If You Want to Freelance, Don’t Neglect the Business

The importance of attracting and retaining customers is often overlooked by creatives across various industries.

If you want to grow your freelance business or start your own larger business, doing the actual work is just part of the job. The actual “business” end of things is what struggling freelancers from those who are successful or have built their own larger companies.

Quick aside – Who are you / why are you qualified to speak about this?

I hate when people put out information about a topic and haven’t done anything themselves. So, I wanted to briefly answer this question. I started freelancing (business strategy, UX and software development) about five years ago. A little over four years ago I turned that freelancing into a company called Jakt. The business has done seven figures in revenue for three years straight. I’m not trying to brag – instead I’m letting you know I’m not full of it.

Anyways, back to the article.

For the purposes of illustration, let’s use the hair industry. It’s one that fascinates me because I think there’s so much potential for improvement on the business side of things.

I live in New York City where there are a ton of salons. I’ve always been baffled by their lack of attention to the business end of things; specifically retention. One of my friends owns a salon and another one is a hair stylist who is trying to build up his own personal clientele. In the past both have asked me to help them get new clients. I started by asking them some basic questions:

  1. How many customers are you able to see each month?
  2. How many of these customers are new?
  3. How many of these customers are previous customers?

The answer to that last question is what shocked me. When asking how many repeat customers they have, I was surprised to hear how small the number was. This means that the majority of people are going to them once, then different salons or hair stylists the next time they are getting their haircut.

Now, this wasn’t a detailed survey, so I can’t claim this exists over the entire industry. But over my nine years in New York City I can’t say that any salon or hair stylist I’ve been to has done a good job at the retention aspect. It seems like a hair salon lives by the same feast or famine that other industries like mine experience.

So what can hair stylists do to get rid of this?

Focus on retention. In my opinion, this is the quickest area to fix which can make a huge impact long-term. If they somehow make ends meet and manage to squeak by and acquire enough new customers each month to pay the bills, the easiest way to increase their revenue is to focus on existing customers.

Selling to existing customers is much cheaper than acquiring new ones.

 You’ve already done the hard work to get them in the door once. Now just do the incremental work to keep them coming back and continue adding value. There’s one caveat to this though – if your product sucks, it doesn’t matter.

Here are a few ideas on how to improve retention, specifically for hair salons (but could probably be applied to other industries):

  1. On the way out, schedule the next appointment. If you have to acquire 50 new customers each month, why start from scratch each month? Everyone needs their haircut. Yes, men will typically go more often than women. But women also get other things done like blowouts etc. more frequently. For the sake of argument, we’ll use men as an example.When I go to get a haircut the hair salon knows I will need another haircut in three to four weeks. So, I’m either going to go to you or somewhere else. Why not make the choice easy for me to come back to you?That way I can mark it in my calendar and won’t stress about getting an appointment a few days before I’m due. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a salon that’s asked me to do this. In fact, I usually ask to schedule it because I want to make my life easier.One of my hair stylist friends came back with, “Well, sometimes people don’t know their schedules.” Ok, great, so put in a placeholder event. Then one to two weeks before the appointment message them to confirm. If someone really doesn’t want a placeholder, then that’s fine. Message them one to two weeks before they’re due for a haircut and get them on the books. You know they will be going somewhere. Make sure it’s you.
  2. Send a Google Calendar invite. Here’s another easy one. Start using modern technology. Enough of these old-school systems where it’s in your system but not in my calendar. If you want to be in my calendar and make sure I remember it, send me a calendar invite.
  3. Build an actual relationship with me. Don’t view this as a transactional relationship. Another thing I’ve noticed hair salons are terrible at is communication post-haircut. This is a perfect chance to really build and cement your relationship with me.A day or two after the haircut, why not text me and check in? Ask me how I like the cut. And if I’m having problems or don’t like it, help me fix it. Build an actual relationship with me. Stop making it transactional. If you can actually build a relationship with me, I’ll only want to come to you (assuming I actually like how you cut my hair, of course).

Again, these are just my experiences from going to many different salons and hair stylists in NYC. It’s not a comprehensive study (some hair stylists may do these things). The more important point I hope to have illustrated though is that if you are a creative and want to build up your own freelance work or a larger business, don’t forget the “business” side of things. It’s not enough to only be good at what you do.

Would love to hear what anyone else thinks about these ideas or if you have other one’s not listed here!


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