Realizing that you’ve landed a great client is a fantastic feeling—one that I think is only topped by that client wanting to continue to work with you on a long-term basis.
If you haven’t had that experience yet, you might be wondering how to go about getting clients to work with you on repeat. While it isn’t an exact science, there are a lot of things you can do to make clients want to keep working with you. It’s all about providing great service, creating a smooth experience, and building trust.
How to build lasting client relationships
I’m glad I now have a steady slate of great clients who I work with on a repeat basis, but it wasn’t an overnight occurrence! Below, I’m going to walk you through exactly what I’ve learned—and what I do—to build business relationships that last.
Table of contents: building client relationships that last
- Create a great onboarding experience
- Guide and advise your client
- Keep lines of communication open
- Be a good listener
- Deliver as promised (or go above and beyond)
- Look for ways to add value
- Share knowledge and information
- Make personal connections
- Schedule follow-ups with former clients
- Ask for referrals
I’m confident that if you use all of the tips on this list, you too can begin to build strong client relationships, enjoy fruitful collaboration, and build out your work pipeline.
1. Create a great onboarding experience
First off: Creating a long-term client relationship starts on day one. If you’re responsive, easy to talk to, and make onboarding and kickoff easy, clients will love it. This initial impression goes a long way toward building a client’s trust in you.
I always do the following to ensure a successful first experience with a new client:
- Schedule an initial kickoff call to go over essential project information.
- Review our scheduled project milestones.
- Develop a plan to have regular check-ins (if needed) and troubleshoot problems.
- Discuss how we’ll be working together—are there specific tools we’ll be using to collaborate?
It’s always my goal that by the time we wrap up our first project together, my client will look back to the very first interaction and think, “that was so easy!”
2. Guide and advise your client
You and I both know you’re a pro at what you do. Your client does, too—that’s why they hired you! But even if your client knows their industry and exactly what they’re looking for, this might be their first time working with an independent professional. It might also be their first time using Upwork.
Rather than becoming frustrated by your client’s questions or uncertainties, look at it as a chance to guide, advise, and impress them. Don’t hesitate to let your client know what you need from them to make the project a success.
Depending on the client and the project I might do any of the following:
- Provide advice and insight about how a project should progress.
- Gently manage their expectations about turnaround times and accessibility for meetings.
- Answer questions they have about using the Upwork platform, if it’s their first time navigating a contract.
- Advise on whether or not a particular deliverable request is feasible or aligned with their stated end goals.
Sharing this knowledge with clients can show them that they made a strong choice and you’re a valuable addition to their network of professionals. When it comes time to start a new project, they’ll remember how helpful you were and be more likely to reach out again.
3. Keep lines of communication open
Part of providing great advice is maintaining open communication with the client, but you can still set boundaries around it.
Upwork Messages makes it easy for clients to reach out to me at any time, but I can’t always respond right away. Because I let my clients know my work hours, and that I’ll get back to them within a business day of receiving their message, I don’t have to think about monitoring my inbox after hours or on the weekends.
You also don’t need to wait for the client to reach out to you! I check in with all of my clients periodically and share updates or ask for their feedback on works in progress. This helps me make sure we are aligned as projects progress. And, of course, if anything unexpected comes up, I let them know right away—with a suggested solution.
4. Be a good listener
Being a good communicator isn’t just about talking, though—it’s about listening, too.
I know how easy it can be to get into “work mode” and attempt to multitask during meetings, calls, and the like. The thing is, though, multitasking isn’t real. You might feel like you’re getting a lot done if you’re answering emails while your client shares some pain points with you over Zoom but in reality, your brain is becoming less efficient due to all the switching back and forth. Plus, your client is probably becoming annoyed (as it’s a bit obvious when someone isn’t really paying attention).
So, when a client needs your attention be sure to:
- Give them your full focus.
- Remember you’re working with and talking to another human. If they’re frustrated, can you put yourself in their shoes?
- Try to acknowledge their concerns, desires, or pain points and offer solutions.You’re the expert, though. If something can’t be done or won’t work, it’s best to be upfront and honest.
Of course, there will be times where a client comes to you with a question or request that you can’t answer or solve right away. That’s okay—let them know that you’re listening, you’ve heard them, and you’ll follow up once you’ve had time to review relevant material. The fact they know they have your time and attention will help build a strong relationship.
5. Deliver as promised (or go above and beyond)
I know how tempting it is to give the quickest timeline you can think of when a client asks “so, how long will this take?” You know they’re eager to have the work completed and you want them to be impressed.
In my experience, though, this can actually backfire. If any unexpected hiccups happen along the way—like your internet going out or a file becoming corrupted—you can wind up behind deadline, stressed out, and racing to deliver overdue work to an annoyed client. That’s … less than ideal.
