Most freelance writers consider getting more gigs their major challenge. But the secret to solving this problem isn’t to find more leads but to properly onboard and retain the few you get.
In this article, we’ll discuss the five steps you should take to onboard new clients so they stay loyal to your business.
1. Pre-Qualify Your Prospects
Most writers make the mistake of letting their joy of attracting new business distract them from pre-qualifying their prospects. So, they dive right into making every prospect a client.
If you follow this approach, you will work with clients that are not in the niche you serve and can’t afford your rates.
Decide if a new prospect is a fit based on factors like your niche expertise, rates, and working preferences before you decide to work with them. That way, you can pick only projects you will deliver, get well paid for, and enjoy working on.
Service-providing coach, Sabri Suby, suggests pre-qualifying prospects.
In his opinion, if you have leads coming in, you first qualify them by “seeing whether you had the best solution to help them solve the problem…and the way that you do that is you find out of all the problems that they’re experiencing…what is it they’ve tried, where is it they’re trying to go, and if it fits for you, then they are qualified.”
You should also provide prospects with the must-haves of working with you like your availability, rates, working processes, invoicing details, and communication expectations.
2. Get All the Project Details
It’s time to gather all the specifics necessary to do the job effectively. Jump on a call with your prospect and get details like:
- Who is their target audience? What does their current content marketing strategy look like?
- What kind of writing do they want? How often do they want it? How is this project expected to impact their content strategy?
- What’s the final rate you’ll be moving forward with? How will you get paid?
If you are not a fan of calls, you can also communicate with the prospect asynchronously.
Freelance writer, Elise Dopson handles the majority of her client communications off calls.
”I’m an async girl who likes to work on my own terms so I only offer calls to potential clients who desperately need one (i.e. they’re working on a big project and have lots of information to communicate). In that case, I’ll send a Calendly link to book a call.”
Also, don’t rush through this process to start an exciting project or you will end up missing out on vital information necessary to bring the project to success.
3. Get an Approved Proposal and Signed Contract
Finalize all the agreements you’ve made with your new prospect. Send them a proposal detailing everything you both discussed.
Getting the proposal finished might require a bit of back and forth and you might need to tinker with the project scope or deadlines until you reach an agreement with the prospect.
After you agree on a proposal, turn that last proposal into a contract for the client to sign. You can get a contract from your accountant, use software like PandaDoc or HelloSign, or use this Google Doc template.
Ensure you get a contract signed so you are protected from the inevitable woes of freelancing: project cancellation, unpaid dues, and project scope creep.
You might also consider requesting an upfront payment of 20-50% of every project fee. While this might not be necessary for smaller projects or long-term clients, it’s a useful measure when you are working with a client for the first time–especially if the project is in the four to five-figure range.
4. Add Client to Your Project Management Tool
To kick off the new project, get the client added to your project management tool and slot their work into your calendar.
For freelance writer Rochi Zalani that uses Trello, this looks something like this:
- Fill out client details (e.g., their website, any editor notes, overarching style guides).
- Add the promised deadlines for all versions. (She always adds a buffer of 1-2 days.)
- Enter the links of all docs like your brief, outline, and Google Drive folder.
- Have a ‘notes’ section to write anything you might forget or track any SME interviews.
- Put the invoice link and the publish link when they’re available.
- Keep moving the cards in different columns as you progress for each project.
5. Start the Project
After you’ve secured the new client, get started on their project as soon as possible.
Send a questionnaire for the website project or that content brief for the blog post now rather than later. Don’t delay starting the project because that might lead to a bad first impression that sticks with the client.
According to freelance writer Bani Kaur, going above and beyond for the first project is her biggest client retention secret.
“A great first experience is hard to shake. That way, even if you stumble somewhere down the line, your clients will have faith in you to turn it around. If you read my testimonials, this is the one thing all my clients acknowledge.”
Haley Slade, CEO and founder of the digital copywriting agency Slade Copy House, also believes that writers getting new clients should focus on their onboarding process and the client journey as a whole.
‘’If the clients feel like the onboarding process is high-touch and they’ve been taken care of, that alone will help you with referrals and make them 10x more likely to book with you again.”
Create Your Client Onboarding Process
To onboard every new client without distress, follow this five-step onboarding process with every prospect and watch as you not only set the stage for a blossoming work experience with all your clients but also get to work only on projects you find exciting.
About the Author
Aishat Abdulfatah is a freelance writer for B2B SaaS E-commerce, Martech, and Sales Companies. She has written high-quality, long-form content for brands like Writesonic, Videowise, and PrimoStats. Connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter where she shares her journey in marketing and freelancing.