The beauty of the internet is that employers are no longer limited to choosing local talent for their projects, and we freelancers can work for clients all around the world.
That same beauty and power, however, can also be a considerable disadvantage for freelancers who don’t grasp the importance of good communication. If used properly, good communication can compel a reader to action, stimulate the imagination, or even win a new client project.
In this post we’ll explain how to communicate more effectively over the internet, and how to use that improved communication to further your freelance career.
Communicating on the Internet
A face-to-face meeting with a client gives that client the opportunity observe your body language and evaluate your tone of voice. A professional and friendly demeanor on the part of a freelancer can potentially strengthen a weak verbal presentation to a client.
We webworkers, however, generally have no such face-to-face opportunity to meet with clients. Our written communications are taken very seriously because they are often all that a client has to base their decision upon.
For freelancers, learning to effectively communicate on the internet is critical.
Ten Tips for Good Communication
This section describes some characteristics of good client communication. Most of these characteristics deal with initial, or early, client contacts (such as when a potential client has contacted you with a request for a proposal). However, many of these principles are also true for all client contacts.
The right way to communicate with a client is to make sure that all of your writing to them is characterized by:
- Professionalism — An unfortunate side effect of the fast-paced and mostly online world that we live in is the tendency to be too casual too quickly. In particular, freelancers who would never dream of calling a new or potential client by their first name if they met them face-to-face or starting a business letter without a proper greeting will do both of these things when sending an e-mail or otherwise communicating with a potential client online. While some clients don’t mind an informal approach, others may be offended. (If a client has contacted you first, try to match the tone of their message.)
Example: If you’ve never met, write to “Ms. Cortez” instead of to “Isabel.”
- Enthusiasm — To read the messages of some freelancers, you’d think that they weren’t interested in the work at all. That’s because their communication to the client fails to convey their enthusiasm for the project. When choosing between two otherwise equal candidates, a potential client is likely to select the freelancer who seems to really want the work rather than to the disinterested freelancer. Make sure that your client knows that you want the work.
Example: Some phrases to convey excitement include: “I’m really excited about this project,” “I look forward to working with you,” “I can’t wait to begin this project.”
- Accuracy — Your communication should be as accurate as possible. If you are quoting a price or projecting a timeframe for the completion of a project, try to make your estimates as close to the actual cost and dates as possible. No client wants to be surprised in terms of cost or time for completion. Also, be sure to outline precisely what parts of the project you will handle.
Example: Say “this project will be ready for your review on November 15th” instead of “you should be able to review the project in a few weeks.”
- Timeliness — While it isn’t necessary to hover over your e-mail inbox or instant messaging system so that you can respond to each client inquiry the very second that it arrives, you should respond to inquiries in a timely fashion. Remember, it’s likely that you are not the only freelancer the client contacted. If you wait too long to respond, your potential client may have already selected another freelancer for the project. Generally speaking, unless the inquiry specifies that it is an urgent request, it is usually okay to respond on the next business day.
- Responsiveness — Make sure that your response to a client actually addresses what they have asked. While you may wish to make a client or potential client aware of the full spectrum of your services, be sure that your answer also addresses their original concern.
Example: If a client would like an estimate on having a logo designed, then you shouldn’t completely ignore the request for information about logo design and only talk about designing a website for them.
- Respect — Your client communications should convey a sense of respect for your client. Avoid language that belittles your client even if you think that their ideas are not valid. Instead, focus on your experience and how it benefits them. Also, stay away from angry outbursts.
Example: Instead of saying, “if you knew the least thing about web design then you wouldn’t want xyz…” instead say “my experience as a web designer shows that abc is most effective in these situations.”
- Integrity — The client/freelancer relationship is based on trust. To maintain a good relationship with your clients your communication to them should be honest and reliable. The client has turned to you because of your expertise and specialized knowledge in a particular field. They should be able to count on your words as expert advice. Don’t let your client down!
- Organization — Your communication to a client should be well-organized and well thought-out. There should usually be an introduction, a few main points, and a conclusion. You should also format your writing so that a client can easily scan your message and see the main ideas. Depending on how long your response is, you may also want to summarize it for your clients.
- Consistency — Your words should be consistent within a single message as well as across multiple client messages.
Example: You shouldn’t quote one price or rate in one e-mail with your client and quote an entirely different price for the same work in another message. (If you are raising your rates, you should make that clear to your client. Typically, it’s not a good idea to raise rates in the middle of a project.)
- Clarity — Don’t confuse your client. Your client should always understand exactly what you are proposing, how much it costs, and how long it will take. Answer your client’s questions directly. Whenever possible, avoid rambling and be concise.
Share Your Communication Tips
There’s no doubt that online communication is a necessity for freelancers. Good communication can make clients happy, and bring in new work — and bad communication can drive clients away.
Share your best client communication tips in the comments.