I’ve got a special trick to share with you. It’s the secret formula for being a great freelancer who gets continual freelance work. It’s the trick that will help you not only get clients coming back, but assures they will refer their friends to you as well.

It’s total magic and very few freelancers do a good job with it.

Are you ready? Wait for it….

The special trick is: Answer your email within 24 hours every time.


As I sit here in Starbucks and watch Tweets go by, I know that one of the freelancers I communicate with regularly is looking for work. They are specifically looking for WooCommerce work. I also know that it’s not that this freelancer is just waiting for the right project. They need the work to pay bills in the next few weeks.

I just got off the phone with one of their prospective clients and I understand why this freelancer is looking for work. They left the client hanging for 48+ hours on an email response and the client felt like they were forgotten.

This client sent an email and a tweet Sunday evening about a possible project. It’s Wednesday and there is no response on either front.

The prospect emailed me late Tuesday night and I responded Wednesday morning. We’ve now had a phone call and they aren’t even going to bother with the other developer.

I’m the client’s second choice and I won them over in a morning, simply by actually responding to them. Nothing magic — I just treated them with respect.

I’m all for batching my work time. I don’t leave email open all day ever, but batching stuff to only respond to every 3 days is a bit excessive. One of the best ways I found to get clients is to respond to them in a timely fashion.

This issue isn’t limited to prospective clients trying to get in touch with freelancers, either. Every other week I hear about a client who had a developer they were working with drop off the face of the earth.

The last client I took that had 3 freelancers disappear is an awesome client. They pay their bills within hours of getting sent an invoice. They roll with technical challenges as they come up and have reasonable requests.

Most of the clients who find me and have had bad communication with prior freelancers turn out to be awesome. It’s us that’s the problem.

One of the best things you can do to get and keep clients at any point in your freelance career is to be communicative with your clients.


My email update routine means I send the client an update email on Thursday/Friday with what was done during the week and what to expect next week. On Monday I send them an email telling them what to expect for the upcoming week.

Yes, I just said I send 2 emails with pretty similar content within about 3 days.

Then we talk once in a week, every week, where we go over what’s being done and address any challenges that have come up in the course of the past week.

I don’t go into the typical programmer ‘mole mode’ — I keep communicating and communicating. I figure if a client emails me to ask for an update, I’ve failed because they were wondering where I was and what’s up.

The extra mile

Once you implement this strategy, which covers the basics, then you kick it up a notch. Send your awesome clients a handwritten card. Something I’m going to do is start sending my awesome clients a Lego mini figure at the end of our project with my business name on it and a handwritten card.

I keep track of my clients’ birthdays and send them a birthday card, and I also send them one card that just tells them they’re awesome, for no reason whatsoever.

Unfortunately sending those weekly updates will make you some amazing freelancer because almost no one else does it. Adding in the extra cards will push you to a level that most clients haven’t ever dealt with.

They won’t even know what to do with themselves.

photo credit: ntr23 cc

6 responses to “Be a great freelancer and get continual work”

  1. John Locke Avatar

    So much truth here, Curtis. Responding to clients or prospects in a timely manner is a no-brainer. But somehow it still slips through the cracks. Why is that?

    In the web community, it feels like we’ve demonized email as something we should avoid. At best, it consider it something we “get through”. We gamify email so we can avoid all the “low-priority” emails we receive. We completely forget that there are real people on the other end, waiting to hear from us.

    This isn’t even scaling the unscalable, as Gary Vaynerchuk might say. This is just being responsible about communicating. It affects how people think about you.

    Case in point: I had a friend of a colleague reach out to remind me he was available for his particular service, in case I ever wanted to collaborate. I sent an email back, with a question. The person responded to my follow-up email eight days later, like that was all in a fortnight’s work. Needless to say, I won’t be collaborating with this person, ever. Batching is one thing, ignoring your email altogether is another.

    Thanks again, Curtis.

  2. Dipak C. Gajjar Avatar

    That’s absolutely true! I used to respond most of the emails (90% +) within 12 hours.

    1. Curtis McHale Avatar
      Curtis McHale

      If you used to do that what do you do now?

  3. Ginger Coolidge (@gscoolidge) Avatar
    Ginger Coolidge (@gscoolidge)

    Hi Curtis, thank you for the reminder. It’s also true for those in the WP space on the other side — those offering good information and assistance to help people grow, like yourself. You respond. There have been two that I won’t name that I have unfollowed and disengaged with because they never responded and it makes you feel really…..small. One asked specifically for details on what are you struggling with, and wanted to take a group of folks to help so I responded. I regret sending too many person details only to never receive one response, not one. Another I feel has become more of an info-merical and it was a turn off, also didn’t respond 99% of the time. Thanks for all the good info you are sharing and for tips to also make ourselves accountable.

    1. Curtis McHale Avatar
      Curtis McHale

      Yeah i certainly try to respond to everything I get but I could see a day when it’s harder like if my email volume for questions doubled.

      I hope I can still get something to each person then but we shall see. For now I can and do respond and try to put some thought in to each response.

      Do you have any methods that let you respond well/fast to people that would help us?

      1. Ginger Coolidge (@gscoolidge) Avatar
        Ginger Coolidge (@gscoolidge)

        I’m working on system-izing myself now 🙂 but my volume is low enough that I just use different colored flags in Apple Mail for prioritizing. Hopefully my volume will be increasing such that I can really put my money where my mouth is with response times. 😉