A friend of mine, let's call him "John," who is struggling to find work recently called me. For several years I've had a waiting list of two weeks to two months, depending on the project. I get sick, and can't work sometimes, but I can't remember when there wasn't someone waiting for my calendar to free up. He asked me what my "secret" was.
"No secret," I said. "Just be awesome." I wasn't trying to be a smart-ass. But most of my work comes from referrals by companies and individuals who are pleased with my work. It's just human nature to keep going back to people you like, people who treat you fairly, people who do a good to great job for you and overdeliver. That's what "word-of-mouth" means. We all do it - from getting recommendations for restaurants, to finding a dentist, doctor, or hair dresser. We want to go where our chances of getting a fair deal, good service, and dealing with honest people is more likely. Thus, we poll our friends and find out where they go, and what they think of the person. That's what word-of-mouth is. It's powerful. In fact it's THE most powerful advertising there is. You can't buy it. The minute you make one bad referral you lose credibility with your friends. Lose enough credibility and no one asks you for a referral anymore. The closest that advertisers can come is hiring/paying "influencers" to advertise to their followers. Still, it's a risky game for an influencer if they refer followers to a bad store/product/service. The best way to get those referrals then is to provide:
That was the short list, here's more detail:
Excellent Customer Service
It always surprises me how many companies hire and keep sullen, angry, unhappy people who treat their customers like they're a bother. It may be hard to find good employees, but it's harder to find and retain good customers when your employees are jerks. Whenever and wherever possible I believe in being friendly, generous, and focused on providing the best customer service I can. There have been times I've blown my stack with insanely outrageous people who were abusive takers who used a product but claimed it "didn't meet their needs," and attempted to get their money back, violating every line of our agreement. For the most part I try to leave people with the feeling and awareness I went out of my way to do the best job possible, for a fair price, and with their success in mind.
Prices for writing/editing/blog posts can range from $5 to $5,000. The quality ranges too - and doesn't always reflect the pricing. For the most part I use the Editorial Freelancers Association rates. These are rates that most professionals charge. I may charge more for some writing because of the time, skills, and value I bring to that kind of work. Fair pricing does NOT mean the provider/writer/creative works for less than a minimum wage so the customer doesn't have to spend more money than they want to on a project. Fair pricing means fair to both or all parties involved.
Consistently Great Services or Products
Some projects are going to be more inspired than others, and you're simply going to do a better job for unforeseen reasons. It happens. You get in the flow, you've done a lot of work in that niche/industry and it results in a really good piece. Conversely, you're going to have work that falls below your standards and disappoints you and the client. That happens. You deal with it. However, your overall work, customer service, response time to your clients should be consistent. If work turns out poorly, eat it and offer your client a second run at it, or don't charge them at all. If YOU think the work doesn't met your standards, then own it and make it right. If you think it's great and they don't, well, that's another issue.
Clear and Detailed Letters of Agreement re: Deliverables, Scope of Project, Change Orders, Deadlines
By taking the time to craft a detailed, but easy to read and understand letter of agreement you can avoid a lot of headaches. Be very clear about what you'll deliver, when you'll deliver it, the scope of the project (how many changes, revisions etc. you'll do for the price quoted, what will cost extra), deadlines - including when the client will have work/data/photos/info to you so you can do your work, and your policy on change orders. Change orders are when the client wants something outside of your original scope of work -for instance, you agreed to write four pages of website copy and now they want two more pages of copy for two new additional pages. That should require a change order, and extra money for extra work.
An easy online shopping experience
If you have a website where you sell your products or services online, make sure the process for contacting you, scheduling an appointment, or buying your goods and services is easy. Don't make your visitor click through a dozen pages or links to buy something. Make checkout and the shopping cart easy to find and use. Say thank you when someone buys something. The easier it is for someone to navigate your site the more likely they'll return and tell their friends.
Be real. Don't be fake real. Be you — warts and all. Don't try to be someone you THINK people want to do business with. You'll only attract people who are looking for that. Be yourself, be honest, if you can't meet their needs refer them to someone who can. You can only win by being honest, trustworthy, and real.
Depending on where in the country you were born and raised, your friendliness quotient will vary. Here in the South we say please and thank you, and smile. Sugar, as we're told, gets you more attention than vinegar. The friend John whom I mentioned earlier is a natural grouch. I don't think he knows how to smile. He's always oversensitive, assumes people are thinking poorly of him, he's usually in victim mode, blaming everyone else for what's wrong in his life. No one likes to be around him and he doesn't get a lot of repeat business because people just don't like him. I've known him for so long I know it's just who he is, but I also limit my interactions with him, don't try to change him, and don't make suggestions unless he specifically asks for them. He just naturally repels clients. I tell him that and he agrees. So, it's not like he doesn't know. He just hasn't struggled enough to want to change. Many people are like that. It's too much effort to be nice, or to care. It's much easier to pay for more ads and try different marketing approaches. Each to their own.
