Career Advice

5 Ways Freelancers Can Keep Clients Coming Back for More

By Alli Manning May 31st, 2017

As the head of creative talent and services at Contently, I have an intimate knowledge of both sides of the freelance-client relationship. I know what clients want from freelancers, and I know what freelancers want from clients.

I also know that, sometimes, neither side has any idea what the other wants. This is particularly true for freelancers working with brands for the first time, many of whom come from a journalistic, marketing, or PR background. While all three disciplines teach you something about writing for corporate clients, brand content has its own idiosyncrasies.

I see the same mistakes time and again. Sadly, they can lead to break-ups that never really needed to happen. A freelancer may provide great content, but because of their communication habits or some other mistake, the client doesn’t want to work with them. Luckily, these kind of things are usually easy to fix. Here are five ways to ensure your clients ask for you first.

1. Understand that clients have their own pace

With some clients, you submit a piece and it’s published days later. With others, it takes a few weeks. I’ve even seen clients publish work six months after it’s done.

You have to understand it’s not personal. Almost always, the timeline has nothing to do with you or your piece. Compliance can be hellish on the brand side. Maybe internal strife is affecting a piece’s publication.

As a freelancer, you’re always part of a larger machine, and this is especially true for brand clients. If you’re badgering a client about publishing a piece, you’re just adding to their problems. There isn’t much you can do to help the situation.

(This doesn’t apply to getting paid. If your part of the work is done, you should expect appropriate payment).

2. Read and listen carefully

If a client gives you instructions, a style guide, or anything else that tells you how to complete a project—please listen. Take notes. Pull up the style guide in a separate window as you write. Whatever you do, follow the client’s instructions as closely as you can.

You’d be surprised by how many freelancers get this wrong. They’ll submit a piece using their own style quirks, forget to include a headline, or fail to include any reported sources—even though the assignment required them.

Clients are giving you instructions for a reason. If you follow them closely, they’ll want to keep working with you.

I once saw a client drop a freelancer because they kept messing up how they wrote US (they wanted U.S.). Not all clients are so demanding, and you shouldn’t be afraid to ask appropriate questions about instructions, but the point remains: Clients are giving you instructions for a reason. If you don’t follow them closely, you’re giving clients a reason to stop working with you.

3. Request an outline approval step

This piece of advice is simple, but it may be the most important tip I can give. When you’re working with a client for the first time—or on a particularly large project—propose an outline approval step. In other words, get feedback on your plan before you leap straight from getting the assignment to submitting a draft. I cannot tell you how much pain this will save everyone. Plus, it’s just good practice to organize your thoughts.

4. Ask questions, but don’t be helpless

Too often, I see writers get lazy about answering their own questions.

It could be something directly related to the content of an article, in which case, Google and many other sources exist. Sometimes it’s related to a style question—if your client never gave you a style guide, ask for it and always reference it before coming to them. If it’s a process question, make sure your client didn’t already answer it.

Remember: Whoever you work with deals with headaches on a daily basis. Your job is to not be one of them.

Basically, don’t be that person who hits up a client on a Saturday about whether they italicize names of publications. Always try and figure it out on your own first, and then ask if you think it’s truly material to you being able to complete your side of the bargain.

Remember: Whoever you work with deals with headaches on a daily basis. Your job is to not be one of them.

5. Be gracious

Let the people who pay for your work feel good about it. Thank them for the opportunity, say you enjoyed working with them, and at the end when a project is about to wrap up, don’t be afraid to try and get another assignment by expressing genuine interest.

For example: “Hi Molly, I really enjoyed writing about which insects are good for your garden. It got me thinking about bees and how their declining numbers could affect pollination. Would your publication be interested in a piece like that?”

If a client enjoyed working with you, more often than not, you’ll get the assignment. And showing immediate interest after working with them gives them tangible evidence that, yes, you really did enjoy working with them. Freelancing is as much about producing good work as it is maintaining strong working relationships—so treat it that way.


Updated January 2020

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