How to gain trust, win clients, and build long term relationships

One evening, a little over a year of being a freelancer, I was chatting with one of my clients and he started complaining about other freelancers. He told me about them cheating their time-tracking service, delaying the deadlines or not responding to their messages when it is urgent. It came to my understanding that finding a decent freelancer is harder than it seems at the first glance. Yes, there is Linkedin, Upwork and other places where you can check someone’s ratings, reviews, and experience, but it is all (over)polished, and the reality can be very different.

On the other side, I faced pretty much the same issue from the other end. How to find and win a new (decent) client; how can I know if I’m a good fit for the client; Is the client trustworthy; etc. In this article, I will be sharing my experience on how to gain trust and build a long term relationship with a client.

Do you really want to take the job?

Let us assume you have got the skills needed for the job. Before applying, I advise you to take into consideration these points listed below.

  • Job description. One can already tell a lot about the client from his/her job description. Does the client know what he wants? Does he understand the dilemma? Did he take the time with a detailed description of it? What are his expectations and are its achievements realistic?
  • Financial perspective. Try to estimate how much time and energy will the project take and calculate if the proposed budget is sufficient. Negotiating about payment and money can be unpleasant, but being underpaid or trying to raise the budget in the middle of the project is much worse. It is better to lay your cards on the table when this topic is opened.
  • Challenge and motivation. Are you challenged and motivated about the project? Ideally, the project is so great you would be willing to do it for free. Not all projects are like that, but If I found myself thinking about the project when I’m jogging or driving, I know I would want to do it. Finding a project challenging, but not too challenging, is a superb opportunity to learn and broaden up your limits. And nothing is more motivational than a successful accomplishment of a project you weren’t 100% sure you are capable to accomplish at the beginning.
  • Personality fit. Who is on the other side? Who will you be working with? A project might be motivational and well-paid, but if you and the client can’t work together, it can turn into a nightmare. Before making any long-term contracts, make sure you can resolve any misunderstandings or conflicts with the client. Sooner or later you will face them, so better be prepared.

In conclusion, it is much easier to win a great client if you know what you are looking for in the first place. Not to mention you will save a lot of time and energy.

Video call

Video call is where the magic happens. After applying for a job, social media check-ups and case study emails, it is time for the video interview. This is the crucial step in the whole application process. The official purpose of a call is briefly getting more details about the company, project background, main goals, or discussion of the payment. Furthermore, a lot happens in other areas, mostly connected with “personality fit”, e.g. you meet the client “in person” for the first time and get the impression of what is hiding behind the polished social media profile and official emails. In my case, most of the video calls happen at the end of the day, and after the call I give the news to my wife, saying: ” We will get that one, and it will be awesome!”, or “Sh*t, this was such a waste of time.”

Make sure you (partly) work in their work time

Getting a new client is somehow similar to getting a new girlfriend. After checking tonnes of photos on Facebook and Tinder (or LinkedIn and Upwork profiles in our case), you finally found a right match and went on a date (video call). Everything went great until the first obstacle appeared, and somehow a small misunderstanding escalated into one week drama, resulting in the end of the relationship (contract). Each team or a company has an internal culture and the way they deal with day-to-day tasks. For a remote freelancer, it is vital to understand their working culture, habits, and internal language, e.g. is the ASAP mail a matter of minutes, hours or days, how different KPIs are calculated, are there any hidden agendas etc. In addition, a bunch of unpredicted questions occur out of nowhere, when you start working on a new project. The best way to overcome this new relationship turbulence is to, at least partly, work in the client work time and to communicate, communicate and communicate. Communication enables an instant solution of misunderstandings, questions or other issues, and moving faster with decision making, testing or implementing the solution.

Don’t start a revolution. Rather bring in some quick wins!

A normal reaction when winning a new client is trying to show some outstanding performance. When I was a newbie, I often got driven by emotion and came up with big revolutionary ideas. But the clients usually weren’t as much into my solutions as I was. Big ideas are connected with big investments and some time is needed for the results to show. They follow the “things get worse before they get better” rule. And it is not what client expects at all. The client is looking for a proof that you are a good fit for the position. For example, he is expecting a better CTR, some cost reduction, or more revenue. Also, he wants to see the results as soon as possible. You proposed the exact opposite with a “big plan”, having him to invest more and then wait for better results to show up someday in the future, if they show at all.

What you really should look for at the beginning are quick wins. Small, almost costless changes that will give instant results. Save the big opportunities, requiring a lot of man power and investment, for later. Quick wins will convince the client you know what you are doing. In the meantime, you will gain some time, and probably data, and other insights about the company, people, and the project. So, when the client is finally ready to move to bigger changes, you will be able to come up with a much better plan than you would have in the beginning.

The great importance of small things

Gaining trust is all about the small things, e.g. asking how are you, adding an extra comment to the chart to explain it in more depth, or writing more than five word emails. Small things are showing you care. Ultimately, it is what the most clients are looking for. Someone capable, who really cares. And when you care for your clients, they start to care for you, too.

Franci Bačar is UpWork top rated digital marketing expert. You can hire him here.