How to Keep Your Smutlancing Clients Coming Back for More
The smutlancer life can be full of uncertainty. Will they accept my pitch? When will I be published? How much will I make this month?
One of the best things you can do for your bank account and your peace of mind is find ways to earn steady and repeatable income. If you want to work with clients — writing content, editing video, creating graphics, whatever — turning one-off clients into repeat business establishes a steady income and helps you sleep a little better at night.
The majority of my client work is repeat business. The topic may change, but we have an agreement that lets me know (approximately) what and how much work I’ll do for them.
Here are the things I’ve done to keep those clients coming back for more.
Meet Your Deadlines
Nothing kills a relationship more than being late with work. To the best of my ability, I meet my deadlines — losing sleep and working when I’d rather not to do it. Or I get the job done (like managing social media) when we agreed I would do it. When I can’t, usually because of illness, I let them know as soon as possible.
So far the clients I’ve worked with have all been understanding, but I also have the privilege of rarely being sick or incapacitated. If you’re dealing with chronic conditions or illnesses, you may have a different experience and may need to create a more flexible schedule for yourself when establishing new client relationships.
Communication doesn’t end once a job is established. That’s when it really begins. Because most of my client work is the same kind of thing every month, I know when I should get approval on content or when I need more topics from them. Instead of waiting for a client to reach out, I send the first email or Skype message.
- “Do you have any topics for this month?”
- “Did you see the list of topics I sent to you?
- “Have you had a chance to review XYZ?”
I do it because I’m on a schedule and have other things to do. But they appreciate the follow-up and know that I care about the work I’m doing for them.
Provide Value Beyond the Work You’re Hired to Do
I am NOT telling you to work for free. Of course not. But going above and beyond from time to time helps establish a good relationship with anyone. For me that means offering advice on what kind of content will work (in my opinion) for a given goal. I’m happy to sit down (via Skype) with a client and strategize about content or their future plans. In some cases, when I can, I’ll deliver work a little earlier because a client asked me to.
I know some clients will take advantage of my good will. If something becomes a habit or part of my “regular” work with them, it’s time to renegotiate my prices to reflect my time and effort. But adding extra value helps establish myself as someone they want to keep working with.
Pick the Right Clients
This isn’t as easy as it sounds, and you don’t always know someone is a nightmare until you’re in the middle of a project. But, there are signs to look for:
Scope creep: When clients want more work from you than the original agreement — and they don’t want to pay more than the agreed price — this is scope creep. And it’s a problem in the making.
Constant haggling: Negotiating a fee is expected — in the beginning. But once you’re established with a client and doing good work for them, they shouldn’t constantly request a price adjustment, either.
Never satisfied: Yes, you sometimes have to edit or adjust your work to fit your clients needs. But there’s a difference between wanting a couple of adjustments and picking apart every single detail. I include two free edits in any writing I do for a client because I figure if I haven’t gotten it right after two passes through, we clearly aren’t on the same page and need to start over.
These kinds of clients might want to keep working with you — especially if you put up with them. But they’re the kind that need to be let go of as soon as you realize what they’re like. And they’re also the type to have a temper tantrum when you push back and enforce your boundaries — becoming magically dissatisfied with your work and everything you do. Avoid them if you can.
Being professional (to me) means doing what you say you’ll do, delivering your best work on time, communicating, and providing value. It almost means establishing boundaries, having policies and procedures for yourself, and treating your work like the business it is. Your clients want to work with someone they trust to get the work done. Behaving like the professional you want to be instills confidence and makes it easier for them to come back to you for more.
My philosophy is that I don’t work for the paycheck (although of COURSE I work for money), I work for the referral. I want to be so good that they can’t help but tell a colleague about this great writer they know. At the same time, I also work for future opportunities. Since 2017, I’ve grown with a client as they’ve expanded their business. Each new thing they add that requires my skills, I’m the first person they approach. Why? Because I’ve already proven myself in the past, and they know I’m dependable. And they pay my rates because they believe I’m worth it.
Don’t Forget Dumb Luck
Not every amazing smutlancer is presented with every opportunity they should be. Some good fortune is truly that…luck. Or its biases and privileges we’re not always aware of. You can do “everything” right and still not get repeat business or come across assholes who think exposure is better than money.
When skills enough don’t get you where you want to be, lean on connections and relationships you’re building — aka networking. Sometimes the right conversation with the right person will help you get where you’re trying to go. But once you find yourself on that path…don’t forget to be so damn good that your clients love you and want to keep hiring you.
Have you got any tips for keeping good clients coming back to hire you again and again? Share them in the comments!