Turning small jobs into long-term partnerships

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A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to a freelancer about how to jumpstart her career, and in our discussion, this question popped up:

“Stefan, I’ve been freelancing for three months so far and everything looks good. I managed to score a couple of fixed-price projects and gathered some testimonials.

My main focus now is to become a full-time freelancer, but the thing is, I’m uncertain about how I’ll be able to consistently keep my schedule filled with work.

I’d love to get jobs that are at least 3 months long and work at least 30 hours per week.

Sidenote: Once you finish, read how 4 freelancers built recurring revenue models that changed their business. You'll love it.

I was wondering if you could advise me on how I can get these kind of jobs?”

Well, she’s certainly on the right track. Getting long-term clients is the right way to turn freelancing into your stable source of income.

If you have long-term clients you can:

  • Spend time doing only billed work, instead of writing tons of proposals
  • Control your entire schedule, since you don’t have to spin your wheels by consistently finding new projects
  • And, of course, earn more money (every minute spent searching for work is a minute where you make $0)

Since I encounter this question pretty often, I’ll give you a process that worked well for me and for many other freelancers that I talked with.

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What stops us from getting long-term clients?

Humans are very predictable; we tend to solve each problem in a simple and easy to foresee manner. When we want long-term clients we start seeking big jobs where clients need a lot of work done, but here’s the caveat with this approach.

The freelancers who are looking for big projects are half right and half wrong in applying this strategy.

What they are right about is that, out there in the “wild”, there are tons of clients looking for long-lasting partnerships with trustworthy freelancers.

The thing is, very few clients say that upfront.

For example: a couple of weeks ago, I hired an iOS developer to work with me on debugging an old personal project.

I didn’t tell him, “Can I hire you as the developer who’ll help me for the next 5 years in debugging apps?”

I just asked, “Can you help me with a couple of small issues?”

Most of the time, that’s how clients start talking with us.

You can tell what happened next. He did a terrific job and I hired him 3 more times to solve other bugs.

The first two times some unexpected issues appeared (who do you think I called?) and the third time I chose to follow his advice regarding a new feature.

It’s possible that we’ll end up working on a long-term partnership, where I pay him a certain amount of money on a week-by-week basis.

So when a client asks, “Can you make this voice-over?”, or “Can you write this sales page?” and even “Can you help me create this app?”, there is a ton of repeat business that you can leverage.

The mistake is when people see a small job like a one time opportunity and not as a chance to gain repeat business.

The best way to get long-term jobs is to start with the first step — work on small projects.

Here’s why:

  • Small jobs are everywhere and this makes them easier to get
  • You only focus on one certain task, this thing allowing you to do high-quality work
  • You get hired sooner, which means you have consistent wins that encourage you

Once your clients sees that you do great work, they’ll want to book more of your time.

Not all small jobs lead to long-term wins

“Does this mean that if I work on many small jobs, I’ll eventually get tons of repeat business?”

Not necessarily.

Certain clients are more likely than others to lead toward a consistent income stream.

One of my earliest clients is a great example.

He was a businessman who needed someone to create an Android app for sports fans. He was professional and a pleasure to work with, but he didn’t need my work often.

”He contacted me multiple times to solve some bugs and create some new features, but this wasn’t enough to raise my income dramatically.

So you need to analyze each client and ask yourself, are they going to need more work done in the future?

Remember to not rush your decision. It’s easy to look at a job post and label it as just another small, unimportant project.

Also, remember, you do not need to be a programmer in order to find long-term work.

There are plenty of clients in each industry, from design to writing and video editing, that need talented freelancers on a long-term basis.

What it takes to get long-term jobs on any freelance platform

The real reason for which big projects give you a more stable income isn’t so obvious.

It has nothing to do with how much time the project will take. It has to do with trust.

When your clients trust you, they never want to let you go and risk losing such a professional.

How much clients trust you is even more important than the amount of skill you have.

I’d surely want to hire a freelancer that genuinely wants to help me versus someone who just wants my money.

Trust gives you an enormous advantage.

Sadly, there very few freelancers in this world who know how to build trust with their clients, and that’s yet another reason why only 5% of people get 95% of the high-quality projects.

Now, what about you?

Have you been looking for long-term clients? If so, what did you do differently than other freelancers in order to get these big projects?

Or, maybe you’ve already found one or more long term clients you love.

Either way, please leave a comment and let us know. The community will benefit from your story, so let’s have a dialogue!

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About Stefan Ionescu

Stefan Ionescu is the creator of Propi, a mobile app that analyzes proposals and offers suggestions to make them more persuasive. Get Propi and start getting more top paying projects.

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Comments

  1. Great article Stefan. Its a mixed bag at times for freelancers. Key is as you say, finding those smaller jobs that turn into a consistent flow of repeat work throughout the year.

  2. Very good article Stefan, good advice.
    Is there a quote from somewhere that goes “who is trusted with small things can be trusted with great things”
    Best regards,
    Brian

    • Very true Brian.

      Picture this from another angle. If you can’t take care of yourself with the money that you have, how can you build a business with money from investors ?

      Just some food for thought.

  3. Hi,
    I just can confirm everything in this article. It happened to me last year: first they asked me to design their new business cards and I end up doing all the stationary and marketing materials.
    It s an amazing client even if the work is not so much.!
    Anyway your advices are great! Thank you for this:)

    • Thank you Eva !

      And congrats on your big win. Continue building your career and your rate will also grow exponentially.

  4. good write

  5. Very nice article Stefan! This is really true that you really never know which smallest task will lead you to a very long term association with a client.

    I have experienced myself doing small gigs that brought me great clients for years of regular work that are still going on.

  6. Thanks for this. I’ve started to build some long-term partnerships and I’ve learned a lot about staying small and going above and beyond.

  7. Great article and information! I was hoping for more information on how you build trust with your clients.

    • Promise that it will come. I’m working on new articles about trust, building a small fortune as a freelancer and myths about freelancing.

      Thank you for the kind words Michelle !

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