What is a freelance business without clients?
I guess we’d have to say ‘a dream’.
Because without clients, there is no business.
We have spoken a lot about where to find clients, how to promote yourself and land jobs – but what happens after that?
The quality of your client relationships will determine your ultimate happiness and success as a freelancer. Good relationships will have you excited to work, paid on time, learning new stuff, networking like a pro, and basically crushing it in your business.
On the other hand, bad client relationships form one of the top complaints that we hear from freelancers. Amongst the most common issues are:
- late pay
- misunderstanding of deadlines
- changing of goalposts
- mysteriously growing projects
We all have experience with clients who don’t communicate effectively, despite your pleas, until suddenly on a Friday afternoon they send everything you have been waiting for and need it done today please.
Frustrating – yes. But it is up to you to manage this.
Moaning won’t change a thing.
Fortunately we have come up with these 12 ways to building the ultimate client relationships for freelancers. They will guide you through the treacherous journey that leads to awesome client friendships….. yes it can happen, and does frequently for us at FH.
1. Insist On A Contract
You already know this one. But do you do it? If you do, then well done, you are in the minority.
For everyone else, get it in writing!
I know it feels like a schlep, but it is far more of a pain in the butt to end up in court with a he said-she said scenario.
Putting together a simple contract makes sure that everyone is on the same page and allows you and the client to specify terms. These should include deliverable milestones, schedules of payment and aftercare. It will also single you out as a true professional right from the start.
If you can’t afford to have a contract drawn up legally for you, try a service such as PandaDoc which has awesome templates that you can customize with ease.
We reached out to many successful lawyers, accountants, web designers and other professionals who utilize documents daily to grow their business and we asked them to create our templates.
They then created templates out of the contracts, agreements, and proposals that helped them close deals faster, so you can too! They did such an excellent job that we then asked them to offer us some insider advice, or PandaTips, to help you along.
How does it work? Browse through the various document templates to find the one you need. If you want to use PandaDoc to edit, send, and get the document signed easily, simply sign up or log into your account. Don’t forget, you can also create and reuse your own document templates. Once you send your document, you’ll know when your client opens it, signs or comments on it in real-time.
2. Take Responsibility For Communication
Ready for the cliche of all cliches?
Communication is key.
You already know this one too, so make sure that you stay in contact regularly. Find out your clients’ preferred channels of communication (phone, email, Skype) and use those. Schedule regular appointments if that is easier for you both. We love Calendly for this, try it for yourself.
Essential moments that require crystal clear communication to ensure ultimate client (and freelancer) satisfaction include:
- Expectations about time scales
- Agreeing project requirements
- Invoicing accurately
And if you ever find yourself stuck in an email loop, or feel lost in the quagmire of your client’s inbox then you can always pick up the phone.
3. Use These 2 Emails Every Week
While we are on the subject of communication, try using this simple tool to boost your client relationships each week. It also has the added benefit of saving you time, as you will prioritize your work correctly and reduce ‘chase up’ calls.
Email 1: What you plan on getting done this week
Send a break down of your understanding of the work required for the week, in your order of priority, inviting changes in scheduling if something is required more urgently.
Be clear about what you intend to complete, to start and what will be postponed.
Email 2: What you actually got done this week
Follow up with a clear and accurate breakdown of what you actually completed, any challenges that you came up against, any changes and also your anticipated tasks for the coming week.
This keeps an open conversation of work in hand, and provides the client with ample opportunity to correct you if you have the wrong end of the stick, or if something else needs to be prioritized. It is also a great way to keep track of what has been completed in case of any invoicing queries.
4. Listen Between The Lines
Before we move onto something else (yes, we are still going on about communication), learn to really listen. Did you know that some experts, such as Don Crawley here, suggest that there are 5 levels of listening.
If you listen at an empathetic level, you will stand out from other freelancers. You will be different because you will actually understand their needs and even recognize pain points that they don’t realize they have.
5. Maintain Professionalism At All Times
…..Especially when you are tempted to be unprofessional.
That professionalism is a must, is non-negotiable. It is vital to behave with poise and decorum at all times to attract and retain clients, to build your reputation and also importantly, to get your invoices paid on time.
What does this look like? Never being late, rude, disrespectful or submitting below standard work.
Be sure to be polite no matter what, even if they don’t hire you. Value all clients and potential clients as part of your network. Make a point to be scrupulous with your word and prove your worth.
