It's really important to understand the “cost of acquisition” of a new customer when it comes to freelancing. You may have had to pitch to tens of people, before finding your very first customer. You work hard to impress this first customer and he/she leaves you a great review, which is what attracts other customers to your profile, and makes your pitches more effective. Without great detailed reviews, your profile is pretty much dead. So, the cost of acquisition in terms of time and effort actually increases when it comes to freelancing – you have to take into consideration the amount of time it took you to get the first few customers AND the time it took you to serve the previous customers. So, in essence, the cost of acquisition for any new customer is really high – exponential if you think about it. Also, you only have 24 hours in a day, so after a point you can either focus on the clients you have or acquiring new customers, but not both.
This is why it is important to get as much Repeat Business from the same customers. By the way, a customer is someone who pays you just once or twice. A client is someone who actually has a deeper business relationship with you and gives you repeat business consistently! If you do an average job, your customer will not return. Even if you do the work assigned to you really well, there is a chance the customer will simply walk away from you because there is so much talent out there.
Therefore, it falls on your own shoulders to serve first-time customers so well that they would no longer be able to imagine anyone else doing the job that you can do. You need to create an Ecosystem from which escaping is hard if not impossible. Think about it, why don't Windows users switch over to some other operating system? Do you think there aren't better products than what Microsoft offers? Of course, there are an infinite array of operating systems that can do a lot of things better than Microsoft, but where Windows wins is in user experience and ease of use. Even the best Linux distros like Ubuntu need you to play around with a bit of code to get everything working the way you want. Plus, every software in the world is compatible with Windows or is made compatible with Windows over time. This means that there are mac apps, Linux apps, and even android apps that have been transformed/updated to work with Windows. The same way, Apple has created its own ecosystem, which has become a little loose now, but still once you enter Apple's ecosystem, you will pay to stay within that ecosystem.
So, create that ecosystem where your customer simply doesn't want to leave you. In fact, they would even be willing to pay you extra just to keep you working with them. Here are the steps to becoming pre-eminent when it comes freelancing:
1. Responsiveness: This is the most important matrix today. If you don't reply to me within the first hour of my enquiry, I will move on to someone else. Plus, once I have accepted your bid and placed the order, I want you to be available 24/7. So, do whatever it takes for you to become so well connected with your freelancing website/ mailing service that you don't hurt your chance of being pre-eminent ever.
2. Communication and Tone: This is another factor that is important. If you respond with, “Yeah, I will do it.” your client will take it as a bad response. The best thing to do is what any customer service rep does and treat your customers with respect. A few extra sentences that say thank you or whatever will only make you stand out. Finally, remember to check your written communication before clicking send, because the meaning of a sentence may seem correct to you while you were writing it, but it may actually not be appropriate for the occasion or may cause miscommunication.
3. Gifting: This is THE most important part of freelancing. In fact, if you're in any industry or profession, the idea of gifting holds a place of its own. Gifting means doing something more than what the customer asked for – this may include extra deliverables, further discounts, extra reviews, even tangible advice with researched links, and so on. For example, a customer once sent me a whole host of documents, including his resume. My work was only to review his website and review some other document to see if it matched the details in the resume. It would have taken me less than 10 minutes to do that. Instead, I delivered a re-worked and clearer resume and a better LinkedIn profile(in doc format) in addition to the work assigned to me. Needless to say, this customer turned into a client, and I have received 17 orders from him so far. And each order has only increased in size and earnings for me.
So, those are the 3 most important aspects that will help you become the pre-eminent freelancer among an array of very talented and hard working freelancers.