The questions you need to ask your clients to build a profitable freelance business

Why DO your clients choose you? And how can you find more? Discover the questions you need to ask your clients to build a profitable freelance business. 

As much as we may like to believe that our business is completely unique, the reality is that few are. Markets are crowded places and clients have a plethora of options open to them. They can buy from you. Buy from one of your competitors. Find an alternative. Do it themselves. Or do nothing.

Why you need to know why your clients choose YOU

Finding that one special thing that makes people choose you over all these options is hard. But if you don’t have a real insight into why your clients choose to work with you, you run the risk of:

  • Wasting marketing money and effort by chasing the wrong type of client.
  • Wasting time on proposals for clients who are unlikely to become clients.
  • Spending more on client acquisition because you are not retaining clients (or worse, you’re retaining unprofitable clients).
  • Losing out on work because the benefits you bring are not as clearly communicated as your competitors.

That’s why it’s so important to understand the reasons why your clients choose you. If you want to build a profitable freelance or consultancy business you need to have a research-based understanding of not only who your clients are, but why they choose to work with you over your competitors.

And don’t forget, competitors don’t just come in the form of businesses offering a similar product or service to you. For example, I’m a freelance marketing consultant, and I’m not only competing with other freelancers, but also with in-house marketing teams and marketing agencies (as well as all those other options my potential clients have!)

The questions you need to ask to find out why clients choose you

So, how do you get under the skin of why clients choose you? You need to ask questions. Every time you win a new client, take the time to ask them why they chose you.

Likewise, if you are pipped to the post by a competitor, ask the client why they made the decision they did. I have a series of questions I always ask, at different stages of my relationship with clients.

1) What to ask when winning a new client

Here are the questions I ask new clients:

  • Who else did you talk to when you started looking for a supplier?
  • What made you choose me over the others? (You can then drill down into specifics about first impressions, proposal quality, your understanding of their business and pricing.)

It’s important to do this when you don’t win a piece of work, too. Competing for new business takes time and effort and, while you may be feeling deflated at losing out on a new piece of work, you can turn this into a positive opportunity to gain valuable insight into why the client didn’t choose you. Insight that can be used to give you a better chance at winning the next project.

2) What to ask six months into the relationship

It’s easy to get a little complacent and assume everything is great with your freelance clients, when in fact you might not be delivering all that they expect. Or, conversely, you might be exceeding their expectations!

Either way, by asking the right questions you’ll be able to use this insight to make improvements to ensure you retain your client. If your client is happy, you can ask them if you can write a case study, or refer you to help you win new clients. Some important questions to ask are:

  1. What benefits do you get by working with me?
  2. What do you like/dislike about working with me?
  3. If you had to choose again, would you still choose to work with me?
  4. Is there anything I could be doing better?
  5. If you could describe the value I bring to your business in three words, what would those words be?

It’s important to check in with clients as the relationship continues to ensure that the you’re still delivering value, as articulated in those three important words in question 5.

And remember, if you don’t work with long-term clients, but work project by project, these questions are still pertinent.

What do you do with the information you gather?

Insight is useless if you don’t do anything with it. I recommend logging the answers and creating a simple Word Cloud to help you identify the common words clients are using to describe you.

You can use this information to understand more about the kind of clients who like working with you, what their problems are and how you solve them. This will help you to:

  • Be more confident in the way you describe your services (your elevator pitch).
  • Ensure the content and messaging in all your communications (website, proposals, client newsletters) reflects the value you bring to your clients.
  • Be more selective when taking on new clients. For example, if you feel there is a disconnect between what a new client needs and the value you offer, then you are less likely to win the work. Even if you do win it, you are less likely to build a long-term and profitable relationship with that client.
  • Help you retain your existing client base by continuing to deliver value.

Three important things to be aware of

There are three important things to be aware of when using feedback.

1) Be objective

This is challenging; after all, it’s your business, you live and breathe it! Sometimes hearing constructive criticism can be hard. It’s easier to hear what you want to hear, instead of what your client is telling you. I call this ‘happy ears’. Don’t let ‘happy ears’ give you a false impression of why your clients choose you.

2) Listen carefully

Listen to what your client says and confirm your understanding of what they have told you. If you have the budget, it can be useful to ask somebody else to ask the questions for you. There are two advantages to this:

  1. If there is something that clients feel uncomfortable about, they are more likely to tell an impartial third party, rather than you.
  2. A researcher will be completely objective and provide you with the facts, rather than a biased version of the facts.

3) Use the insight

Make sure you use the information. Adapt your elevator pitch as you gain more knowledge about why clients use you. Actively use this information to help you win the right clients in future.

Remember that your clients’ needs continually evolve!

The important thing to remember about this process is that nothing stays the same. Markets change, and your clients’ needs may change. So your business needs to continually evolve.

By seeking client (and prospect) feedback regularly, and acting on it, you are more likely to build a robust and successful business based on long-term and profitable relationships with clients.

Ciara Wood is a freelance marketing consultant who helps small businesses develop and implement marketing plans that will grow their businesses. She’s CIM qualified and has over 18 years’ experience.

Photo by Daria Shevtsova