Business Development: Insights for Freelance Creatives

April 13, 2023
As a freelance creative and part of the BEKS team, I’ve learned that having a well-defined business development plan is critical for success. In this article, I’ll share our key strategies for finding clients, nurturing existing relationships, and ensuring long-term success based on our own experiences. Let’s dive in!

The First Meeting: Understand the Client's Needs and Assess the Fit

In our business development journey, the first meeting has always been crucial. It’s where we have a chance to meet face-to-face or virtually with potential clients. During this meeting, our main goals are to:

  • Understand the client’s problem and determine if our services are a good fit
  • Clarify misconceptions about marketing, branding, or design
  • Assess the chemistry and work style compatibility

Real-Life Example: These are great meetings to practice awareness and listening. We were excited to work with a tech company, ignored our gut and discounted a few off-hand side comments they made. We made it through the second draft of our first project and had to pull the chute. In the end, we could have been working with another client with the time we had, and they could have found the right marketing partner or support.

The Importance of a Marketing Plan in Our Process

Whether the client has an existing marketing plan or not plays a significant role in our business development process. From our experience, a marketing plan is essential for:

  • Providing a roadmap for marketing efforts
  • Ensuring long-term, sustainable success
  • Balancing tactical and strategic marketing initiatives
  • When we find out that a client doesn’t have a plan, we offer to create one or guide them through the process.

Real-Life Example: A construction company approached us to do a marketing project, but at the time, the project seemed like a “good idea” rather than fitting within a strategy or vision. When we stepped back, we decided to work together on a marketing plan first, then reevaluate the project within the context of a marketing program. In the end, we went ahead with the original project, BUT now with a context that helped us connect the activity to other activities and a campaign.

Transitioning Clients from Project-Based to Retainer-Based Relationships

In our business development journey, we’ve found that determining if the client should transition from project-based to retainer-based relationships is an important step. This decision depends on:

  • The success of the initial project(s)
  • The client’s willingness to invest in long-term marketing efforts
  • The value provided by a retainer-based relationship

Real-Life Example: One of our most successful relationships started as a project. The project was robust enough to let us dive deep into the organization’s culture. The project turned into a campaign, then turned into a seven-year marketing management relationship. We hit the ground running in our retainer relationship because we “dated” first.

Managing Retainer-Based and Project-Based Clients: Our Approach

For our retainer-based clients, we become their marketing department, while for project-based clients, we develop a rough sketch of projects to complete throughout the year. This approach has allowed us to:

  • Smooth out the feast or famine cycle of freelance work
  • Plan and allocate resources effectively
  • Provide a consistent level of service to clients

Real-Life Example: The word retainer can be scary, especially for organizations that are smaller or don’t have a consistent marketing budget. One of our biggest clients is working with us project-by-project basis. We have a list of activities for the year, but the freedom to pivot and adapt as needed. We’re still committed to working together.

Gracefully Transitioning Clients Out of Our Services

From our experience, a successful business development plan should also consider how to transition clients out of our services when they’ve outgrown our offerings. This may involve:

  • Training and developing an internal marketing solution for the client
  • Celebrating the client’s growth and success
  • Leaving on good terms, fostering future referrals or collaborations

Real-Life Example: We know splitting up is inevitable, but we are happy to be wrong in this respect. We keep a “collection” file for each of our clients that is given to the next marketing team or the client. We aim to set the bar – we’re this organized and this vested in the success of their brand that we want them to move forward with as much of a boost as possible.

How our sales process has evolved has taught us a lot about the importance of having an outline for other creatives looking to find clients, nurture relationships, and exit relationships on good terms. We’ve positioned ourselves well in a competitive market, putting fit and chemistry above all else. We’d love to hear your thoughts or experiences, so please share them in the comments below!
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