How building a rapport with clients can help you earn what you're worth

Taking a genuine interest in clients and developing relationships means freelancers are less likely to come under pressure to reduce fees

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I started my business career as a freelancer. I produced content for several publications and managed a number of communications projects before I decided to start my company.

Today, freelancing is a career path chosen by millions around the world. The "9th Annual State of Independence in America 2019" report by MBO Partners published last year found that freelancers contributed $1.3 trillion (Dh4.77tn) to the US economy in 2019, close to the GDP of Spain, where millennials comprised 38 per cent of full-time freelance workers. The study also found that a growing number of freelancers are making six-figure incomes.

The one aspect I enjoyed most about freelancing was that I worked with people I liked, on projects I enjoyed. It was liberating, and financially rewarding. Only after I had more clients than I could work with on my own did I decide to expand my freelance business to a company and hire more people to help me out. But as enjoyable as my freelance beginnings were, they also had their challenges, and negotiating my fees to avoid a major discount by my client was a recurring challenge.

In my years of advising and mentoring freelancers and start-up entrepreneurs on how to position their businesses, I found that a number of entrepreneurs I came across also struggled with that particular challenge. Another important issue that freelancers may not be aware of, but which may make or break a business deal, is building rapport with their clients.

I strongly believe in the power of relationships – developing a genuine, human connection to drive business success. When I first started my freelance career, I worked with people I knew. It was comfortable for them to hire me because they knew me and we had an established connection. That eased the fee negotiation process.

When you work for a big corporation, it may be easier for you to introduce a business, and make deals, because people are familiar with your company, or they know your colleagues, your manager, or admire your products, services, or legacy. But when you are a freelancer, you speak for yourself. Not only do you have to represent your business, but you also have to create that connection with a client, as well as close the deal. In a nutshell, your communication skills, your genuine interest in them as people, and in their business and what they do, would not only help you seal the deal, but may also help you gain a friend. It works for both your professional and your personal lives.

Even if things don’t work out, it’s good to maintain a connection with clients. The key is to be genuinely interested in them as people and what they do. I remember meeting a client and getting to know them and their business. They didn’t wish to proceed with me to manage that project and we went our separate ways, but we still remained in touch and I was interested to see how their business was doing. A few months later, and after we got to know each other more, the client wanted to hire me for a bigger project. We ended up working together on a number of projects since then and became good friends.

It’s important to know your worth. Being a freelancer may make you feel small, especially when your client is a big corporation, and I know that some big corporations may pressure freelancers to do the work for lower fees. For this particular scenario, I suggest that you stick with a project rate instead of an hourly rate, and, if possible, to have a set menu with fixed prices for different kinds of projects and then stick to the rates that you are comfortable with. Also, focus on value by offering them a little bit of something more than they asked for so that they feel like they are getting more for their money. For instance, if they asked for a website design, throw in some templates and designs for their social media pages. Giving them more value is a sound investment that goes a long way.

By building rapport, sticking to your rates, and being genuinely interested in your clients and their businesses, you will enjoy your freelance journey and elevate your career.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi