Once you’ve worked out your business model, and you know how to find clients, you’ll be armed with everything you need to keep the cash flowing in.
But this is really just the start of it – just as difficult is going to be managing those clients and ensuring they stay happy.
If you have 100 different clients, how do you handle them all at once? And how do you make sure that a one-off client becomes a long-term client? If you’re unable to retain your existing customers, you’ll pay for in the long run, because it’s 25 times more expensive to get a new customer than to keep an existing one.
Ultimately, a large part of business comes down to relationship management. If you can do that well, you’ll have a steady flow of orders and you’ll minimize the number of challenges you face each day.
Here are some top tips to help you improve your relationships with clients.
1. Be Clear
A huge number of misunderstandings and disagreements in business simply come down to poor communication. That occurs when you fail to outline the terms of your agreement, and the client, therefore, doesn’t know precisely when they should expect delivery of their order, or how much they can contact you.
This is why you should make certain to be absolutely clear in the terms of your agreement going forward – going as far in some cases as to discuss what hours you are available to respond to emails, and how you can be reached. This example will help to avoid a situation where a client is calling every night at 7 pm and getting increasingly frustrated with you for not answering.
Likewise, you should maintain transparent communication at every stage throughout your project. Don’t spend hours and hours working on a logo design or website before presenting your work to the client. If they don’t like it, then that’s a huge amount of time wasted – which could have been avoided.
2. Beware Communication Overhead
If you work for yourself and you provide a service, it means you are literally trading your time for money. This, in turn, means that the old adage ‘time is money’ is particularly true.
This is something you really need to keep in mind when finding and working with clients. What you need to look out for here is something called ‘communication overhead’. This basically refers to the amount of time – and thus money – that you are spending with communication.
Some clients are going to give you a huge communication overhead. They will constantly ask questions, they will insist on having unnecessary Skype meetings and they will pester you because they’re not happy with some small detail of your work. Likewise, be considerate of how much of their time you are demanding. Can you streamline the process for them?
Being polite and friendly is one thing, as is making sure you fully understand the task. But don’t fall into the trap of ‘playing business’ rather than actually getting anything done. These relationships never end well.
3. Be Generous
The only issue with keeping communication concise and strict, is that it can come across as a little cold and calculating. Clients don’t like being told they’ve used up their quota for communication, and nor do they appreciate receiving work that is exactly to specification and no more.
In other words, while you should outline the agreement up front, you should also feel free to bend the rules where suitable if it means ensuring your client is having the best possible experience.
Without undermining the conditions you’ve set, throw in a little extra (see below), or wish them a great weekend. Small touches go a long way, as long as they remain professional.
4. Choose Your Clients Well
Thing is: the highly demanding clients are actually often more work than they’re worth. That is to say, that if you’re spending hours communicating with your client on a weekly basis, you could be earning more by finding a client who would offer the same work without the trouble.
Likewise, some clients will have nothing but problems, or will request lots of revisions.
This is where ‘picking and choosing’ clients comes into play. You don’t want to turn down work, sure, but sometimes it actually makes sense to say you’re busy even if you aren’t necessarily.
Remain friendly and positive though – you should never get into a heated debate with a client, as it will only risk blowing up in your face. Word spreads.
Some clients are much easier to ‘maintain a good relationship’ with than others!
5. Under Promise, Over Deliver
Another big tip when it comes to managing your clients that relates to the generosity point, is to ‘under promise and over deliver’. What this means, is that you’re not going to make false claims – but will, in fact, do the opposite.
So, if someone says to you: when can you get me this work? You should answer one day earlier than the reality. Why? Because that way, if something should come up and you should be delayed, you’ll still be able to get them the work by the promised time.
Likewise, if you get an offer for another job that you hadn’t anticipated, you won’t have to let the new client down – because you’ll still have the bandwidth.
Essentially, this will allow you to remain flexible while also providing the best service to your customers. And good service that is a surprise is valued much more highly than simply meeting the targets you set for yourself.
6. When and How to Accept Payment
Accepting payment is a bit of a struggle when it comes to finding and working with clients online. This is one of the big advantages to using a site freelance job boards like UpWork or Freelancer. If you opted against that though, using PayPal can be a great help as it lets you keep your card details private.
The next question is when to invoice your clients. Do you do it before in order to avoid the risk of clients not paying? Or do you wait until after to try and provide a more pleasant service and thus increase your odds of getting repeat business?
As a general rule, you’ll find that most people are honest. For this reason, you can probably get away with offering to take payment only once your work is complete and in most cases, this will be fine. If someone doesn’t pay on time, then you simply make sure that they pay up front for any future work.
An exception to this rule though is when the order is very large and will take you more than half a day. If this is a completely new customer, then it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for 50% up front and 50% after receipt.
Again, by offering some work in advance, you are demonstrating that you trust the client, which immediately starts the relationship off on good terms. BUT you also need to weigh up this risk against the potential cost of not receiving what you asked for. Maybe consider contingency plans that can help you recoup costs if the client disappears? Can you recycle some of the work into a future project for a new client?
Oh, and an easy extra tip: thank your client on the invoice! It’s small, but it makes a big impression.
7. Keep Track of Your Clients
One of the most important tips you need to take away from this post is to keep a log of every one of your clients. This is crucial because it will allow you to keep up-to-date with who is who and not get too confused when an old client messages you for the first time in a while.
Better yet, is to keep some basic information regarding your client to hand. For instance, keep a note of the amount they’re paying (it can be very awkward to over or under charge based on your previous agreement) and maybe even make a note of their family situation, or upcoming holidays. The latter will allow you to ask relevant questions, and they will be touched that you remember them!
Using invoicing software like invoicely makes it a lot easier to keep track of all the payments from your clients, so you have a record of all your transactions.
8. Bringing Customers Back
At the same time though, having a log of all your clients will also allow you to market to previous customers and to bring them back.
Rather than jumping immediately to trying to find new customers, using your list of past customers allows you to reach out to people who have already shown an interest and a willingness to do business and who you know are good clients.
Chances are that they would still be interested in using your services but might just have forgotten about you.
Don’t over-do it, but sending the occasional personal e-mail to let them know about a special promotion is a great way to get some repeat business. If you build up a big enough list of clients, this can actually be an incredibly valuable asset.
At the same time, offering a promotion to your loyal customers is a way of rewarding them for sticking with you. It’s a win-win situation.
You can also use your existing clients to find extra additional clients: tell them you’ll give them 10% off of their next order if they can refer you to someone and that way you can again expand your list!
9. Getting More From Existing Clients
Another way to be more resourceful with your existing and previous clients is to message them and to see if there are more ways you can work with them.
Say for instance: ‘I really value our working relationship and was wondering if there were any other ways we might work together’.
Alternatively, you could try suggesting something yourself: if you designed a website for a client for instance, why not ask if they’ve got a good cover image for their social media? Or if they’d like an app?
You can even suggest working together on a joint project. This way, you evolve your relationship to the next logical step: business partners!