Recently, I shared the sales script I paid $1500 to learn (and which I teach for free). Using that script has helped me win hundreds of thousands of dollars in freelancing income.
But I could have earned even more if I’d done this simple thing at the beginning of my freelancing career.
See, freelancers are a dime a dozen. And good freelancers are easy to find. Every single time I’ve hired a freelancer, I ended up with more applications than I knew what to do with.
But once you land a client, it’s easier to keep them than it is to find a new one.
Data supports this. 80% of your future profits will likely come from 20% of your existing clients.
This means that if you can maintain existing relationships and continue to get work from your existing contacts, you’ll find more success faster than if you focus on finding your next client.
However, this is easier said than done.
As a freelancer, you have to manage multiple clients and keep them all happy. That’s simply not something you need to worry about as a full-time, in-house creative. You’ll have a project manager or senior who keeps track fo those things for you.
So how do you stay organized as a freelancer… meeting your client deadlines… all while maintaining relationships with clients you aren’t currently working with?
Fortunately there are several tools that can help! A CRM helps you be more deliberate with your time, manage your workload, and build strong relationships with your clients.
And if I’d used a CRM during the early parts of my career, I would have earned so much more faster.
Those months where I was stuck in the feast-famine cycle? Or where I was so stressed out about my income that I didn’t focus on the right steps?
Yeah, a CRM would have helped me avoid this and made life easier.
What is a CRM, and How Does It Help You Find Consistent Freelancing Success?
A customer relationship management tool, more commonly known as a CRM, helps you keep track of your professional contacts. But this isn’t just an address book.
Any decent CRM will allow you to add notes and keep track of times you’ve contacted your customer. Great CRMs do this automatically by integrating with your email. They help you:
- Build stronger client relationships, leading to more business and referrals
- Grow your reputation, allowing you to raise your rates
- Have more consistent work, bringing you stable income and less stress
While CRMs are most often used in sales organizations, they’re also a critical resource for serious freelancers and creative professionals.
If I’d used a CRM, I could have essentially put my relationship building on autopilot. This would have helped me stay in touch with old clients and likely find more repeat work. (Way easier than having to build brand new client relationships every time.)
I have an especially hard time with this on my own. There’s a reason I do so many different types of work for my clients: I get bored quickly. My brain likes to jump from one thing to another. And I’m the kind of person whose entire schedule is based around what’s due next (hello procrastination).
So having a list of the things I need to do makes my life so much easier. It’s like having a personal project manager.
Some of the things a CRM can track for you include:
- Who you need to follow up with
- What’s due next
- What’s coming up soon
- How much money you’ve made
- Who owes you money
That last one – tracking who owes you money – is another lifesaver for me. Because I’m so focused on the work that’s due next, I often forget to invoice for work that’s already been completed. (I usually do a 50% deposit and a 50% payment at the end of a project for anything over $1500.)
My CRM helpfully reminds me when clients haven’t made payments so I can send friendly follow-ups.
But I’m the kind of bonehead who has to learn things the hard way before getting it right. Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes and find success faster than I did. 🙂
How to Use a CRM to Find More Success, Faster
Alrighty, let’s dive into the whole “how do I do this” part.
There are fancy, expensive CRMs that are a big, expensive pain to set up (hello Salesforce).
Thoses aren’t what you need.
To start, you just need something to keep track of your past clients.
This can be as simple as a spreadsheet. I recommend having columns for the following:
- Your client’s name: This should be obvious why
- The company your client works for: Also obvious
- The date of your first contact with this client: Helps you see which clients have been around longest
- The date of your most recent client contact: Helps you see which clients need a friendly note or reminder you exist
- Link to your notes for your client: So you can remember things you would have otherwise forgotten
- The amount of lifetime revenue you’ve earned from that client: Makes it easy to see your most valuable clients
When you get lost about what to do next, just look at your CRM spreadsheet. You’ll see someone you need to reach out to. Even a simple email asking them about life/business is enough:
Hey [Client Name], just reaching out to say hi. How’s business? [Something specific to them – this is why you take notes].
That’s all it takes. Be human, be empathetic, and be authentic. Your goal isn’t to goad them into hiring you again; it’s just to build a relationship and show you care. Have faith that the work will take care of itself as you focus on the people.
Try to build a list of at least 100 contacts on your CRM. It seems 100 contacts is the “sweet spot” for having consistent work/opportunities. Steve Roller, founder of the wonderful Copywriter Cafe community, says that every small business owner should have a “Hot 150™” list. That’s 150 contacts you keep in touch with regularly.
You should try to follow up with everyone at least one per quarter. If you set weekly followup goals (“Reach out to 20 contacts per week, or about 4/day”) then you’ll easily be able to reach everyone several times per year.
Can a CRM Work for Finding a Job, Too?
I’ve seen stats saying that up to 80% of all jobs never get a posting.
In my experience, it’s not quite that high. But the truth is, most people find their best opportunities through relationships.
Using a CRM to keep track of professional contacts the same way as old clients. Make notes for conversations you’ve had. Follow up with old co-workers, contacts, and friends you haven’t spoken to in a while. See what they’re up to, and let them know what you’re up to. This way, when you’re in search of a job, or if they hear about an opportunity that fits you, you’ll be top of mind.
Isn’t This Manipulative and Weird?
It might feel odd to deliberately keep track of the people in your life. In fact, I used to think this was weird.
Yet the more I learned about the habits of the most successful freelancers (those making more than $200,000 USD/year), and the most impactful leaders, the more I realized a CRM is a tool to enable more human connection.
We live in a world where conspiracy theories, wild political alternate realities, and fear run rampant. So in my opinion, anything that keeps us connected to each other is a positive thing.
As someone who struggles with maintaining focus and attention, especially during the pandemic, I’ll take any help I can get.
And the truth is, if you’re putting effort into writing notes about your conversations and contacts, it shows you care. You’re more likely to remember names, details, and what matters to your contacts. That seems like a great thing to me.
CRM Next Steps
If this has convinced you to start being more deliberate in building client relationships, awesome. Here’s one way you can get started:
- Go through your email inbox (or your contacts) and add every past client to your CRM
- If you have less than 100 former clients (which is likely), add prospective clients and then just professional contacts
- Create a doc for “Notes” for each of your top contacts, then link to it in your spreadsheet
- Then go through your CRM and reach out to every contact on a regular basis
It’s simple. And it’s so easy, it’s kind of dumb. But simple, dumb things make the difference between struggling and having astounding success.
With rare exception, consistently working at a simple idea will outperform sprints of working at a brilliant idea.
We like to point to things like Facebook or Bezos or whatever as examples of “success”. But I don’t buy that:
- Billionaires are a bug in our system, not a feature
- Survivor bias means you don’t hear about the very successful people who aren’t unreasonably successful
There are thousands and thousands of creative professionals around the world making a great living doing awesome work. And the ones who are finding above average success – and living comfortable lives – are the ones who have systems.
A system like a CRM will make a huge difference for you.
I’d guess that not using a CRM to keep in touch with old contacts has cost me at least $100,000, if not more. And to be honest, I got a big fat reality check last year during the pandemic.
But fortunately for you, you know what I didn’t.
Give a CRM a try. It takes practice, but it’s worth it.