From Everything You Wanted to Know About Freelance Writing: Chapter 30: Generating Repeat Business. Read all excerpts from the book here
Chapter 30: Generating Repeat Business
Before you put your marketing plan together, you need to select the marketing arrows, or tactics, that you will incorporate into your plan. Then you need to determine how best to use them and when to schedule the tasks required to sell your services to potential clients.
In this chapter, we look at generating repeat business, testimonials, and referrals. If you are thinking you need to generate business before you can generate repeat business, you are right. However, I want to start here for readers who have, or have had, some corporate clients. In addition, I want those of you who have had no clients to start here too. That way, when you land new clients, you’ll be thinking about how to keep them coming back.
You can be lazy, but….
You can pray for manna to fall from heaven. Or you learn how to bake bread…. As a lazy person, I love it when the phone rings and someone wants to hire me, or when e-mail lands in my in-box with a request for a quote. I’ve been a full-time freelance writer since 1993, and I worked part-time as a freelancer for a few years before that. On occasion, old contacts call me or pass on my name to some of their colleagues. In addition, some people search online for writers and find me through my website because it is optimized (more on this later in the book) to show up in search engines when people use search terms such as “freelance writer Toronto,” “copywriter Toronto,” and several other search terms.
My website is a passive form of client generation (people find my website and contact me). Having one is part of my marketing plan, but it took marketing action—the construction and optimization of my website—to make it work. So it takes work to generate work. In other words, I would starve if I only waited for the phone to ring or for e-mail messages to land in my in-box. Instead, I actively market myself. And one of the best ways of engaging in active marketing is to generate repeat business, referrals, and testimonials.
Retail concept: Repeat business
I like to think this entire book is important; this section is particularly important if you are currently working as a freelance writer or if you are going to invest time generating new leads and clients.
If you are cold calling on a prospect who has never heard of you, you have to convince her that you can do the job. In other words, you have to build trust. (That is one of the reasons why you have to demonstrate knowledge of the sector and validate your writing experiences.) On the other hand, if you have done, or if you do, a solid job for clients—deliver the right words on time and on budget—they will trust you to do it again.
Look at it this way: When you are generating repeat business you are selling to established clients, ones with whom you have a relationship. When you are generating new business, you are selling to strangers (companies or organizations) with whom you hope to build a relationship. The latter take more time and effort. Or as any retailer will tell you, it costs six to eight times more to sell to a new customer than it does to resell a previous customer. Therefore, it’s easier, and more profitable, to sell to previous customers than it is to chase new ones. Although I suggest you do both, many freelancers do not have a plan in place to generate repeat business.
Putting such a plan in place does not mean you sell only to previous customers. It means you sell to them while working to find new ones. As you find new ones, and complete jobs for them, they become previous customers. You then apply the principles of generating repeat business and resell your services to them.
Previous clients hear from me at least three times a year. I touch base to see whether a previous client requires my writing services (generating repeat business). Sometimes, I contact selected clients to ask for referrals. Or, if I am updating my website or putting together a direct mail brochure, I ask selected clients for testimonials.
When I am looking to generate repeat business, I call or e-mail previous clients and remind them that I am out here, still available to work for them. Often, they thank me for contacting them, and then… Nothing. If there is no work, there is no work. But sometimes they thank me, and give me a new assignment. Or sometimes they remember someone else in their company or at another company who was looking for a writer. All of a sudden, I have a referral.
Why didn’t they call me if they needed my writing services or knew someone who needed a writer? There are as many reasons as there are clients. They were too busy putting out fires and left a writing project on the backburner. They forgot my name, sad as it might seem, or lost my contact information. Another freelancer called them just as they were developing a new project, and they went with that person. And so it goes.
Are there clients you have worked for over the last year or so that you have not heard from? Call or e-mail them. If they don’t need your services, they don’t need your services. No big deal. But if they need a writer and have been too busy to call anyone, then you are doing them a favour by putting yourself top-of-mind.
How do you generate repeat business?