The truth is, you're not going to get all great customers or clients. You need to understand some customers/clients will push your buttons, and your boundaries. They will hire you to write webcopy, or a report, or produce a slideshow and then, halfway through the project they'll change the scope, focus and project entirely. And they will assume that you're okay with that and won't charge them more. The emotionally and mentally healthy provider will say, "In our original agreement we agreed to ______. This change is not in our agreement, but I can make those changes for $____. Having good boundaries does several things. It shows you respect yourself, your time, your value, and your work. Providers who respect themselves are more likely to (1) be respected by clients (2) have the wisdom to separate from people and clients who don't respect them. When you set and communicate good boundaries with your clients around pay, time, communication, expectations, and job scope you're much less likely to have misunderstandings that can generate hard feelings with your clients.
Putting Customer/Client Needs First
Sure, your needs are important. Don't ignore them! But if your primary need is generating business and income for yourself, you might want to consider putting your customer needs first. For instance, there's a writing group/social event once a month that I like to attend. But last month I skipped it so I could work through the afternoon and evening to finish a project for a new client. My need as a raging extrovert who works alone at home and doesn't get out much, is to recharge by being around people. I missed not being able to go to dinner that week, but I wanted/needed the work more. By putting my client's project first, I made him happy. I also got some repeat business. He liked the work so much he put me on a permanent retainer. THAT was worth missing one dinner with other writers I enjoy. Plus, I attended a writer's conference later in the month so I got my "people fix."
Sometimes putting a client's needs first means working on a weekend, or in the evening, or going the extra mile to make the project a success. My decisions regarding this shift in boundaries around my time depends on several things. Among those are client patterns, project scope, and boundaries.
For instance, I recently had a client delay getting data to me on several occasions, resulting in a delay in the project on my end. That included my not being able to pay/retain editors and researchers. Not being able to find other editors and researcher doubled my workload and delayed the entire project. I relayed this to the client each time there was another delay. She apologized profusely because she didn't understand the ramifications of not hitting her deadlines and promises to me. She promised not to do it again if I'd get to the work done over the weekend. However, I had plans for the weekend and declined, citing those plans. I'm so glad I didn't cancel my plans. She was unable to hit the deadline once again. Because I was seeing a pattern developing with her I changed our agreement from date specific to "within 10 working days AFTER receiving work product." We're both happier with that structure.
There is no "one size fits all" when it comes to clients. You have to trust your gut and strike a balance between your needs and theirs when all things aren't equal.
Easy Access and Fast Communication/Response Time
I've had laryngitis for a week now. I have NO voice. I can't even whisper. The doctor said to expect another week to ten days of the same. I'm very bummed. I've had to alert a lot of clients, reschedule phone calls and text or email all my questions and contracts. When I'm not so inconvenienced it's important for me to respond to clients within 24 hours, or 48 hours if on the weekend. People, I've learned, can roll with just about anything if you get back to them in a timely manner. If you have to schedule an autoresponder, do so. Keep people in the loop as quickly as possible. This is generally easy for me if my client is good about phone calls and email. When someone blows us off for days or weeks at a time it's just the sort of thing that can sour a good working relationship. So be proactive, contact or respond to people in emails, social media etc. as needed. If the response requires some thought or more time, then a quick, "I'm on a deadline but will get back to you within 24/48/72 hours" is a good alternative. Just be sure you DO respond!
Keep in Touch and Develop GENUINE relationships
I like to touch base every few months to see how things are going with clients. I might review their website to see what's happening, or notice some activity on LinkedIn, like a post, news, etc. I touch base to comment on what I've seen, or to send them an article about their industry I think they might like. This is NOT an effort to get business. This is simply networking and maintaining a good relationship. In one conversation I had with a client I was able to refer new business to THEM. These are the kinds of efforts that show my client's I care about them and their business. People can tell if you're just doing these things as part of a sales effort. Develop GENUINE relationships with your clients. People like to do business with people they like. And if they don't have business for you, they'll refer friends who do.
Show Your Ongoing Support
I set Google alerts (FREE) for most of my clients. When news pops up about them in the alert I read it and if relevant, shoot off an email of congratulations, or link to an article I know they'd be interested in etc.. I recently saw half a dozen requests on HARO (HelpaReporter.com) that were perfect for clients. I sent each of them the contact info and information. Half responded to the queries which netted three of them mentions in the media. There's no charge for my doing that. I am showing my ongoing support for the client in keeping an eye out for them. They appreciate it. Sometimes it results in additional work, but not usually. It's just a way of saying, "I've got your back and am supporting you!"
When you follow all those things I guarantee you'll get repeat business. It's so hard to find, fair, honest, reliable, consistent providers that when people do find them, they keep hiring them. You don't need luck. You do need a smile, consistency, and good work product. You won't be able to do all these all the time without practice. I still drop the ball and don't follow up, or miss a few things. But I am striving to be all of this and more and the majority of the time I succeed. I hope you do too!
Consistency Matters More Than Talent
You don't have to be talented to succeed. You do need to be consistent.