A Step-by-Step Guide to Accepting A New Freelance Client
When a potential freelance client reaches out to you, you should have a set workflow that both saves you time and protects your business. Below are the steps that have worked for me. This follows that you just received an email, or someone has filled out a contact form on your website and what to do next.
Step 1: Send a Reply Email
Once a potential client has contacted me either by email or filling out a form on my website, I send them a reply email within an hour. This lets them know right away that I am on top of my business and will be a freelancer they can count on for good communication moving forward.
I have created a template that I can quickly reuse that is both personable and direct. I keep it in my drafts folder in my gmail account for quick access.
I have a live link in the email that goes to my testimonial page on my site so they can easily read reviews.
I have my contract attached for their review. If they don’t know how you work or what your rates are before the meeting, you could be wasting your time. Good potential clients will know that they are paying you for your expertise as much as for the actual work. If they are not, they will want to get the cheapest freelancer they can find. If they know your rates and it is not something they are willing to pay, you haven’t lost any time. Here are some samples of standard freelance contracts.
Step 2: Research Beforehand
In this day and age, online reputation is everything. From your Uber driver, to your grocery delivery service, to your hairdresser, to your dentist…we are all being reviewed. Take advantage of this.
Visit the Better Business Bureau. Companies go through a serious review on the BBB. You can also see if they have been sued or have open lawsuits.
·Go to Yelp. If it’s a restaurant or some other kind of business, check out what people who are interacting with them locally are saying.
Google them. Of course, Google their name and the name of the person whom you will be meeting with. Also, Google image their photo from their website. You’d be surprised what an SEO tag on a photo will bring up sometimes!
Step 3: Agree to a short meeting
If they are amendable to your rates and contract, and you like their reputation, set up a short meeting.
No more than 15-20 minutes. The purpose of this meeting is not to consult on their project or give them free advice. It is to get to know each other and how your workflow process works. Make sure you get their idea of a timeline, a budget, and what exactly they need.
Take notes. I hand write notes on a pad of paper. I’ve had meetings where I can hear someone taking notes by clicking away at the keyboard. It is distracting and comes across as a bit cold.
·Use online platforms. Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts are the most popular. I normally don’t agree to using my cell phone as I’m often out of the country or have clients who are around the world. Also, some clients will take advantage of this and message/call you whenever it pops into their head. To me it feels too personal.
Video or Voice-Only? You choose! I personally feel that I don’t charge enough to put on makeup and do my hair! On a normal day, I’m still in my jammies and have my hair up in a questionable bun. No one has seemed to mind this and actually get a good laugh out of it when I tell them why. Plus, I work from home and feel that is sort of an invasion of privacy. I don’t need them judging how successful I am based on my artwork. Many choose to keep video on their end but most of them seem relieved not to have to be on the screen.
Step 4: Follow-up Email
I always take notes when speaking to a potential client. At the end of the conversation, I always let them know that I’ve taken notes and will send them a summary of what we discussed within the hour. This is a great thing to do!
This shows how well you were listening. Remember, they might be interviewing several freelancers. You want to stand out.
I like to refer back to something personal they mentioned. For example, I hope that ski trip with your family goes well or Chicago where you live is one of my favorite cities. It gives that “homey” feeling and again makes you stand out.
It establishes a basic scope of work. You both know what the job will entail and a basic timeline. Don’t worry about sending an actual SOW yet. This is just for summary purposes as they are making their decision.
Makes a to-do list. For some reason, when I add a to-do list for them and another for me, clients love it! They need to know how the whole project will work and who is responsible for what. Don’t spend a lot of time on this, just cover the basics (i.e. sign the contract, send me your logo, forward a sitemap, etc.).
Step 5: Do the Paperwork
If they agree to hire you do NOT skip the paperwork. I know, I hate it too.
A signed contract must be on file before you do one thing! This protects you and shows that the client is both serious and respectful of you. I once had a client who refused to pay his invoices after working together for over 3 weeks. Since I do my invoicing via Paypal, I was able to send the SOW and contract to them and they did all the arbitration on my behalf and got me the money!
Create a SOW that you both sign off on. Establishing a SOW sets the guidelines on how a project will work both on your side and on their side. It establishes the actual work being done and a set timeline. You will never have to worry about another round of edits included if you only agree to one round. Here is a good sample of SOWs.
Step 6: Use Them to Grow Your Business
Lastly, use them to help you. I’ve had only a handful of clients who wouldn’t let me use my work with them for advertising my business. They know this is how you get new clients and show off your mad skills!
It’s on my contract as a checkbox. My clients have seen my website and they know that I post my work. I have a checkbox that states that they are fine with me using work done for them for advertising purposes so I am protected should some copyright issue come up.
That’s about it. I’ve honed the process down over the years and this seems to work well for me. I wish you success as a freelancer and that life brings you amazing clients.
M. Page Jones is a published author and award-winning graphic designer who has been in the business for over 30 years primarily as a freelancer. She runs MPJ Creative Services (www.mpagejones.com) that has clients from all over the world.