For many online freelancers in the earlier stages of building their careers, creating stability in their businesses is a primary goal. There’s a misconception about freelancing that the loss of a steady paycheck resulting from leaving the 9-5 life means the loss of predictable income, but this isn’t necessarily a reality.
Creating stability and steady, predictable income from online freelancing work is completely achievable and absolutely within the grasp of anyone undertaking this awesome adventure. An important aspect of creating stability in your business is attracting and cultivating quality working relationships with clients that will ideally be long-term.
While you’ll likely encounter a variety of personalities and work styles in your freelancing journey, having a firm grasp on managing client relationships will help you establish and nurture these long-term, quality relationships.
Aside from being a valuable part of building a solid client base with the goal of creating stability in your business, managing client relationships is also just “part of the job” when it comes to online freelancing. The nature of our business is engaging and interacting with others to provide our services, and having a good understanding of some of the nuances of this aspect of your business will further ensure your success (not to mention your overall enjoyment of your work!).
We’ll take a look at managing client relationships in three different stages: The beginning, the duration, and the farewell.
Before we do, though, it’s important to note that, as I mentioned earlier, you may encounter a lot of different work styles and perhaps even business models in the world of online freelancing, depending on your chosen niche. The tips I’ll cover in this post are intended to provide you with some direction and things to keep in mind to help you have a foundation of information to build your client roster and business from.
It’s also important, however, to remember to remain flexible and open to what each client and their business “brings to the table.” Some clients will know exactly what they need and want out of a working relationship and will be more directive when it comes to what things will look like. Others may be more open or less experienced with working with a freelancer and will be looking to you for direction regarding establishing and managing your workflow.
Building a New Relationship
At the point that you’re establishing a new relationship with a client, you’ve already accomplished a lot in your business. Aside from all the thought and consideration you’ve put in to jumping into this endeavor, you’ve ideally created goals for your business, a business plan, and have landed your first client or two.
Now that you’re building your client base, it’s worth the time and effort to start things off on the right foot, and you’ll find that establishing good patterns early on can result in a quality working relationship and great synergy later on.
One of the first things you’ll establish with a new client is what their preferred method of communication is. Some clients may primarily utilize email, while others may want to be able to reach you by telephone, text message, or all of these.
Many clients also utilize project and team management platforms to communicate and organize expected tasks and timelines. While there are several out there, some of the more common platforms are Trello, Asana, and Slack for example.
You may already be familiar with what your client is using, however if you’re not spend some time on the platform’s site learning your way around. Most of them have information-rich websites that will help you figure things out with tutorials and videos in a fairly short amount of time. Having a good understanding of their preferred organizational platform will help ensure a smooth and streamlined workflow with your new client.
Setting expectations right away may be one of the most important aspects of successfully managing client relationships. While these may change as the relationship evolves, being clear about expectations will help both of you experience a fruitful working relationship and avoid potentially painful miscommunications.
Expectations can be addressed in a few ways: During initial conversations in video or phone calls, through email messages, or more formally outlined in a contract. If expectations are identified through conversations initially, it’s still advisable to follow up with some form of written summary, whether it’s through an email or a contract so as to ensure clarity for both parties. It also provides an opportunity to make any corrections or clear up any confusion early on.
Written summaries of expectations or contracts can be generated by either you or your client, but it’s good practice to take the lead on this. Doing so will show your new client that you’re running a legitimate business that you take seriously, which will also communicate that you’ll be doing the same for them and their business.
Some areas to set expectations around are:
- What tasks and services you’ll be performing
- Timelines and turnaround times for tasks
- Rate of pay and whether it’s hourly, flat fee, or a monthly retainer
- How you’ll charge for your services (monthly invoice or upon project completion, for example)
- How you’ll be paid (through an invoicing service, Paypal, or check for example)
- Depending on the nature of the services you provide, what days and times you’re available
Lastly, another aspect of managing new client relationships is establishing whether you’re engaging in a trial period or test project initially, and if so what the parameters are for that. This could involve clarifying the duration of a trial period and setting a date to review and decide whether to continue working with one another.
Maintaining a Good Working Relationship
After having established a productive working relationship with your client, it’s also important to continue to nurture it. While a lot of the “heavy lifting” of managing client relationships comes in the beginning when you’re learning someone’s style and preferences, there are also some things to keep in mind to ensure a productive and ongoing relationship.
Different clients will have different preferences when it comes to ongoing communication, and this will also be dictated by the nature of the services you provide. Some clients like to keep communication at a minimum and somewhat basic, and once expectations and a workflow are established you may not need to communicate very often aside from occasional emails, project board updates, and invoicing.
On the other hand, some clients may prefer or even require regular meetings via phone call or video conference. These types of meetings are often very helpful when the service you provide requires a lot of communication with your client. They can help keep tasks moving and make things more efficient by providing a structured time and place for addressing projects and tasks versus a multitude of email or message board communications.
If you’re working with a client who prefers set meetings, be prepared ahead of time. Arrive on time in whatever virtual space you’ve arranged and have questions and any agenda items you may have outlined. Doing so will help you be respectful of, and efficient with, both your client’s and your own time.
Another aspect of maintaining productive communication with your client is to manage your questions. Specifically, find a balance between being a nuisance to a client by over-emailing them with questions, and trying to figure things out on your own with the risk that you may be compromising the quality of your delivered service. Take initiative and try and figure things out on your own whenever possible, but do ask questions if it means delivering a better, more valuable service and avoiding a mistake.
At some point during the course of your relationship with your client, it’s valuable to check in about how things are going for them. This is best done early on, but not right away so as to give your client time to assess. In some cases you may not need to check in, and a review of your performance may be a structured part of your working relationship. As well, feedback may come as a natural part of a review following a trial period.
However it comes about, whether it’s requested by you, provided by a client-driven review, or through a review of a trial period or test project, feedback is a great opportunity to make sure you’re meeting your client’s needs and therefore further ensuring an ongoing relationship.
If it’s requested by you, asking for feedback also communicates to your client that you care about their satisfaction and needs, stand by your work with confidence, and are a professional in the context of being open to input about the quality of your services.
By the way, it’s also important to check in with yourself about your satisfaction with a working relationship to ensure your expectations and needs are being met. Building a sustainable, quality business requires sustainable, quality clients.
While it’s not uncommon to take on less-than-ideal work in the beginning stages of building an online freelancing business due to the need and or desire to generate some income, it’s ideal, and very realistic, to get to a place rather early on in your business where you can be appropriately discriminating about who you want to work with.
While it’s a wonderful thing to have great, long-term client relationships, it’s also a reality that relationships end. Sometimes it’s because of somewhat non-remarkable occurrences, such as a project ending or circumstances changing for a client. Parting ways also sometimes occurs if we outgrow our clients and no longer have the time or desire to work for them. And, unfortunately, a client relationship could end because of adverse circumstances, like dissatisfaction with work performance or a miscommunication.
In any of these cases, the take-away when it comes to managing client relationships is the same: Do not burn any bridges. In all circumstances, maintain your integrity and the integrity of your business by remaining professional, courteous and polite at all times. You never know what may come of the decisions you make today, and it’s always good practice to be able to stand by your character and integrity with confidence.
Consider your client relationships as you would a garden. The time, care and effort you put into cultivating them will most often reap a fruitful harvest over time. You’ll enjoy your work to a greater degree when you feel good about the people you work with, and you’ll be building your business on a firm foundation of productive and quality working relationships.
What about you? Do you have any other ideas about how to make your client relationships as positive and fruitful as possible? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!