I learned a lot of important lessons in the early days of my freelancing business.
There was the phone call where the guy asked, “So you’ll provide a social media strategy in your proposal?” “Hmm… no, that’s a paid service.” And I explained “again” how we may work together. (For the record, we didn’t. It wasn’t a good fit.)
Clients who expect high converting web copy without giving much direction — “We sell blue widgets, what more do you need to know?” (Much more.)
I’ve also heard of freelancers who’ve received client calls on the weekends and at midnight.
Fortunately, while you can’t predict every potential miscommunication, you can set yourself up for successful client communication with a little forethought — and all it starts with your first conversation.
Set the Stage
1. Set Clear Deliverables
It’s exciting to land your first client. You may be so giddy that you immediately run off and do a whole bunch of work for which you’ll never be paid because it’s not what you agreed upon with your client.
So, first, define the work. I outline a clear Statement of Work (SOW) with timelines as needed and have my client sign off on it.
If it’s revising three pages of web copy per month for six months, then I put that in the SOW, along with prioritizing which web pages.
This way, if there’s ever a question about what I said I’d provide, we have it in black and white, signed and dated.
(Hint: There are tons of digital signature apps like Digisigner and Hello Sign designed for this purpose.)
2. Be Honest
If your prospect is expecting miracles, prepare them for reality as best as you can. Just last week, I spoke with a start-up who was under the impression that one or two 350-word blog posts was all it would take to attract the right business to his new website.
As they say, if it were that easy, we’d all be millionaires.
I want people to succeed and gently shared my experiences with him as a web writer with 10+ years’ experience.
3. Discuss Goals
As a freelance business owner, you want ongoing clients whose businesses you can help grow. If they expect a new or failing business to ignite with one marketing initiative (and maybe a small one — like a few blog posts), this is not a good prospect.
Better to work with a business over the course of a year or two so you can point to specific results you helped them achieve.
“Tripled their calls to contract after rewriting web copy” is a far better position to be in when talking to prospective clients than “I’ll write whatever you need.”
4. Define Your Work Hours and Availability
Long ago, I set a policy for not responding to emails on weekends.
I’ve only had one person ask me why I didn’t respond to their Saturday email the same day and I explained that I rarely check email on the weekends.
Likewise, don’t expect late night replies. I might answer those if I happen to be working late, but it’s not a regular thing.
These expectations start with yourself. How (and when) do you prefer your work communication to occur?
I know plenty of editors and writers who ask that all professional conversation be moved to email so it’s easier to track and if you’ve ever spent 30 minutes trying to track down an important message via Skype, social media, and email, then you know why.
Bottom line, it’s up to you how you want to work, and communicate it nicely and up front when you start working with a new client.
5. Have a Kick-Off Meeting
This is an excellent opportunity to ask questions about their business and ideal customers as well as get to know one another better. In many cases, if you can build rapport from the beginning when everyone is excited, your work will go smoother.
Plus, it’s also an opportunity to reiterate expectations all around, including any important deadlines.
6. Clarify the Decision-Maker(s)
Some clients are happy to have to professionally written copy and won’t require any revisions. Others won’t care if a five-time Pulitzer Prize Winning Journalist wrote it, they’ll want dozens of changes.
Many writers include two revisions as a standard (and outline this in their SOW) with any more being available at an additional rate.
This protects you in case an “invisible” decision-maker suddenly makes an appearance at the 11th hour and wants to revamp your work. What do I mean?
I mean that you’ve had all of your communications with one or two people, they approve your final draft, and then, a week or worse, five weeks later, you get an email saying something like “the company president doesn’t like it and wants a different approach.”
In your kick-off meeting, you can easily inquire who will make the final decision and if it’s a stakeholder not in the meeting, you can ask if you should loop them in on the approval process.
As you can see, setting clear client expectations are all about communication.
What about you? What processes have you developed for successful client communication?