Freelancing 101: The Importance of Becoming a Sticky Vendor

October 3, 2014

This post is the first in a 4-week series that will focus on advice, tips and tricks from long-time freelancer, Andy Haynes. Andy shares some of his biggest mistakes made during his first year freelancing to help first-time freelancers navigate their first year with success.

In my first year as a freelance writer and business coach I made mistakes that cost me business. The first big one happened when an internal change cost me the business of one of my most valuable clients.

The firm was a medium-size tech company. They were what I’ll call a ‘regular’ client, and I’d been doing consulting and writing jobs for months.

Everything seemed to be going well. I developed a good relationship with William, the marketing manager, and the steady work helped me stabilize my income flow in the critical early months. The steady work with William took a lot of stress out of my decision to go freelance.

Good news turns to bad news

A few months in I got a call from the William apologizing for the short notice but asking if I could turn around a quick writing assignment for a project that had sprung up unexpectedly. Wanting to help him out I said sure and worked through the weekend.

I sent my piece in, got an email back saying good stuff—I’ll get back to you once it’s live.

And then that was it. I never heard from my contact again.

I tried emails, calls, I sent in my invoice…nothing.

Two weeks later I learned that William had left the company. I was in a bind. I realized that over the past few months I spent a lot of time cultivating him as a client, but now that he was gone I had no relationship with anyone else in the company.

The marketing manager who replaced William brought in her own people. They started using a different supplier for their writing and consulting. That last quick job I busted my hump to complete for them turned out to be the last job I ever did for that client.

Only then, did I realize I’d made a crucial error.

What I should have done

I’d mistaken the marketing manager for my client. When, in reality I should always have focused on the company as my client.

If I had done that I would have acted very differently. When I thought about what had happened I realized I should have made myself what I’ve come to call a ‘sticky vendor.’

By recognizing that the company is your client, not your contact, you can find ways to add value to the company and make yourself useful to them beyond the work you are currently contracted to do. Make connections beyond your primary contact and don’t be afraid to offer your expertise for free if it will help the company and increase their attraction to you.

The last word

Ever since that relationship management disaster I’ve been working at being a stickier vendor. After William’s departure and the subsequent loss of a client, I treated the next client differently. I made a point of calling and emailing more, sharing articles and information that I thought they’d find useful, and taking time to visit with people in different areas of the company. Without being a nuisance I take an interest in learning what they do, how they do it, what challenges they’re facing. And, if they are open to it, I’ll offer my take on what’s happening.

I don’t charge for any of these things. All of these activities are investments in my future with that client.

Almost a year into our relationship, we’re still going strong even though I’ve seen two of my contacts move on to other companies. Because I’ve established my value with the company rather than just the contact I initially made, I’m not affected by changes in personnel like I used to be.

The big pay-off from being a sticky vendor is that my clients are getting more value from their relationship with me, and, although some of the value I provide to them is done for free, I am at less risk of losing them as a client when there are changes on their end. At the same time, I am able to provide more value to their entire business and ultimately increase my revenue with my clients significantly. It’s a win-win!

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about the author

FreshBooks is the #1 accounting software in the cloud designed to make billing painless for small businesses and their teams. Today, over 10 million small businesses use FreshBooks to effortlessly send professional looking invoices, organize expenses and track their billable time.

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