You could have the best skills and the lowest costs in the industry but if you do not know how to treat clients and contacts correctly, you could very quickly find that your client base drops. You will constantly have to find new sales to keep yourself afloat. It is far easier and cheaper to leverage your current clients as a source of new work and referrals.
Firstly, don't forget the basics, remember that the people you deal with are just that, people. No one likes to be on the receiving end of mediocre service or worse, treated badly, so ensure you treat clients as you would like to be treated yourself by a supplier. Observe deadlines, make calls or emails when you promise to and never try and take the customer for a ride. Quite often a customer will have more than one potential supplier for any job and your competitors will happily tell your client if you have told untruths or are over costing jobs.
Also, consider up-selling and cross-selling to existing clients; can you be doing more for them?
Include existing clients in your marketing efforts where it's relevant to them. A monthly newsletter showcasing your latest finished projects is a prime example of how to reach customers. Wish your existing clients well, where you know they have important corporate events coming up. Or send them seasonal good wishes where relevant or thank them for their continued support at the end of each year. Also, make sure to thank them for prompt payments. You will need to be an organised person, aided by your customer database, but carried out consistently your business will benefit well beyond the effort invested.
Word of mouth and personal recommendation will be one of your most effective ways of generating business. Therefore, make sure that your clients know that you would be happy for them to refer you on to their clients and customers if they are happy with your service. Some freelancers even offer referral fees or gifts. If a client of yours introduces a new potential to you that leads to pay for work, why not reward them with a bottle of bubbly or an hour or two of their next assignment as a way of thanks? It will please the client and will also make sure that you are fondly remembered if another chance to refer work comes your client's way.
If you have your own limited company have you ever considered taking clients and potentials out for lunch or to other areas of interest to the client? Fr example, to watch their favourite team play or to play a round of golf? This is an excellent time to really get under the skin of the client and to get a good few credits in the ‘emotional bank account’. Just as importantly make sure that you retain receipts for these activities and claim back the VAT as entertaining clients.
THE EMOTIONAL BANK ACCOUNT
This is a great formula that really works. Every time you do something to delight a client it is like a positive transaction into your bank account. They will grow to respect you (not just as a service provider) and will treat you more favourably. Having credit in this account is also very useful if you need to draw upon it, imagine that business has really taken off and you will not be able to produce one of your regular tasks on time, calling your client to ask if the work could be provided at a slightly later time (agreed deadline with the client of course) will almost always result in "Of course that will not be a problem." This account should not be abused though, life becomes more difficult the more you have to postpone work and call on your client's good nature, this will often result in a negative balance and a client that begins to ask themselves "Where can I find a reliable supplier." Just like real life a positive balance can quickly drop into the red if not used wisely and grown at every opportunity.
More on sales and marketing as a freelancer.