Freelancers who want to build a client base tend to focus on the practicalities of the client-service-provider equation. We think about our service offering, our ability to meet the client’s timeframes, and our availability.
Without professional capabilities, none of us would have freelance businesses. But there’s one aspect of freelancing that a purely functional appraisal overlooks: ourselves.
Unlike larger businesses, the freelance business has just one team member—one point of failure and of success. That perhaps makes things more manageable—we don’t have to write a code of conduct, for example, because we know instinctively how we prefer to behave and operate.
But it also increases risk. The sole operator must work within their own personal boundaries all the times. So it can be hard to scale our service offerings, and if you handle your business’s ongoing evolution badly, you can set yourself and your business back significantly—and singlehandedly.
So it’s important to understand what it is that your clients like about working with you. If you do, you’ll be in a better position to manage those risks, and to attract more clients who will appreciate you for your intrinsic personal attributes—the things that come naturally, are effortless, and are unique.
Going au naturel
Think of your best clients—the ones you like working with the most. I’ll bet they like working with you, too.
You might find it tough to answer this question, since at least some of the reasons are likely to do with your intrinsic personal qualities, and their resonance with your clients’ personalities.
It can be all too easy to put your best client relationships down to things like “I’m reliable,” or “I understand their business really well.” This is undoubtedly true and valuable, but those kinds of advantages are replicable.
You’re one of a kind.
Let’s take these practical attributes and look more closely at them. “I’m reliable” might speak to your genuine, personal concern for your clients as human beings, and a desire to please: to make client Betty smile, and to feel like you’re part of something, allied with a cause you care about (Betty’s success).
“I understand their business really well” might speak to your deep personal empathy, and your ability to interpret or intuit what it is that really matters to a client business’s principals, both as business people and as human beings.
Ask “why?” for a few different clients, and you might find some common themes that you can keep in mind when you’re looking for new work.
In thinking about my clients, I realized that a lot of the practical reasons why I felt they liked working with me spoke to the fact that I love working in teams, and that means solidarity. Many of my clients love to have me as part of their team. For many of them, I’m not an outsider providing a set service with a neatly written rate card—I’m one of them. I love working like this. So I try to find clients who want that kind of relationship.
Looking at limitations
If you’re feeling all warm and fuzzy about your intrinsic personal attributes that clients instinctively love, keep in mind that thinking about things in this way can also reveal some limitations—if you let it.
For example, my clients appreciate the sense that I’m one of them, and I love that, too. But if I’m one of them, perhaps that ties me to project roles and pay rates that are appropriate to them. If I only see myself (and pitch myself) this way, perhaps I’m subconsciously limiting myself to roles that aren’t as experimental, innovative, or challenging as I’d like, because my clients may subconsciously feel that, like them, I don’t have the expertise to deliver on those projects.
If I can anticipate these kinds of limitations, I can find ways to counter them through my work, presentation, and client relations. But these very subtle limitations might have been indefinable if I hadn’t looked more closely at what it is my clients like about working with me.
What about you? Why do your clients like working with you? And what does that mean for your business’s future?