6 Simple Ways to Effectively Communicate with Your Client

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Your Turn

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

Comments

  1. says

    for a success of project, communication needed badly without this nothing well happen and one more thing i like to ask if client does not respond to your mails or does not offer any information you want to ask then what anyone should do??

  2. Minksy says

    This is perfect! I could have really used this article a while back on a client that would demand work quickly but then would not get back to my emails asking for direction, approvals or content for 2 to 3 weeks. Thanks for the great article!

  3. Leigh Choate says

    As a project manager, copywriter, and former marketing business owner, I couldn’t agree more with this article. Setting the right expectations, asking all the right questions, and being clear is critical to a successful client/freelancer relationship. These are some great, tactical tips that make a lot of sense. Thanks for sharing!

  4. says

    Helpful, but where can one find a template for both proposals + questionnaires?

    This would be great if you had a “dummy” one that folks could use – Also, I have no idea what exact questions one should ask in the survey – Any suggestions?

  5. says

    This is excellent .. I am so thank ful for the resources I have gained from freelancer folder. You guys are just so helpful for us newbies and not so newbies trying to do it better. Thanks!!

  6. says

    @B. Herzhaft –
    I started putting together a questionnaire based on things I found that I kept asking clients over and over. And then, I Googled things like “pre-quote questionnaire” or “project questionnaire” and found some references. Then I took all that information and developed a questionnaire of my own.

    Things you might want to ask on any type of questionnaire:
    • Who is your target audience?
    • What is your budget range?
    • Is your launch date based on a specific event such as a grand opening or promotion?
    • Use a few adjectives to describe how you want people to perceive your company.
    • Who will my primary contact be?
    • What is the best/preferred way to contact you?

    Hope that helps you get started with your own questionnaire.

  7. Mary says

    Word of warning – if by ‘voicemail’ you mean ‘home answering machine’, having a message on that saying that you’re out of town is an open invitation to anyone who fancies breaking into your house (don’t think burglars will pick this up? How many silent calls do you get in an average month?). Even more so with email, which will reply to every spam email sent to your address.

  8. says

    I agree with your great blog post!! I learned long ago that each client should be treated as if they are your only client, meaning make them feel very important by returning their calls and emails quickly. Making their requested changes quickly. I love using the questionnaire to get things started, then a detailed proposal, and if that is accepted, then a contract that protects both sides. My proposal and contract fully outlines who is responsible for what and the deadlines. As you say, that helps to manage expectations.

  9. says

    @Mary – Yes, the auto-responder can end up replying to a spam email, which could then end up giving you even more spam. But, I have a good filter that catches most of the unwanted email. And, I feel it’s more important to let a potential/current client know why I may not reply immediately than to worry about a bit more spam.

    As for the VM, very good point. I never say that I’m “out of town”, just that the office is closed. And since that number is only listed under my business, not my personal name, hopefully anyone trying to rob me will think it’s an office, not a residence. Definitely something to keep in mind tho!

  10. says

    Fantastic Post! This is something that I’m actively working on since I’ve recently signed on some new clients. And having been the person who has replaced Mr. Unresponsive, I’ll use this info to make sure on these new clients that I’m not that guy. Thanks!

  11. says

    @Calgary – Setting expectations is one of the best ways to have a smooth project. If everyone knows what is expected of each party, it’s so much easier!

  12. says

    @Mary – That’s a good point. But that goes for any communication medium. I can’t believe when people post “I can’t wait until my 10 day vacation to miles away leaving behind my vacant home”. Only disclose what is necessary. And post comments and pictures AFTER you get home.

    @Melissa – That is a good way of communicating that you won’t be working. I usually go with “Out of the Office”.

  13. says

    One thing that I’ve learned to do is use lots of qualifying statements. The difference between “we can have it printed for the weekend”, and “we can have it printed for the weekend as long as you approve the design by noon on Thursday” is significant. The only problem is that this habit has leaked into my everyday speech, and it drives my wife crazy!

  14. says

    @Some Design Blog – That’s Brilliant! I definitely believe in being specific with details like that…a great way to clarify things with your client.

  15. says

    @Some Design Blog – That is a great idea! Definitely going to start using that technique. They my clients can see the result of their in-action.

    @Melissa – Thanks for starting this informative discussion.

  16. says

    The article is perfect. Communication is one of the basic ingredient for successful freelancing. But, at the same time, the communication should be smartly done. Single negligence from freelancer’s side may lead to losing the project. I have experienced it personally. Once again thank you Melissa.

  17. says

    After following some of your tips it’s allowed us to cut down on unnecessary communications and speed up response times from clients. Great post.

  18. says

    This is a great list of ways to effectively communicate with clients. Effective communication is a key component in client retention and a great way to get referrals. Another tip is to send regular updates on projects and budgets. Sending regular project updates keeps the client from wondering what’s going on with their work and the monetary breakdown gives them a sense of where they are in terms of their set budget.

  19. says

    I suppose another effective way is through telephone calls… esp when projects are to be done in teams (contractor-client/contractor-client) and esp during the brush-up phase (when a project is ready to be out). But personally I still see myself weak when it comes to ‘effective communication’ and I gotta learn more about how to do it.. how to do better at it… Nice article MeL…

Trackbacks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>