Don’t worry too much about what you think the client might want to hear at that moment. Yes, a quick turnaround is great, but what your client really wants is high-quality work.
As such, I like to under-promise and over-deliver. Here’s what I mean: if I know a project can be done in a week, I’ll tell the client I need two weeks. It‘s still a realistic expectation, and I have a buffer in case something unexpected does happen. And if it doesn’t, I can turn in my work after one week—exceeding the client’s expectations. (They’re typically delighted!)
6. Look for ways to add value
Sometimes, your client won’t realize that there’s more work to be done—but you do! While you’re working on a project, look for ways you can help your client provide more value to their end user. You can suggest these value-adds as you work.
I like to check in with my clients, specifically for this purpose, when we’re about 75% of the way through the project. I might suggest:
- Additional deliverables that will be a good complement to the ones we’re currently working on.
- Recommended next steps based on similar projects I’ve worked on or what I see competitors are doing.
- Ways to take the project to the next level, including adding more complex features in a second phase.
Your client might say no, but you’ve at least put the idea in their head. They may reach back out to you in the future to discuss the suggestions you made.
7. Share knowledge and information
Regularly sharing knowledge and information with your client is another great way to continually provide value, even after a project ends.
This isn’t to say you should work for free—I’m not talking about holding full consulting sessions. But it won’t take up too much of your time to keep an eye out for articles, news, case studies, or other bits of information related to your client’s project or industry. If you think it might be of interest to them or it sparks an idea for a project, share it! This shows you’re continuing to think of them—and keeps you in their minds as well.
I also always recommend being available to give your client advice as an active project progresses.
If a client hires me to design a website I won‘t simply spin it up in WordPress and hand it off quietly. I make sure they understand what we’re creating, take time to answer their questions, share updates, and provide advice on what I might do as a next step (which is great in itself for generating repeat business).
8. Make personal connections
I always do a bit of research on new clients before scheduling a first meeting. I’ll Google their company, look them up on LinkedIn, and maybe even have a peek around their Instagram or Twitter page. This process gives me ideas for creating points of personal connection.
You and your client don’t need to become best friends, but to build a long-term relationship you’ll want to move beyond transactional conversations. Try to get to know your client a little better on a personal and a professional level—things like:
- What’s the motivation for their work? How can you relate?
- How did they get into their role, position, or industry? How does this compare to your path?
- What are some of their interests? Do they have any in common with you?
- Have they had any notable experiences lately, either personal (like a big trip) or professional (such as speaking at a conference)? Have you experienced anything similar?
9. Schedule follow-ups with former clients
Sometimes, when a project ends … it ends. There just isn’t a need for any more work at that time. This doesn’t mean you won’t be able to work with the same client again in the future, though. Even if they weren’t ready to start a new project right now, you can stay in touch for future opportunities.
In addition to sharing knowledge and information as mentioned above, you can also check in with your client from time to time and see if they have any upcoming projects with which you could be of assistance.
It can be very useful to use a customer relationship management (CRM) tool to track when you reach out to clients. This way, you can be sure to keep in touch but avoid overwhelming them with messages. You can use a dedicated CRM like Streak, Copper, or Zoho—or create your own tracker using tools like Google Sheets, Airtable, or Trello.
10. Ask for referrals
What happens if you do all of the above, but the person you’re working with simply does not have enough needed work to become a long-term client? They can still be a valuable asset in growing your business.
If you’re confident that you and your client have had a great experience working together, you can let them know that you are open to new business. This way, they can feel free to suggest your services to other potential clients.
Asking for a referral can feel a bit awkward, but your client won’t know you’re available to take on new clients unless you tell them. By asking good clients for introductions to other business owners in their networks, you can stren
Cultivating successful client relationships on Upwork
Luckily, building good client relationships is pretty easy when you’re working through Upwork—all the tools you need are close at hand.
- By communicating through Upwork Messages, you can easily see when you last reached out to a client and time your next missive accordingly.
- You can easily send files to clients while work is in progress and provide advice or receive feedback.
- When a client leaves a positive review on your Upwork profile, you can share it on social media and promote your skills.
- You and your client can both start a video call at any time through Upwork, perfect for onboarding and discussing projects
- It’s easy to see how many of your clients really are long-term relationships (and how many would be confident in referring you to others) by taking a peek at your Upwork stats.
If you have a client you really like, start taking advantage of Upwork’s tools (and the tips on this list!) to begin strengthening your relationship. I think you’ll find that clients are happy to work with you again and again—and before you know it, you’ll have a long-term client list you love.