I was talking with another freelancer yesterday, and he mentioned how professional he thought my proposal for an upcoming project was. I didn’t see anything to it…it’s just my standard outline of what I’m going to do for a project. So I started investigating what made it ‘professional.’ I had all the terms outlined, what I was going to do and when, what the client was responsible for, what the project consisted of, even an expiration date for the estimate.
And then it hit me….what made my proposal look professional to him was how everything was thoroughly communicated. The proposal was laid out in specific detail with no room for misinterpretation. And that got me to thinking about how important communication is for a freelancer.
Communication, Communication, Communication
In real estate, the mantra is “location, location, location,” but in freelancing, it’s all about communication, communication, communication. To have a successful project, you need to be able to:
- Accurately gather project details and specifics
- Detail your payment terms, project scope and deliverables
- Manage expectations (yours AND the client’s)
- Detail how and when the final project will be delivered
- Follow up after the project for any additional work or references
Why Clients Appreciate Communication
One of the most frequent complaints I hear upon gaining a new client is that the person they USED to use would disappear for weeks at a time, not reply to their emails or take days to make a simple type change. Eventually what happens is that the client gets frustrated and finds someone else (like me!) to take over the project.
Clients aren’t difficult to manage…they just want to be talked to and to be kept in the loop. If you’re slammed with work and can’t get to a project or edit they need done, that’s fine as long as you let them know what your situation is and a projected start date for their updates. Sitting mute and getting to it when you’re able keeps the client wondering why you’re not doing what they asked. All the client wants is a little communication.
6 Simple Ways to Communicate Effectively
Here are some easy ways that you can stay in contact with your client:
- In Emails–Be specific and succinct. Re-read your emails before clicking ‘Send.’ Substitute words like “it” and “this” with words like “the proposal” or “our launch date” so everyone is clear on what you’re discussing. If the client keeps replying with questions to your emails, you’re not communicating effectively.
- Voice mail message–Do you only check your voicemail once daily? Then say that on your outgoing message. Don’t forget to mention if you’re out of town, what your hours are, and how they can contact you via email. I note on my voice mail that I respond faster to email, and 90% of the time people will follow up their call with an email message.
- Project questionnaire–Create a project questionnaire to gather information from the client. This questionnaire is effective in two ways. First, you have all their info in writing for reference later. And second, you’re able to get all the information you need to start on their project. Also, ask in the questionnaire what THEIR preferred method of communication is and then use it.
- Email auto responder–Going out of town? Let your clients know in advance (I usually give at least a week’s notice). When you leave, set your auto responder with the dates you’re gone, whether or not you’ll have access to email and client files, and when they can expect to hear back from you. This also helps if a potentially new client emails you while you’re out of town.
- In your proposal/estimate–Set your deliverables. Denote what the client is responsible for (ie–who provides the content and images), in what order you’ll need to receive info, when payments are due, what items are outside the scope of the project and how they are handled, and what your payment terms are. That way, if there are any bumps in the road, you and your client can refer to the proposal to clear up any missteps. I’ve found that using bulleted or numbered lists makes things easier for the client to read and digest.
- Don’t be afraid to ask your client questions–Some people are afraid to ask questions for fear of looking unknowledgeable. But in fact, it’s just the opposite. Asking about details that may arise during the course of the projects makes clients appreciate your attention to detail. So, ask away! Just try to keep the questions contained to an email or two instead of sending question after question individually to the client.
Once you’ve started using these tips to communicate effectively, I’m betting you’ll notice happier clients and easier project flow.
Now that you’re read these top six ways to communicate effectively with your clients, what other methods have you used to get keep your project on track? Let us know in the comments.
Image by krow10 (back & catching up)’s