[Excerpt from Everything You Wanted to Know about Freelance Writing —http://www.paullima.com/books]
This blog post applies primarily to freelance writers who want to conquer corporate writing markets. Periodical freelancers, however, should generate repeat business with editors for whom they have worked (nor on that in another blog post).
In this chapter, we look at generating repeat business, testimonials, and referrals. If you are thinking you need to generate business before you can generate repeat business, you are right. However, I want to start here for readers who have, or have had, some corporate clients. In addition, I want those of you who have had no clients to start here too. That way, when you land new clients, you’ll be thinking about how to keep them coming back.
You can be lazy, but….
You can pray for manna to fall from heaven. Or you can learn how to bake bread…. As a lazy person, I love it when the phone rings and someone wants to hire me, or when email lands in my in-box with a request for a quote. I’ve been a full-time freelance writer since 1993, and I worked part-time as a freelancer for a few years before that. On occasion, old contacts call me or pass on my name to some of their colleagues. … But I would starve if I only waited for the phone to ring. Instead, I actively market myself. And one of the best ways of engaging in active marketing is to generate repeat business, referrals, and testimonials.
Retail concept: Repeat business
… As any retailer will tell you, it costs six to eight times more to sell to a new customer than it does to resell a previous customer. Therefore, it’s easier, and more profitable, to sell to previous customers than it is to chase new ones. Although I suggest you do both, many freelancers do not have a plan in place to generate repeat business.
Putting such a plan in place does not mean you sell only to previous customers. It means you sell to them while working to find new ones. As you find new ones, and complete jobs for them, they become previous customers. You then apply the principles of generating repeat business and resell your services to them.
Previous clients hear from me at least three times a year. I touch base to see whether a previous client requires my writing services (generating repeat business). Sometimes, I contact selected clients to ask for referrals. Or, if I am updating my website or putting together a direct mail brochure, I ask selected clients for testimonials.
When I am looking to generate repeat business, I call or email previous clients and remind them that I am out here, still available to work for them. Often, they thank me for contacting them, and then… Nothing. If there is no work, there is no work. But sometimes they thank me, and give me a new assignment. Or sometimes they remember someone else in their company or at another company who was looking for a writer. All of a sudden, I have a referral.
Why didn’t they call me if they needed my writing services or knew someone who needed a writer? There are as many reasons as there are clients. They were too busy putting out fires and left a writing project on the back burner. They forgot my name, sad as it might seem, or lost my contact information. Another freelancer called them just as they were developing a new project, and they went with that person. And so it goes.
Are there clients you have worked for over the last year or so that you have not heard from? Call or email them. If they don’t need your services, they don’t need your services. No big deal. But if they need a writer and have been too busy to call anyone, then you are doing them a favour by putting yourself top-of-mind.
How do you generate repeat business?
Some writers say they feel funny asking for work. I do too. After all, I am a writer, not a sales and marketing expert. I am an English major from York University; I am not a businessperson. However, I also have a family, a home, a car, a big dog, and other expenses. I have made a conscious decision to earn my living as a freelance writer. I have had to get over a number of “funny” feelings to become good at what I do. I hope you can get over such feelings too.
So, how do you generate repeat business? There is no magic to generating repeat business, referrals, and testimonials. But it helps if you break the process down into steps and schedule the steps in a planned and systematic manner. Here are the steps:
1. Identify clients and/or editors for whom you have worked. Go back as far as you can; several years is not too far.
2. Develop your sales pitch (what you are going to write or say).
3. Schedule your calls or email messages.
4. Call or email contacts; ask if they require your services (or any new services you now offer, according to your business plan).
5. If you call, have a 30-second sales pitch ready. If your contact answers, deliver it and go silent; let the client reply. If you get voice mail, leave your sales pitch as a message.
6. If you send an email, follow up by phone in a week or so.
7. Perform each of these steps several times a year.
As you land new clients, complete the work, and get paid for it, you add them to step one. If an old client has moved to a new company, find a new contact at the old company and add that person to your “repeat business” list. Then, track down your old client and contact him at the new company to see if you can generate new business with the company (but repeat business with the contact).