Some writers say they feel funny asking for work. I do too. After all, I am a writer, not a sales and marketing expert. I am an English major from York University; I am not a businessperson. However, I also have a family, a home, a car, a big dog, and other expenses. I have made a conscious decision to earn my living as a freelance writer. I have had to get over a number of “funny” feelings to become good at what I do. I hope you can get over such feelings too.
So, how do you generate repeat business? There is no magic to generating repeat business, referrals, and testimonials. But it helps if you break the process down into steps and schedule the steps in a planned and systematic manner.
Here are the steps:
1. Identify clients and/or editors for whom you have worked. Go back as far as you can; several years is not too far.
2. Develop your sales pitch (what you are going to write or say).
3. Schedule your calls or e-mail messages.
4. Call or e-mail contacts; ask if they require your services (or any new services you now offer, according to your business plan).
5. If you call, have a 30-second sales pitch ready. If your contact answers, deliver it and go silent; let the client reply. If you get voice mail, leave your sales pitch as a message.
6. If you send an e-mail, follow up by phone in a week or so.
7. Perform each of these steps several times a year.
As you land new clients, complete the work, and get paid for it, you add them to step one. If an old client has moved to a new company, find a new contact at the old company and add that person to your “repeat business” list. Then, track down your old client and contact him at the new company to see if you can generate new business with the company (but repeat business with the contact).
Your job here, simply put, is to let previous clients know that you are still out there, available for work. You are contacting people you have had a positive business experience with, people you would like to work with again. You are doing what almost any business does: marketing to your previous customers. You are doing this because your next customer is most likely to be a previous customer. You are doing this because you cannot count on clients to contact you, even if they need a writer for a new project. Sad but true. The onus is on you to keep in touch with your clients, not the other way around.
Scheduling repeat business steps
We will look at what you can say when generating repeat business in a moment. First, I want to show you how to schedule the steps. How long will it take you to identify clients—find their names and contact information—you have worked for? Less than a day? A day or two?
Schedule that task (identify previous clients) on a specific day in Outlook Tasks, your scheduling software, day planner, or calendar. Now look ahead four months and schedule the task again. Then look ahead four more months and schedule identify previous clients again.
Also, schedule the day or days on which you will develop your pitch (what you are going to write or say) to each client. Can you do it on the same day that you make your list of previous clients you will contact? You can, or you can pick another day. The key is to schedule the task so you will do it.
Schedule the days you will make your calls or send your e-mail. If you have 20 previous clients, you might want to space out the days you contact clients. If you have a few previous clients, you might want to contact them all on the same day or during the same week. Again, the important thing here is that you schedule the action.
Let’s look at these tasks scheduled in a calendar:
Identify previous clients : Jan. 10 – April 10 – Aug. 10
Develop pitches for previous clients: Jan. 15 – April 15 – Aug. 15
Contact previous clients: Jan. 17 – April 17 – Aug. 17
Congratulations. Your marketing plan now has nine scheduled tasks!
What to say when generating repeat business
What do you say to these previous clients? A lot depends on what you did for the client and what your relationship with the client is like. Whatever you say or write, keep it short. For instance, you can remind clients of the work you did and let them know you are available to take on similar assignments.
You can send an e-mail like the one below. Only be more specific and articulate. After all, you are the writer. And you know your client.
Three months ago, I wrote a direct mail brochure for you. Thanks for sending me a completed version for my portfolio.
I am following up to see if you require my writing services again. In addition to writing brochures, I also write copy for websites and articles for employee and customer newsletters.
If I can be of assistance, e-mail me or call me at 416-555-1234.
It’s that simple.
However, you can say or write other things. Say you have added a new service to your portfolio of services, or have launched or redesigned your website. That can be the catalyst for your e-mail or call.
Three months ago, I wrote the copy for a direct mail brochure for you. Thanks for sending me a completed version for my portfolio.
I am following up to let you know that I now write media releases for clients. You can see several samples online at www.mysite.com/media.
