it can avoid the costly delays that occur when changes are needed to what you thought was completed work.

Asking questions can include negotiating payment terms after three to six months of successful work. A company that values your hard work and can afford to pay more will be willing to work with you when an increase of rates is requested.

Be honest

When you land a new assignment and the client asks if you have a flexible schedule or you work a full-time job, it’s better to be honest. There are hundreds of opportunities online that offer flexible work schedules to complete assignments on time.

At times, turning down an opportunity is best, based on your skill set. For example, if a client wants you to write about cloud technology and your niche is travel blogging, communicate that you’re not an expert on this subject. And there’s still a chance the client will hire you and provide helpful information to complete the assignment.

If you’re overwhelmed with work and need an additional week to complete an assignment, it’s better to be transparent about your schedule at the start than be late with the assignment.

Clients respect professionals who they can trust. And trust results in loyal clients.

Be kind and professional

A positive attitude goes a long way. Surprise a client by sending a thank you card. Send personalized emails on holidays to show your appreciation.

If you send cold emails to companies to promote your business, use personalization and avoid sending generic messages.

Think of the client as your manager or supervisor. Show personality and respect when communicating with new and existing clients.

Treat clients the way you want to be treated. Clients are more likely to pay you on time and provide more work if you treat them like a colleague and not a number.

Referral discounts

An incentive for clients to maintain business with you is to offer a referral program. A percentage can be the commission to clients who refer you to other companies. You can send the referral program details in the form of an email campaign or a blog describing the requirements.

Imagine the increase of business possible if clients promote the benefits of working with you to their contacts.

Referral discount email campaigns can also be sent to family and friends, who could forward your email to their circle of friends and contacts.

Phone calls are personal

If you have the time to pick up the phone and speak with a client about an assignment, it’s a good way for them to remember you for upcoming work.

We live in a world that prefers to communicate through social media, text messages and emails. However, a friendly call from you can create a lasting business relationship.

Final thoughts

The freelance lifestyle means that 65 per cent of your time is spent communicating with clients and marketing the business. The rest of the day will be completing assignments. So customer service is a high priority – it can help you maintain clients for a lifetime.

You want clients to refer you to other organizations because it’s easy to work with you.

Your personal branding is business branding, from the information on your website to social media profiles to email campaigns to the way you represent yourself.

Makeda Waterman is a professional writer with clips from CNBC Make It., Huffington Post,, Elite Daily, Fast Company, among others. She owns an online writing business and enjoys traveling in her spare time.

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