You’ll take any client with a pulse when you’re just getting started. But as you grow you come to find that that’s not the best way to build a reputable business that has staying power and becomes known for stunning work.
You’ll eventually need to be choosy about the clients you take on.
You're building your personal brand.
I have 6 things I look for in any professional relationship. And even though it’s professional, these aren’t all that different than the basic qualities you might look for in a friend. These qualities aren’t too much to ask for because they have mostly to do with basic human dignity.
If you’re interested in more than making a quick buck and you’re into the adventure of building a reputable business that people will send endless referrals to, then it’s smart to look for these qualities in any client you take on:
1. Choose clients who are trustworthy.
Slimy business people are everywhere. But honest ones are everywhere too. Trust is the most basic foundation for any successful business arrangement. Sure, your income depends on it, but more importantly, your reputation depends on it, and reputations have to do with associations. Since I don’t want to be associated with shady people, leaving such arrangements is an easy choice for me.
2. Choose clients who will come trust you.
Mutual trust isn’t always a given, but it is something that should be achievable. You may occasionally meet people who are totally paranoid and they read into things that aren’t there. They have this narrative in their minds that everyone’s out to get over on them. Maybe that’s because they’ve been burned a few times. Or maybe they do a lot of burning themselves and they’re projecting their own dishonesty on to you. Either way, it’ll never be a healthy business arrangement if you’re finding it hard to gain the trust of that client. Cut losses and cut ties. There are way too many people who can and will trust you to settle for those who can’t or won’t.
3. Choose clients who will respect you.
Again, we’re talking about basic human dignity here. Freelancers are usually subject matter experts who help businesses that have a need for that expertise. And even though the pop-mantra is “the customer is always right,” we all know that they aren’t always right. A good client will defer to your expertise and respect you for it. Which brings us to the next quality I look for...
4. Choose clients who understand “lanes.”
This goes for everyone. “Stay in your lane” isn’t just about pride, turf, silos, or a false sense of ownership over something. It’s about effectively accomplishing goals. If I play Center, I don’t snap the ball to myself, throw it and then run down the field to make the catch. I have one role and I play it for the success of the team.
5. Choose clients who WANT to pay you what your worth.
Miser is the root word for miserable. Don’t let misers suck you into their misery. There are plenty of penny-pinchers who love to make you dance while they stand there with their arms folded. If you want low-budget clients then you can always be another faceless freelancer on Fiverr. At least the terms at a place like that are clear. But if you go there for jobs, know exactly the kind clients you’ll get. But if your work is unique and worth your pricing, then be confident about it. Quality clients care enough about the quality of their business that they will gladly honor your pricing. They know that it doesn't serve them to cut you short. They want the best and they’re willing to compensate you for your time and expertise.
6. Choose clients who will look great in your portfolio.
If you want to build a great reputation you’ll want to take on clients who put out quality products and services. I choose clients that are worth bragging about -- the ones I’m proud to tell the world (wide web) about. Their business is a reflection of mine and visa versa. And even if the scope of their work only brings in a small percentage of my overall income, I see it as a form of compensation to have them in my portfolio. My business reputation will benefit from my association with them.
Long Term Results
Being choosy about clients may mean a small loss up front. But you need to look at it as investment in the business you're building for the long haul. You're building your personal brand. The result of using these criteria for me has meant trading short term losses for long term gains. If you build smart, you won't have to beat down doors for business. It’ll come. Your reputation will grow and your phone will ring. Your quality clients will brag about you and their associations will reach out to you. You'll be doing less sales and more creative projects for higher profile clients, which eventually means higher income for you.