The number one tactic to keep clients happy

by Rachel Smith
30 August 2019

I’ve worked for a heap of clients. And I’ve been the client as well. So how DO you keep clients happy – and ensure they’re throwing work at you over and over?

It’s pretty simple. It’s staying in touch.

This is especially important when you’re currently working on a project for that client. I know this because after hiring quite a few people over the years to do various things for me, the one thing that pisses me off more than anything, are freelancers who ghost me, don’t update me, ignore specific questions, ignore emails or are generally uncontactable.

When boundaries are bad for business

By ‘uncontactable’ I mean freelancers who are so locked down that you can only make a 5 minute appointment with them to chat on a Tuesday at 4.15pm three weeks from now. Oh, and you have to make that 5-minute-chat-appointment via a calendar app and don’t even think about trying to get in contact before then via email, text, messenger or carrier pigeon.

Now, before Calendy fans come at me crying, ‘But clients need boundaries!’ I hear you. I love systems as much as the next freelancer. Systems that give you structure and boundaries are essential, especially if you have a lot of PITA clients who treat you like an employee more than a freelancer. But (call me crazy) if you’re like the freelancer version of Fort Knox, it may reflect badly on you, make you seem unprofessional and affect business.

There are many ways to keep clients happy and a lot of them are about being responsive. Sometimes it IS about picking up the phone and answering a quick question about how to re-post something on Buffer. Or answering an email about a copy tweak they need. Or it might just be the need to update your client once a week with a quick work-in-progress report so they feel confident things are on track.

Editors hate being ghosted too

This came up in our Pitching masterclass. Clare Brundle from Hardie Grant Media mentioned that one thing that really pisses editors off are freelancers who go AWOL, especially after filing a story. That’s not where it ends. You’ve got to be contactable until that sucker goes to print or goes live.

Building a relationship is about answering questions from the subs, sending in headshots they’ve decided they need at the last minute, or double-checking a quote on the transcript. Bailing is literally the quickest way to get on an editor’s nope list and guarantee you’ll never get a pitch picked up by that outlet again.

So, how quickly should you respond?

Here’s my rule of thumb when it comes to responding to clients and editors.

Quick questions that will take a nanosecond to answer: Immediately. Especially if it’s a query from a sub-editor who’s working on one of your stories (maybe I’m prompt because I used to BE a sub and I know the drill).

Tricky emails that will take longer: Every 2-3 hours. I generally would set aside time in the morning, lunch and afternoon for these.

Annoying, high-maintenance clients: These are the ones you create boundaries for, like answering only during office hours or at specific times you clarify with the client. But I still would not make a client who is on your schedule wait days or weeks to hear from you. If they’re that much of a pain in the ass, it’s time for that client to go.

What do you think? Do you have structures in place to respond to clients? Are you super responsive? Or do you keep clients at arm’s length?

Rachel Smith

2 responses on "The number one tactic to keep clients happy"

  1. Emma Lovell says:

    Yep. I’m super responsive and it’s served me very well over the years. Also the quick “hey how you going” email, code for “I’m still here!”

    I also like to give my clients regular updates.

    I’ve been a little too responsive at times and so have learnt to put in appropriate boundaries. But the key to my success (10 years in business today!!) is being responsive and having open communication with clients.

  2. Rachel Smith says:

    Congrats, Em – that’s a fab milestone!

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