Maintaining a steady stream of work is a top priority for freelance graphic designers. To win that work, many feverishly pitch new clients, often spending more than seven hours a week sending out LOIs, brainstorming and presenting ideas, and putting together proposals and quotes.
That hustling doesn’t always translate to more clients, however. In fact, more often than not, new clients don’t sign on. According to Marketing Metrics, as few as 13% of prospects end up becoming customers, which means freelancer graphic designers are committing almost a full business day to work with zero ROI.
You could argue this is just the reality of running a business. But we think there’s a better way to use your time and energy to get more graphic design work. Rather than burning yourself out on finding new clients, devote more time to retaining and upselling the clients you already have.
Research has shown that it’s up to 25% less costly to retain an existing client than to sign a new one, and that returning clients tend to spend more.
Finding new clients is hard — 65% of freelancers say it’s one of the biggest challenges they face. Graphic designers face a lot of competition for customers: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are about 60,000 self-employed graphic designers in the U.S. alone, and on Upwork, a sample search for “graphic design” yields 5,000+ profiles.
At some point, you probably had to jump through these hoops to find work. Now that you have an established customer base, however, you’ll find that going back to your existing clients to get more work is a more profitable use of your time.
If you want to successfully retain clients and increase your earnings, there are a few things you can do to position yourself for success.
This should come as no surprise. The more a client has loved working with you in the past, the more likely they’ll be to give you more projects later.
The finished product you deliver is part of this, but there’s more to impressing clients than that. Clients also value things like reliability (do you do what you say you’re going to do?); professionalism; and consistent, clear, timely communication (are you easy to reach? do you respond promptly?).
Individual clients may also have different values, and it’s important to identify what these are and make sure you’re meeting or exceeding the client’s expectations. Which brings us to...
If you want to earn repeat business from your clients, you have to get to know them and their businesses. Specifically, you want to develop a thorough understanding of:
When you understand these things, your relationship with your client begins to evolve. When you discuss projects, you’ll start to ask better questions that will help you create finished products that more clearly align with the client’s goals. You’ll start to notice opportunities for graphic design to add value to the business — even before the client sees them. You’ll see yourself as less of an order-taker and more of a strategic partner in your client’s success, and so will the client.
Retaining clients ensures you keep the income you already have. If you want to increase that income, you need to be proactive. Take the following steps to win more (paid) work:
Freelance projects are prone to scope creep, where clients ask you to do work that falls outside of the terms you agreed to. It can be a major drain on your time and energy to push back. The good news is that you can address scope creep and create extra (paying) work for yourself at the same time.
To do so, tightly define the scope of the project at the time of your proposal — and be ready to say no to doing work outside that scope. At the same time, build a maintenance clause into your contract that defines how you’ll be paid for out-of-scope work. Don’t have a contract yet? Here’s a contract template you can use to get started.
Contracts sets client expectations from the get-go and creates a mutually agreed-upon framework for handling any changes to the scope of the project. You’ll often find that clients are happy to pay for additional work as long as they understand why that work doesn’t fall into the original scope.
A retainer agreement is another way to increase revenue by serving existing clients. With a retainer, a client pays you a fixed amount of money each week (or month) to reserve a specific number of your hours, whether or not the client has any work for you to do. For example, a retainer client might pay you $200 per week in exchange for up to five hours of your time each week. (Retainer hours should not roll over from one time period to the next — they’re “use it or lose it.”)
The goal here isn’t to get money for nothing: a client who consistently pays you and gets nothing back won’t be a client for long. That said, it’s important to check in with your clients and let them know how many hours they have remaining each month so that they can take full advantage of the time they paid for.
When done right, a retainer relationship creates value for both you and the client: you get guaranteed, predictable revenue, and the client gets your guaranteed, predictable availability — they don’t have to worry that your other work will push their project to your backlog.
Here’s a retainer template to get you started. We recommend starting small. Establish a minimum number of deliverables or working hours (say, a couple of hours per week) and gradually increase as the client’s needs do. If the client uses up all of their retainer hours, they can pay you a (higher) hourly rate for more work — but if they’re consistently running out of retainer hours, it’s time to approach them about adding more hours to their retainer agreement.
A client may not have come to you with a project, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t more projects that you can do for them. The more you understand a client and their business, the more you’ll see opportunities to help the client succeed — even if the client hasn’t identified those opportunities yet.
For example, let’s suppose you have a client who asks you to design a “Buy Now” button for their website. On the surface, this is a simple task — create the button according to the client’s specifications and deliver it. However, the better you know your client, the more likely you are to understand how else you might help the client meet their goal (presumably to sell more of a product). You might propose that the client pay you to redesign the product page so it does a better job of selling the product to visitors. Or maybe you suggest a new project where you create an insert that ships with the product and helps reduce returns or angry customer calls about the product.
If you do this right, the client will be grateful because you’ve saved them time and energy by identifying the opportunity for them, and you’ve already got a solution ready for them to sign off on.
A good time to pitch new projects to clients is right after successfully completing another project, especially if your proposed project complements the completed one. You can also incorporate regular project pitches into your ongoing client communications — for example, a monthly meeting or email where you deliver three to four proposals for the client to review and choose from.