Your job here, simply put, is to let previous clients know that you are still out there, available for work. You are contacting people you have had a positive business experience with, people you would like to work with again. You are doing what almost any business does: marketing to your previous customers. You are doing this because your next customer is most likely to be a previous customer. You are doing this because you cannot count on clients to contact you, even if they need a writer for a new project. Sad but true. The onus is on you to keep in touch with your clients, not the other way around.
Scheduling repeat business steps
Schedule that task (identify previous clients) on a specific day in Outlook Tasks, your scheduling software, day planner, or calendar. Now look ahead four months and schedule the task again. Then look ahead four more months and schedule identify previous clients again.
Also, schedule the day or days on which you will develop your pitch (what you are going to write or say) to each client. Can you do it on the same day that you make your list of previous clients you will contact? You can, or you can pick another day. The key is to schedule the task so you will do it.
Schedule the days you will make your calls or send your email. If you have 20 previous clients, you might want to space out the days you contact clients. If you have a few previous clients, you might want to contact them all on the same day or during the same week. Again, the important thing here is that you schedule the action.
Using the seasons
My client follow-ups are often seasonal messages. I find that mid-spring and early November are good times to contact previous clients.
In mid-spring, I send a vacation alert to clients that I am working for and have worked for. The alert includes the date that I will be on vacation and a message that says I have time (if I do) to take on new projects before I start my holidays.
In early November, I send clients an email letting them know when I will be shutting down for the holidays and I let them know that I have time to take on new projects (if I do) before I start my holidays. I also remind clients that they can contact me early in the New Year if they want to discuss new projects.
Of course, if I am particularly busy and do not have time to take on new work, I would not solicit work this way; however, I still let clients know that I will be on vacation.
Current clients become previous clients
When does a current client become a previous client? Good question and one that I am often asked. As soon as the work is approved and paid for, a current client becomes a previous client. You might not want ask for more work right away, but you can do it subtly when you receive payment for the job.
When I invoice my clients, I thank them for the work and let them know my invoice is attached. When the cheque arrives, I email the client and express thanks for the payment. In addition, I say I am available to help with any other writing projects that might be in the works. I don’t count this as one of my three planned touches. It’s just something that makes sense to do. The cheque arrives and I send the client a simple thank you email message:
Referrals and testimonials
Once you have worked successfully for a client three times, you can solicit referrals and testimonials. Why three times? Truth is, I just made that up. But I want to feel as if I have an established relationship with a client before I ask for favours. However, when you ask for a referral and/or testimonial depends on the rapport you establish with the client. If you develop an excellent rapport on the first project—you did a bang-up job under tight deadline pressure and the client was extremely pleased—ask for a referral and/or testimonial when the cheque arrives or when you are working on your next “develop pitches for previous clients” task.
If a client uses you on a regular basis, you may not need to ask for repeat business. Instead, ask for a referral and/or testimonial. If you’ve worked with a client a couple of times and want to do more work in that sector, ask for referrals. This is your marketing plan. You determine what you want to do and why. However, make sure you schedule it, or there is a good chance—an exceptionally good chance—that you will do nothing at all.
If a client is happy with your service, why wouldn’t that client pass on your name to others who could use your services? Why wouldn’t that client send you a testimonial that you can post on your website or use in a sales letter or brochure?
The answer to “why wouldn’t” is simple. Clients do not think of sending you referrals or testimonials. While the occasional client might refer your name to someone who needs a writer, or offer to write a testimonial, the onus is on you to ask for referrals and testimonials. That’s part of your marketing plan.
You are not bugging clients
What I have done here is spell out a number of ways you can connect with previous clients to generate repeat business, referrals, and testimonials. I am suggesting you do this three times a year. However, ultimately it’s your job to figure out when to do it, and how many times to do it—when to connect with clients, and what to say when you do.
You are not bugging clients when you do this. So ask for testimonials when it makes sense—if you are updating your website or producing a brochure to promote your services. And schedule asking for referrals from previous clients. You can mix the generate referrals or testimonials task in with your generate repeat business task, so you can do one or the other or both—whichever makes sense based on your relationship and contact history with the client.
Decide what you want to ask of each client, schedule the task, and then take action. If you are not doing this, you are not thinking like an entrepreneur. And if you want to earn a professional level income from freelancing, you have to start thinking, and acting, like a professional freelancer.