If you need a copywriter or require someone to write media releases, e-mail me or call me at 416-555-1234.
Three months ago, I wrote the copy for a direct mail brochure for you. Thanks for sending me a completed version for my portfolio.
I am following up to let you know I have recently launched a website with samples of my copywriting, media releases, and articles I have written for employee newsletters.
Feel free to drop by www.mysite.com and look at some of my work. I would like to add the copy for your brochure to my online portfolio. Let me know if this is acceptable.
Also, if you need a copywriter again, feel free to e-mail me or call 416-555-1234.
Notice that in that last e-mail, you are asking for permission to add the brochure copy you wrote to your website. You don’t have to ask for work to contact an old client. You come up with the reason for the contact. What is important is that you connect with previous clients on a regular basis.
What if you have not launched a website or are not offering any new services and you feel funny about (fear) touching base to ask for work? Do yourself a favour; harness that fear and get on with your marketing.
What if you have touched base twice, have not heard back and don’t want to bug the client? You are not bugging the client. You are marketing your services, which is what any business owner does! At the same time, do recognize the limits. If you get no reply at all, not even a “thank you for contacting me,” the next two or three times you pitch, remove that client from your list. Or alter your pitch—ask for a referral or testimonial—if that makes sense based on the work you did for the client.
Using the seasons
My client follow-ups are often seasonal messages. I find that mid-spring and early November are good times to contact previous clients.
In mid-spring, I send a vacation alert to clients that I am working for and have worked for. The alert includes the date that I will be on vacation and a message that says I have time (if I do) to take on new projects before I start my holidays.
In early November, I send clients an e-mail letting them know when I will be shutting down for the holidays and I let them know that I have time to take on new projects (if I do) before I start my holidays. I also remind clients that they can contact me early in the New Year if they want to discuss new projects.
Of course, if I am particularly busy and do not have time to take on new work, I would not solicit work this way; however, I still let clients know that I will be on vacation.
Current clients become previous clients
When does a current client become a previous client? Good question and one that I am often asked. As soon as the work is approved and paid for, a current client becomes a previous client. You might not want ask for more work right away, but you can do it subtly when you receive payment for the job.
When I invoice my clients, I thank them for the work and let them know my invoice is attached. (I invoice all clients by e-mail unless they request an invoice by mail.) When the cheque arrives, I e-mail the client and express thanks for the payment. In addition, I say I am available to help with any other writing projects that might be in the works. I don’t count this as one of my three planned touches. It’s just something that makes sense to do. The cheque arrives and I send the client a simple thank you e-mail message:
The cheque for the direct mail brochure copy I wrote for you arrived today, thanks. If I can be of assistance again, let me know. In addition to writing brochure copy, I can write case studies, media releases, articles for employee and customer newsletters, and copy for your website.
Notice how I tell the client what else I can do. That’s called planting the seed. How is the client supposed to know if I don’t tell her? The client might know, but why take that chance? Why not plant the seed? I also add the client to my list of clients to contact when generating repeat business.
It’s your job to keep your name in front of your clients. You don’t have to hit them over the head, but you do have to let them know you are in business. Speaking of letting your clients know you are in business, have you ever asked previous clients to let their suppliers, vendors, customers, and other business associates know what you do? If not, read on!
Referrals and testimonials
Once you have worked successfully for a client three times, you can solicit referrals and testimonials. Why three times? Truth is, I just made that up. But I want to feel as if I have an established relationship with a client before I ask for favours. However, when you ask for a referral and/or testimonial depends on the rapport you establish with the client. If you develop an excellent rapport on the first project—you did a bang-up job under tight deadline pressure and the client was extremely pleased—and ask for a referral and/or testimonial when the cheque arrives or when you are working on your next “develop pitches for previous clients” task.
If a client uses you on a regular basis, you may not need to ask for repeat business. Instead, ask for a referral and/or testimonial. If you’ve worked with a client a couple of times and want to do more work in that sector, ask for referrals. This is your marketing plan. You determine what you want to do and why. However, make sure you schedule it in, or there is a good chance—an exceptionally good chance—that you will do nothing at all.