6. Zero Lateness
Yes, I know we just mentioned it above – but this one deserves its own headline. There is no place for tardiness. Deliver your work on time, every time.
7. Do Some Digging
When it comes to scoping out prospective clients be sure to do your homework on them, as they will be doing for you. Look at their bio, their ratings and search consumer reviews. Freelancer groups are a great place to ask around too.
We also recommend checking out the Better Business Bureau to see if you can glean any information from there. Ultimately client relationships build over time, so use your common sense and intuition.
Our Vision: An ethical marketplace where buyers and sellers trust each other.
BBB’s mission is to be the leader in advancing marketplace trust. We do this by:
Setting standards for marketplace trust
Encouraging and supporting best practices by engaging with and educating consumers and businesses
Celebrating marketplace role models
Calling out and addressing substandard marketplace behavior
Creating a community of trustworthy businesses and charities
BBB sees trust as a function of two primary factors – integrity and performance. Integrity includes respect, ethics and intent. Performance speaks to a business’s track record of delivering results in accordance with BBB standards and/or addressing customer concerns in a timely, satisfactory manner.
8. Be Flexible With Rates
Before you get mad, we don’t mean lowering your rates!
What we do mean, is consider offering your services in different ways if a prospective client prefers it. Don’t always be stuck with charging only hourly, per project or by retainer. There are pros and cons to each method, so make sure you know what you are agreeing to.
Another option that we like is creating an information product around a simple part of your service. A client can choose this as an interim solution, or a cheaper option if they can’t afford you at the time. We go into information products in greater detail in our Freelance Hustler Challenge, which you can access for free here. Check it out if you are interested.
9. Go Ahead And Bill Up Front
If you are about to embark on a large project for a new client, it can be worrying to feel secure when waiting for payment at the end. Even if you are working with a client you have dealt with before, managing your finances can be tricky if you wait to invoice at the very end of a project.
As weird as it may feel to you, it is standard practice in many industries to bill up front for a percentage of the final project fee. This offers security for you to go ahead and work, without worry or resentment.
30% is the typical up front amount, with further milestones throughout. Look around at what others are doing, ask your peers and see what works for you and your client.
10. Be Easy To Pay
I know what your mamma said, but sometimes you just have to be easy. And when it comes to getting paid, it is crazy to make your clients jump through hoops to get their money into your pocket.
Offer lots of payment options, such as Paypal, debit and credit cards, and ideally use an invoicing software. We love Quickbooks, which also has the added benefit of saving you time!
QuickBooks makes invoicing easy, so you can get paid faster. You can schedule invoices to be sent automatically to your customers, individually or in batches. QuickBooks keeps track of all your invoices in one place, so you know exactly which invoices have been paid and which are overdue.
QuickBooks makes it easy to create custom invoices that are tailored to your business. In a few clicks you can add a company logo, change fonts and colors, add contact information, and choose which items appear on your invoices. You can even add detailed information about each item in your invoice, making it easy for your customers to reconcile and pay on time. Display payments received and the new outstanding balance in a few simple steps. Follow up with unpaid invoices by emailing statement reminders. You can also add discounts and other offers.
11. Invoice Promptly
When you hit the payment milestones, or complete a project, don’t delay on invoicing. And if your client has a date each month when they make payments, don’t miss it.
Invoice promptly so that you don’t forget items, make mistakes or allow your amazing work to slip the clients mind. Always keep up to date so that everyone is on the same page and there are no misunderstandings or surprises when you send in 3 months worth of fees at once.
12. Be Yourself
It might sound fluffy, but it is important to be yourself to allow you to build ultimate client relationships. How can you get to know a client deeply when you are only offering a generic 2 dimensional version of yourself?
Instead give them your best – that includes your awesome ideas, imagination and unique creativity. Be receptive to their opinions and willing to learn to enable you both to get the best out of your relationship.
With these 12 pointers you will be well on your way to achieving a great freelancing business, with great client relationships, frequent recommendations, an incredible reputation and a clear workload. The benefits will be felt across all areas of your business and will contribute to your overall success.
Do you already follow some of these yourself? Or do you have any tips to add? We would love to hear your contributions.
If we covered anything here that you would like to find out more about then be sure to check out our 5 Tactics to making more money on Upwork.