“Supersize” Your Freelancing Without the Agony of Marketing
The word “supersize” probably makes you think about McDonald’s French fries. But you can easily use this idea to get more business, or “sizably increase the amount or the extent of” your freelance work.
McDonald’s knows that getting current customers to buy more—in this case more French fries and bigger sodas—is easier than attracting new customers. The same is true of freelancing: It’s a lot easier to get more business from current clients than to waste your time and effort trying to find and attract new clients.
The Easier, Faster Way to Get More Business
I’m NOT saying that you should never market to new prospects.
By why do the hard stuff first, when there’s an easier, faster way to get more business?
Your current clients already know and trust you. “Supersizing” your freelancing—by asking them for more freelance work and for referrals to their colleagues—really works.
So why are you still spending so much time and effort trying to get new clients, and agonizing over this, instead of building strong relationships with current clients? Maybe you:
- Think your clients will come to you when they need more help
- Think your clients will just naturally refer their colleagues to you
- Are shy and uncomfortable about starting this type of conversation with clients
- Just don’t know how to build relationships with clients.
Clients Need You!
It’s not easy for clients to find great freelancers who they can count on to always do great work. And it’s more efficient and less expensive for clients to work with the same freelancers again and again than to have to find new freelancers to help them.
Sometimes clients will just give you more business or refer their colleagues to you.
But you don’t have to wait around for this to happen.
“Supersize” your freelancing by “superpleasing” your clients. Once you’ve done that, just ask for more work and for referrals to their colleagues.
“Superplease” Your Clients to Get More Business
“Superpleasing” means giving your clients outstanding service. David Maister coined the term in “Managing the Professional Services Firm.”
Do More than Expected
Doing more than expected—something that you should be doing on every job for every client—is a big part of “superpleasing.”
While you should always do more than expected, some clients will be better sources of more work and/or referrals to other clients than others. Focus extra time and effort on “superpleasing” these clients.
Look for ways to give the client something extra on every project. Here are a few examples of how I’ve done this:
In my first story for a new client, the sources she suggested didn’t work out. I could have dumped the problem back into her lap and asked her to give me other sources. Instead, I found great sources on my own and suggested them to her. By doing this, I solved the problem and saved my client some work.
During an interview, a patient mentioned being a soldier on skis during World War II. I could have just written what he told me in the story. Instead, I did some Web research and found some great details about the unit he served in—and used this as a creative and interesting lead for the story.
Neither of these things took a lot of my time or effort. But they both helped me build stronger relationships with my clients.
Never Do the Minimum
Clients always known when a freelancer does the minimum that’s necessary to get by on a project. I know all about this.
As a reviewer for one of my clients, I saw that some writers always did more than they had to and were a pleasure to work with. Others did the absolute minimum. Working with these “minimalists” was frustrating. Their work was incomplete and they made a lot of mistakes. They fought me about the need to make major revisions—which wouldn’t have been necessary if they had done the job right the first time—and did a poor job on those revisions.
Make the Client’s Life Easier
Being professional and likeable is also part of “superpleasing.” Clients are really busy. They need us to make life easier for them by being professional. And they want to work with people they like.
When my client at an Ivy League nursing school gave me a testimonial saying: “Lori is an absolute pleasure to work with,” I was thrilled. I have writing samples that show I’m a great writer. But showing that you’re professional is a lot harder—and it means a lot more when a client says this about you than when you say it about yourself.
The project for the nursing school was writing about 70 faculty profiles, each of which involved an interview with the faculty member, over 6 months. I had 3 other freelance writers working with me. While this was a big project for me, my client was dealing with a much larger project: Revamping the entire website for the nursing school.
I made his life easier by managing the project efficiently and reviewing every profile my freelance writers drafted to ensure they were all consistent and high quality. I developed tracking reports so that he didn’t have to worry or wonder about how things were going. Each week, I sent him with the tracking report. In the email I mentioned any faculty members who weren’t responsive and asked for his help in nudging them when necessary, so he didn’t have to waste time analyzing the tracking sheet to figure this out.
Deliver on Time and On Budget
Finish every project on time or earlier and on or under budget. This makes your client look good to his/her boss and colleagues.
Once you’ve agreed to a fee, don’t ask for more money unless the scope of the project changes a lot. Proposals should always include a little extra to cover the inevitable small changes. If the client sets the fee, ensure that it’s high enough to cover these small changes before you start the project.
Asking for more money for small changes to a project makes the client’s life harder. That’s the last thing that freelancers want to do.
One of my clients used a lot of freelance writers, assigning us large projects (each between 50 and 90 hours of work). The fees were generous and based on how long my client thought it would take to write the report. But some projects just ended up being more complicated than others. So when I divided the fee into the hours I spent on the project, I made a lot more on some projects than others.
I never asked my client for more money when a project became more complicated than expected, or when I had to do a few more interviews—because the fees evened out so that the overall amount of money I made each year was great.
My client really appreciated this. She told me that some writers asked her for more money every time they had to spend a few extra hours on a project. It took her time to deal with these requests, even when she said no. And when she agreed to pay the writer extra, she had to amend the contract, get it signed by the right people, process another payment, etc. And I’m sure that these writers never went back to her when a project took less time than expected to suggest reducing the fee.
Communicate Clearly and Often
Let the client know as soon as possible if you’re going to be late or are having any problems with the project that require his/her help. Of course, you should only be late if you’re waiting for something (e.g., information, an interview, or a review).
Acknowledge every question or request from a client promptly, even if you don’t have the answer. It’s far better, and more professional, to say, “I’ll get back to you about this tomorrow,” than to leave the client waiting for a response.
When a client sends you something, acknowledge that you received it. You never want a client to have to email or call you again to see if you got a request, background materials, an article for revision, etc.
How to Ask for More Business
Once you’ve “superpleased” your best clients, you can ask for more work and/or for referrals to their colleagues. For most freelancers, email is the easiest way to do this. Be professional and low-key. Never be pushy. Ask for more work first and referrals later. I suggest waiting at least 3-4 months between asking for more work and asking for referrals.
When to Ask for More Work or Referrals
There are 3 times when it’s natural to ask your client for more work:
- When the client compliments you on a project.
- When you finish a project
- When you find an unmet need.
At the end of the project, let the client know that you enjoyed working on it and would love to work with the client again. If there are other types of work you’d like to do for the client (which you know they do from your research), mention that you also, for example, write or edit CME or Web content, or whatever you’re interested in doing.
One of my clients hired me to write a quarterly newsletter for referring physicians. After we had done a few issues together and I knew that I had “superpleased” her, I mentioned that I also love to write for consumers and patients and would be happy to help her with the hospital’s magazine. I knew about the magazine because I had done research on the hospital’s website before I wrote the email.
Unmet needs could be things your client mentions or needs that you identify, for example, by reviewing the client’s website.
I started out writing some newsletter articles for another client. When she mentioned that she wanted to start a new newsletter for another hospital service line, I said I’d done this before and would be glad to help her. I ended up developing the content ideas, working with the designer and then writing every issue. Over the next few years, I started four more newsletters for this client and wrote them all.
You can ask for referrals to colleagues in the client’s organization or in other organizations at any time after you’ve “superpleased” the client and established a trusting relationship. (But remember to wait at least 3-4 months between asking for more work and asking for referrals.)
Note on “Supersizing” Food
As a freelance medical writer who writes about America’s obesity epidemic, I wanted to let you know why you don’t hear the term “supersize” any more. In 2004, McDonald’s switched from asking customers if they wanted to “supersize” their order to asking if they want fries with their burgers. This was probably in response to criticism of the role of fast food in America’s obesity epidemic.