If a client is happy with your service, why wouldn’t that client pass on your name to others who could use your services? Why wouldn’t that client send you a letter or e-mail of recommendation—a testimonial—that you can post on your website or use in a sales letter or brochure?
The answer to “why wouldn’t” is simple. Clients do not think of sending you referrals or testimonials. Occasionally one might thank you, but don’t get into this line of business if all you want is gratitude. While the occasional client might refer your name to someone who needs a writer, or offer to write a testimonial, the onus is on you to ask for referrals and testimonials. That’s part of your marketing plan.
With a referral comes a degree of trust. When your phone rings, you would like to hear this from a potential client, I would wager: “Mr. James says you’ve done an excellent job researching and writing white papers for him. I’m looking for someone to write case studies for my website, and…”
So, how do you ask for referrals and testimonials? It’s very similar to the way you ask for repeat business. Here are the steps:
• Identify clients and/or editors for whom you have worked. Go back about a year.
• Develop your pitch (what you are going to write or say).
• Schedule your calls or e-mail messages.
Call or e-mail your contacts and ask if they would pass on your name and contact information to suppliers, vendors, customers, and/or associates. You can also ask your contacts to give you information on who they’re passing your name so you can follow up, but some clients are reluctant to do so. Respect that.
When you call, have a 30-second elevator pitch ready. If your contact answers, deliver it and go silent; let the client reply. If you get voice mail, leave your pitch as a message. If the client gives you contact information for a referral, follow up by phone or by e-mail. If you follow up by phone, have a 30-second elevator pitch ready to leave on voice mail or to deliver in person if the new contact answers. Start with: “So-and-so suggested I call you…”
Mostly, I ask for referrals. But when I update my website or brochure (speaking of which, I have to schedule that in my to-do list!), I call a few clients and ask for testimonials. In short, what you ask for depends on what you need at the time. But schedule the ask, or there is a very good chance that you will not do it.
You are not bugging clients
What I have done here is spell out a number of ways you can connect with previous clients to generate repeat business, referrals, and testimonials. I am suggesting you do this three times a year. However, ultimately it’s your job to figure out when to do it, and how many times to do it—when to connect with clients, and what to say when you do.
You are not bugging clients when you do this. So ask for testimonials when it makes sense—if you are updating your website or producing a brochure to promote your services. And schedule asking for referrals from previous clients. You can mix the generate referrals or testimonials task in with your generate repeat business task, so you can do one or the other or both—whichever makes sense based on your relationship and contact history with the client.
I conduct a workshop called The Six-Figure Freelancer, and 90 percent of the people who take the workshop look all sheepish when I ask them if they actively work to generate repeat business, referrals, and testimonials. Don’t be one of those sheepish people.
Focus initially on asking for repeat business. After you have worked with a client on several jobs, ask for referrals and testimonials. Once you have had several positive experiences with a client, the client is more likely to put his or her name on a testimonial that you can use on your website and is more likely to pass on referrals.
If you have had positive experiences with clients in the sectors you are targeting, you want to be particularly assertive. Your vision and business plan are telling you to do more work for companies in those sectors and asking for referrals is a legitimate way of drumming up business. Be polite and professional. Thank your clients for their time, even when they cannot help you. They may not be able to help you immediately, but you have planted the seed. You never know when it may sprout.
So, you have many ways you can approach your requests for repeat business, referrals, and testimonials. Decide what you want to ask of each client, schedule the task, and then take action. If you are not doing this, you are not thinking like an entrepreneur. And if you want to earn a professional level income from freelancing, you have to start thinking, and acting, like a professional freelancer.
From Everything You Wanted to Know About Freelance Writing. Read all excerpts from the book here. Everything You Wanted to Know About Freelance Writing is based on The Six-Figure Freelancer: How to Find, Price and Manage Corporate Writing Assignments and Business of Freelance Writing: How to Develop Article Ideas and Sell Them to Newspapers and Magazines.