As a freelancer, clients are absolutely necessary to your ability to earn an income. That doesn’t mean, however, that they have to love you. To convince a client to work with you, they just have to like you. But when you want clients to bring you every project they have — to look for opportunities to work with you — your clients need to adore you. The right partnerships can make that happen.
Very few clients prefer working with a jack-of-all-trades. That’s because a designer / programmer / writer / person able to do anything you need is rarely a master of any of those skills. The typical client looks, instead, for several different freelancers, with the skills she needs, as she needs them. This approach provides an opportunity with a freelancer who can excel on projects, but also recommend other freelancers with other necessary skill sets.
The Mechanics of a Good Partnership
When you’re recommending another freelancer to a client, you’re putting at least a little bit of your own reputation on the line. That makes a partnership, rather than just a list of people you might recommend, important: when you work with the same people on a regular basis, you don’t have to worry nearly so much if a particular freelancer is going to irritate the client you’ve worked so hard to land.
In order to build a good partnership, you need to examine potential partners at least as deeply as you might if you were going to be the client yourself.
- Go over your potential partner’s portfolio. It needs to be a good match for the types of clients you typically work with, as well as an obviously good body of work.
- Look at any testimonials or recommendations available about this particular freelancer (including on sites like LinkedIn). If there aren’t any, ask for references. Make sure that this freelancer is someone who is easy to work with.
- Conduct an interview with your preferred candidate. Otherwise, how will you even know if she’s comfortable partnering with you?
- Work on a trial project together. It’s best to make your trial project low stakes — something for yourself, a creative contest or a pro bono project for your favorite non-profit means that you’ve got a little more room to maneuver if the partnership doesn’t work out.
Don’t rush finding other freelancers to partner with. You may eventually have a whole bunch of partners who you can turn to, but it’s worth waiting for the best.
It’s generally worthwhile to set up some ground rules. One of you may need to regularly take the lead with clients, acting as a sort of project manager. Write out your process, as well as the standard rates you both work at, along with anything else that could create miscommunication later on. You may not need a formal contract written up by a lawyer, but it’s a good idea to write out everything as thoroughly as possible.
Helping Your Clients as Fully as Possible
As a freelancer yourself, you know the extent of your abilities. On a graphic design project, for instance, you may reach the point where you need copy written up for the brochure you’re working on. Some freelancers would leave that up to the client to figure out (and possibly get some text written by whoever at the client’s office has time). But the helpful graphic designer tells the client that if she doesn’t already have a writer in mind, the designer has someone who already has experience crafting this sort of copy.
When you have someone on tap that you work with regularly, you can show your client that writer’s portfolio immediately and even give an idea of the timeline and cost of that component of the whole project. That speeds everything for you and puts the work in the hands of a professional you already trust. Of course, you’ll need to coordinate quite a bit to be able to discuss each other’s portfolio, rates and skills knowledgeably — but done correctly, a partnership will bring both of you more work, making that level of coordination well worth your while. After all, you don’t have to be the only one bringing in work to your partnership.
Thursday Bram writes about design topics for Smartpress. A recent topic of interest is cheap booklet printing, particularly for creative ideas.