build the best client list

5 questions to ask yourself to build the best possible client list

My Twitter feed is full of freelancers looking for support. The vast majority are asking the exact same question: how do I get my client to pay for work I did 3 months/ 6 months/ a year ago? It’s clear that a lot of people struggle to build the best client list.

I know this struggle all too well. I’ve even resorted to letting clients go if they don’t pay on time. I decided that once I reach the point where the majority of our correspondence is centred around late payments, it’s time to move on.

And while late payment might be an all too common complaint in the freelancing world, it isn’t the only reason a relationship can go sour.

How to build the best client list

Assuming that a paying client is a good client is a common reason that freelancers struggle to find satisfaction in their work. Just because someone does the bare minimum of paying on time, it doesn’t mean that the client and their company is a good fit.

I recently wrote about the client red flags you should be aware of. Focussing on building the best client list is a different approach. It’s about looking for clients and companies that align with your aspirations and help you to achieve your goals.

So, how do you avoid the clients that make work less enjoyable? There are a few questions you can ask yourself to determine if the client you’re working with is still a good fit…

Do they respect your time?

This is a huge indicator to me that a client will be worth holding on to. I recently moved house, and during this time, I reduced the amount of work I was taking on. I had a plan. Work would be finished by Thursday, we’d get the keys on Friday and I’d take a whole week off to settle in. 

I let my clients know well in advance so they could get assignments in before the “deadline”. On Thursday, I received an email from a client asking if I could fit in a quick writing assignment (they’re never quick).

I reminded her of the situation and gave her my next available dates. She responded by asking again. Her assignment was only short. Couldn’t I just fit it in anyway?

This is a classic sign that a client doesn’t respect your time.

Do they offer feedback?

I may be a freelancer, but I still have feelings. Do your clients offer feedback on your work, or do they only come back to you with questions/edits? Feedback – good and bad – is essential for your development. It’s the only way you will know you’re on the right track and pushing forward.

We don’t get annual reviews as freelancers, which is why a client who takes the time to give you feedback on your work is so refreshing. When you find them, treat them well and hang on to them as long as you can.

If you need to reflect on your own performance, I recently shared the monthly performance review template that I love using. It helps bring clarity and focus to my work. 

freelance performance review

Do they appreciate your value?

If a client is always trying to drive down your rates or get something for free, it might be that they don’t appreciate your value. Some clients will always see your work as a necessary expense, but they don’t truly value it. And by extension, they don’t truly value you.

You can usually spot this kind of client from the start. They act shocked when you quote your prices and can’t quite believe you make a living doing what you do. Writing is one of those skills that not everyone will appreciate. You soon learn to spot the ones who don’t recognise your value.

Is this client aligned with your goals?

It’s not uncommon for freelancers to accept projects that aren’t fully aligned with their goals. I get it. We all have bills to pay. But this is dangerous territory to find yourself in. If you continue to rely on these projects for financial security, you’ll never be able to build the business you want.

This is why you should regularly review your client list. This will help you decide if each and every client is still helping you to reach your goals. If you’ve raised your rates across the board but you’re still doing low paid work for a client just because they’ve been there since the beginning, this could be holding you back.

Do they let you do your best work?

I’ll never understand clients that hire you for one job and then ask you to do work outside of this. If a client hires a consultant but offers assistant tasks, everyone will be frustrated.

Likewise, if a client hires you for one role but then expects a lot more from you (without increasing your compensation) then you also have a right to be frustrated.

Look for clients that recognise where your skills lie and rely on you to do your best work time and time again. You’re more likely to get frustrated if you work on projects that aren’t aligned with your skills and goals.

How do you manage your client list? And do you have any qualifying questions that help you to identify when it’s a good match?

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