The freelance workforce is growing rapidly. Terms like gig economy have entered everyday usage, and digital nomad is now a career path that many aspire to.
It’s hard to put a precise value on client loyalty, but rest assured: that value is high.
When you’ve built a relationship with a client over multiple projects, months, or years, you’ve gained important knowledge about their needs, the key players on their team, and how they like to work and communicate. All of that makes you more valuable to them, since they’re comfortable working with you.
Once you’ve cultivated a solid client relationship over time, that client is less likely to haggle over price and deadlines, because they’ve gained confidence in your ability to deliver. With strong client relationships, you can become more than just a single “gig” or one-time vendor; you can become a trusted partner, and an extension of your client’s team.
Expressing appreciation for your best clients is an important way to strengthen those key relationships. You may not have a formal customer appreciation or loyalty program in place today, but there are many small things you can do as a freelancer to make showing appreciation and rewarding clients part of your routine.
Here are a few tips for how to do this effectively.
1. Make a plan and segment your clients
Before you get started trying to reward and thank your clients, create a plan. This doesn’t need to be super detailed to begin, but you should have an idea of your budget (if you have one) and which clients you want to concentrate on rewarding. If you don’t have a budget for rewards (such as gifts or discounts), that’s ok, but you should still consider focusing on your highest-value clients.
One useful rule to keep in mind is the 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle. This rule states that approximately 20% of your clients will likely generate 80% of the value for your business. Of course, this won’t apply to every business, but it’s worth considering. Ask yourself if it does apply to you, and if so, who are the clients you get the most value out of serving? Notice that your highest-value clients won’t necessarily be the ones you spend the most time working for. Instead, they may be the clients who are the lowest-maintenance for the greatest reward. Those are the ones you want to focus on first and attract more of.
2. Start small and personal
If you run a very small business or are a solo freelancer, one advantage you have over larger companies is that you’re personally involved with every aspect of every client account or project. While this might be exhausting sometimes, it makes showing personalized appreciation for those clients easier.
If you have a small or nonexistent budget, start with a personal letter at a key time of year, such as a holiday like Thanksgiving or New Year’s Day. You could also do this at a significant moment for that client, such as after you’ve successfully launched their new website, or wrapped up their new logo design. If you’ve just helped them reach a milestone, let them know you share their excitement and that you’re proud to have contributed to their success. If you truly value this relationship, let your authentic emotions come through—especially when you can match them to your client’s positive feedback.
3. Create a new tradition
If you want to include all of your best clients in a positive new tradition, you could take things a step further and create your own annual client appreciation day. If (like many freelancers) you don’t have a physical office, or your clients are all over the world, then you can’t exactly invite them all over for a party. You can, however, send a gift or letter every year, letting them know how much you value the work you do together.
Creating your own Client Appreciation Day can be a great way to honor your clients while standing out from the usual sea of greetings around popular holidays. You could choose a day that has special meaning for your business or industry, too. Creating a tradition like this helps you ensure that you’re building great customer service into your business, year round.
4. Start a referral program
One of the best ways to attract new clients is through positive references and word of mouth. You can reward your favorite clients and benefit from their references in one step by creating a referral program.
Consider offering a credit or small discount in exchange for word of mouth referrals. This can encourage your clients to share your services with their networks, earning you new business and new connections. How you structure this may depend on your business, but here are a few ideas:
- Offer 15% off the first project you do with a newly referred client
- Offer a free extended consultation
- Offer a free planning session
- Enable your top clients to earn free services or hours of service by racking up a certain number of successful referrals
5. Start a rewards and incentives program
Similar to a referral program, you can also create a system for rewarding your loyal repeat clients. Just as you might allow your clients to earn free services for successful referrals, you might also consider letting them earn those freebies through their repeat business.
You might choose to adapt this concept using a retainer system for long term clients. For example, consider giving a pricing discount for clients who sign a 6-month or 12-month retainer contract with you, as opposed to going month-to-month. This type of arrangement can make your clients happy, since they’ll save money in the long run, while helping your business with more stable, predictable cash flow.
6. Teach them something new
This last idea is one that both gives something useful back to your clients, and furthers your marketing goals, too. Consider teaching your clients something from your own domain of expertise, either through a detailed written guide, a video, or webinar. Yes, this is a form of content marketing and it should help you generate some new clients, too. Once you create a valuable piece of content, you can share it with your best clients and prospects over and over.
Wondering what to teach? Start by thinking about the questions that clients most frequently ask you. For example, if you’re a designer specializing in personal websites, you might create a guide to getting the most out of the design process or tips for improving website accessibility. If you’re a freelance photographer, you could create a video guide to getting comfortable and finding your best look on camera.
Offer a well-produced piece of valuable, original content that showcases your skills and expertise, and then share it with your clients and prospects. Don’t try to sell them anything when you do this—just offer it to them as a helpful extra and thank them for being a client. In the best case scenario, they’ll appreciate the helpful advice, and they’ll be reminded of why they love working with you.
Show your loyal clients you care
A loyal client saves you time in looking for new clients, learning about a new company or getting used to working with a new contact. Not only that, a loyal client can become your best source of marketing, through word of mouth referrals. Small gestures like these can go a long way to showing your clients that you appreciate their business—and making sure they appreciate yours, too.