Save yourself time and energy by prioritizing client retention and upsells over cold-pitching. Do this, and your clients just may refer you to new business — so that you never have to dive back into the LOI ether at all.
A verbal contract (formally called an oral contract) refers to an agreement between two parties that's made —you guessed it— verbally.
Formal contracts, like those between an employee and an employer, are typically written down. However, some professional transactions take place based on verbally agreed terms.
Freelancers are a good example of this. Often, freelancers will take on projects having agreed on the terms and payment via the phone, or an email. Unfortunately, sometimes clients don't pull through on their agreements, and hardworking freelancers can find themselves out of pocket and wondering whether a legal battle is worth all the hassle.
The main differences between written and oral contracts are that the former is signed and documented, whereas the latter is solely attributed to verbal communication.
Verbal contracts are a bit of a gray area for most people unfamiliar with contract law —which is most of us, right?— due to the fact that there's no physical evidence to support the claims made by the implemented parties.
For any contract (written or verbal) to be binding, there are four major elements which need to be in place. The crucial elements of a contract are as follows:
Therefore, an oral agreement has legal validity if all of these elements are present. However, verbal contracts can be difficult to enforce in a court of law. In the next section, we take a look at how oral agreements hold up in court.
Most business professionals are wary of entering into contracts orally because they can difficult to enforce in the face of the law.
If an oral contract is brought in front of a court of law, there is increased risk of one party (or both!) lying about the initial terms of the agreement. This is problematic for the court, as there's no unbiased way to conclude the case; often, this will result in the case being disregarded. Moreover, it can be difficult to outline contract defects if it's not in writing.
That being said, there are plenty of situations where enforceable contracts do not need to be written or spoken, they're simply implied. For instance, when you buy milk from a store, you give something in exchange for something else and enter into an implied contract, in this case - money is exchanged for goods.
There are some types of contracts which must be in writing.
The Statute of Frauds is a legal statute which states that certain kinds of contracts must be executed in writing and signed by the parties involved. The Statute of Frauds has been adopted in almost all U.S states, and requires a written contract for the following purposes:
Typically, a court of law won't enforce an oral agreement in any of these circumstances under the statute. Instead, a written document is required to make the contract enforceable.
Contract law is generally doesn't favor contracts agreed upon verbally. A verbal agreement is difficult to prove, and can be used by those intent on committing fraud. For that reason, it's always best to put any agreements in writing and ensure all parties have fully understood and consented to signing.
Verbal agreements can be proven with actions in the absence of physical documentation. Any oral promise to provide the sale of goods or perform a service that you agreed to counts as a valid contract. So, when facing a court of law, what evidence can you provide to enforce a verbal agreement?
Unfortunately, without solid proof, it may be difficult to convince a court of the legality of an oral contract. Without witnesses to testify to the oral agreement taking place or other forms of evidence, oral contracts won't stand up in court. Instead, it becomes a matter of "he-said-she-said" - which legal professionals definitely don't have time for!
If you were to enter into a verbal contract, it's recommended to follow up with an email or a letter confirming the offer, the terms of the agreement , and payment conditions. The more you can document the elements of a contract, the better your chances of legally enforcing a oral contract.
Another option is to make a recording of the conversation where the agreement is verbalized. This can be used to support your claims in the absence of a written agreement. However, it's always best to gain the permission of the other involved parties before hitting record.
Fundamentally, most verbal agreements are legally valid as long as they meet all the requirements for a contract. However, if you were to go to court over one party not fulfilling the terms of the contract, proving that the interaction took place can be extremely taxing.
So, ultimately, the question is: written or verbal agreements?
Any good lawyer, contract law firm, or legal professional would advise you to make sure you formalize any professional agreement with a written agreement. Written contracts provide a secure testament to the conditions that were agreed and signed by the two parties involved. If it comes to it, a physical contract is much easier to eviden in legal circumstances.
Freelancers, in particular, should be aware of the extra security that digital contracts may provide. Many people choose to stick to executing contracts verbally because they're not sure how to write a contract, or they think writing out the contract terms is too complicated or requires expensive legal advice. However, this is no longer the case.
Today, we have a world of resources available at our fingertips. The internet is a treasure trove of invaluable information, platforms, and software that simplifies our lives. Creating, signing, and sending contracts has never been easier. What's more, you don't have to rely on a hiring a lawyer to explain all that legal jargon anymore.
There are plenty of tools available online for freelancers to use for guidance when drafting digital contracts. Tools like Bonsai provide a range of customizable, vetted contract templates for all kinds of freelance professionals. No matter what industry you're operating in, Bonsai has a professional template to offer.
A written contract makes the agreement much easier to prove the terms of the agreement in case something were to go awry. The two parties involved can rest assured that they're legal rights are protected, and the terms of the contract are sufficiently documented. Plus, it provides both parties with peace of mind to focus on the tasks at hand.
Bonsai's product suite for freelancers allows users to make contracts from scratch, or using professional templates, and sign them using an online signature maker.
With Bonsai, you can streamline and automate all of the boring back-office tasks that come with being a freelancer. From creating proposals that clients can't say no to, to sealing the deal with a professional contract - Bonsai will revolutionize the way you do business as a freelancer.
Why not secure your business today and sign up for a free trial?