Communication, they say, is the basis for any healthy relationship. Much like in romantic bonds, family relations, and our friendships, transparency and honesty are necessary for all parties involved to feel appreciated and to know each other’s expectations. It’s not much different with professional bonds, isn’t it? The clients that give you the most trouble are the ones that send you lengthy emails with zero useful feedback, the ones that bombard you with information you cannot use, and the ones that don’t know what they want.
Whether you’re working as a solo freelancer or you’re a part of a larger agency, if your role involves any amount of client interaction, you know that misunderstandings can cause more headaches than any amount of actual work ever could. Implementing certain rules, sticking to specific habits in client communication, and setting boundaries are all very important ways in which you can ease those headaches and make sure that your collaborations are more effective.
Define the process
Some companies and freelancers still assume that every single one of their clients has the same idea of the services they provide. For example, the field of digital marketing is a vast one indeed, and if you haven’t specified which particular areas your expertise covers, you can expect your clients to either come to you with a slew of questions, or to assume that you do exactly what they need and want. In both situations, you’re already in a mess.
First of all, make sure that every touchpoint of your communication entails clear information. Your website, for starters, should have a clear page explaining your services in full. When someone reaches out to you, before the collaboration even begins, you should make sure that they know exactly what you can do for them, and what your business doesn’t cover. That way, you’ll prevent many misunderstandings and you’ll be able to qualify client leads more efficiently than ever.
We’ve all been there: a client sends you emails in the middle of the night, with no regard for your personal time off, expecting you to reply as soon as yesterday, and constantly in need of changes and alterations to your original service. Some clients are needy, others are borderline certifiable, but sometimes you cannot assess if they are a good match for your business until very late in the collaboration.
In any scenario, setting those boundaries early on can help you manage those complicated relationships better. For starters, you can emphasize your work hours and when you’re available for communication via chat, phone, or email, and how long it typically takes you to respond. You should also let your clients know that when they need changes to your provided service or product, you have a process to stick to, and explain how long it takes. All of these details could be beneficial for letting your clients know how to get the information they want without disrupting your workflow.
Especially when you’re in a creative industry, delivering something that will be in line with your clients’ expectations and needs can be tricky. Creative work is very individual, although based on expertise, and if you’re running a web design agency, for instance, you can often go through several stages of back-and-forth communication before you actually complete the work at hand, by no one’s fault in particular. Those interactions can still take away a chunk of your valuable time, and preventing that can be beneficial for you and your clients.
You can create and send out a customized web design client questionnaire as a part of your discovery process in an attempt to cover all of your bases and prevent all those changes early on. Of course, it’s always possible for your client to send the design back for tweaks, but you can at the very least prevent major, time-consuming changes that can affect your productivity. This is especially handy if your customers aren’t familiar with the industry and wouldn’t know what kind of details you need to begin with, so some guidance is essential.
Ask for feedback to improve
Some clients like in-person meetings, some love Skype, while others enjoy the email correspondence that comes with clarity and transparency. In any scenario, you might not be perfectly compatible in terms of those preferences with each and every client, but you can find ways to accommodate their needs without disrupting your own process. A great way to avoid conflicts would be to ask your clients for feedback regarding your performance but also your communication and availability.
Insights collected in that way could be helpful in defining your future relationships and in redefining expectations in your existing collaborations. In a similar manner, you should feel free to provide your own comments and feedback if you feel that your client should give you more space or that they aren’t available enough to the detriment of the project, causing missed deadlines and the like. Transparency in the form of regular feedback is a healthy way to let your client relationships blossom over time.
Although it takes time to evolve as a freelancer or even as a part of a team within an agency, you can certainly find ways to improve how you interact with clients. Take these tips into consideration, and you’ll be able to ensure long-lasting bonds and more satisfied clients down the line.