I didn’t set out as a freelancer trying to build relationships with editors and other clients. I just wanted clips, experience, and money—not necessarily in that order. But over time, I learned. And one thing I learned is that it’s much easier (not to mention less stressful) and less time-consuming to work for a handful of editors on a regular basis than to do lots of “one-shots,” where I write for a client or editor once and then move on.
But how do you do that? How do you make an editor or client a “regular”? It’s not that complicated.
Pursue long-term markets. First off, I’m selective in the markets I pitch. I look for those that I can have long-term relationships with—which usually translates into less time pitching and more work. Sounds obvious, but I’ve written for markets as varied as The Lion to Accent on Living to Continental—but all only once. On the other hand, I’ve written for other markets—like Woman’s Day, Complete Woman, and The Writer—multiple times over the years. Look for markets that buy a fair amout of freelance work, that cover subjects you write about, and that you feel fit your voice. That will help ensure long-term relationships.
Be generous when you can. Earlier this week, an editor asked me if I could add a quiz to a story I’d already turned in. I'd originally thought about doing a quiz but the story ran long, so I didn't include it. I briefly considered asking for more money; after all, she's asking for more work. Then I reconsidered. She's been giving me a lot of work lately, edits are minimal, and I like the story assignments I get. I emailed her back and told her I’d be happy to do it gratis and turned it in the next day. (No, I don’t do that on a regular basis. I can't afford it. But I figure it’s an investment in our relationship.)
Do what you say you’ll do. I’m telling you, writers blow this all the time. Doing what you promised means more than meeting your deadline. It also means giving the editor what she asked for in terms of subject, slant, sources, and word count. It means turning in clean copy that’s free of misspellings, factual errors, grammatical mistakes, and the like. If you can’t do what you promised (say, you can’t meet the deadline), tell your editor. Don’t do what a writer I know did and simply “go rogue” and disappear for weeks. Needless to say, she never wrote for our mutual editor again!
Be low-maintenance. One of the nicest compliments I’ve ever had as a freelancer was when an editor told me I’m a “low-maintenance writer.” I know what she meant. It’s not just the quality of your wok that determines whether you’ll get assignments. Other factors—like how quickly you respond to requests for revisions (which I know we all hate!), how diligent you are about coming up with story ideas, and even how pleasant you are—can all play a role as well.
Always have a back-pocket idea. When is an editor most disposed to give you an assignment? When she emails you to say "great job on this story," "I'm putting payment through," or some variation of the same. That's why I like to have an idea at the ready to pitch--I figure there's no better time to have her say "yes" again than when she's happy with a previous assignment. Don't let too much time lapse between pitches--ideally, have a new idea for an editor within two weeks of having her accept a piece.
Stay on their radar. I’m not my editors’ only freelancer, and I know it. So I try to touch base with my regular clients every few months, even it’s only a quick email. Sure, I let this slide when I’m busy, but an email that says something along the lines of “just checking in—I’m working on some new ideas for you, so let me know if you’re looking for anything in particular” can often pay off with work. If I see a recent study, blog post, or news item I think will interest an editor, I’ll email it just as an “FYI.” No, my editors and clients aren't my buddies. (Okay, a few have become buddies, actually. But that kind of effort helps cement a relationship with someone I may never meet in person!)
Keep your bridges in place. Not all clients turn into long-term ones. That’s just part of the business of freelancing. And there are editors I don’t care to work with again. But they don’t know who they are. They just know that I am incredibly busy when they call me…and after a few calls, they move on. In the meantime, I haven’t burned any bridges—especially important as I never know where they may wind up. And who knows, I may work with them again one day…and I want to keep that option open.
What about you? How do you keep your clients happy—and keep them around for the long haul?