Communication is super important when dealing with clients. In fact, it's one of the keys to building strong client relationships and ensuring that projects meet the client's expectations. But even experienced freelancers and small business owners can make communication mistakes that lead to misunderstandings, delays, and project failure. Let’s talk about ten common communication mistakes that freelancers and small business owners make and how to fix 'em.
1. Not setting clear expectations
I used to make this one all the time, and it still slips in if I’m not careful. Failing to set clear expectations with your clients can lead to misunderstandings and delays, and can ultimately damage the relationship. Establish a clear scope of work, deadlines, and deliverables at the beginning of each project. Make sure that your client understands what is expected of them and what they can expect from you. This will keep everyone on the same page and ensure there are no surprises along the way.
2. Not responding promptly
Another common communication mistake is failing to respond to client emails and messages promptly. Delayed responses lead to frustration and mistrust. Make sure you have communicated your response times to your clients and then respond to client emails and messages promptly, even if it's just to acknowledge receipt. If you can't respond immediately, let the client know when they can expect a response. This will help you build trust and show that you are reliable and responsive.
3. Using unclear language
Freelancers and business owners often use jargon or technical language their clients may not understand, which can lead to misunderstandings and confusion. I find myself using the term “low-hanging fruit” when I’m referring to a task or opportunity that is more easily achievable or a goal that can be quickly attained with minimal effort. While many of my clients understand the term, it’s led to a few misunderstandings, so now I’m careful to clarify what I mean. Communicate in clear, concise language that everyone can understand. If you must use technical terms, explain them in simple language to ensure that the client understands what you are talking about.
4. Not listening actively
Active listening is a crucial skill for effective communication, but it's a skill that many people struggle with. Active listening involves paying attention to what the client is saying, asking questions to clarify any doubts, and repeating back what you heard to ensure that you understood correctly. More active listening can help to build trust with your clients and can help to ensure that the project meets their expectations. It also allows you to truly understand what your client is asking for, which could lead to a larger project scope.
5. Not asking questions
Another common communication mistake is failing to ask questions to clarify any doubts or uncertainties. This often leads to misunderstandings. A designer came to me a few weeks ago and their client wasn’t happy with their website design. The client asked for a modern and clean look, so the designer used a primarily white graphic look for the website. The client said modern and clean, but what they really wanted was edgy, dark backgrounds and pops of one or two bright colors for contrast. Had the designer asked clarifying questions and asked for examples, they could have avoided wasted effort and a dissatisfied client. Ask questions to clarify any doubts or uncertainties, and to ensure that the project is on track and that the client's expectations are being met.
6. Not providing regular updates
Clients expect to be kept informed about the progress of the project. Yes, really. This isn’t micromanaging (when done within reason), it’s them protecting their investment and making sure the project is on track. Provide regular updates to your clients, even if there is no significant progress to report. This will help them feel more secure in your work and demonstrate that you are actively working on the project. Regular updates also give the client an opportunity to provide feedback and make any necessary adjustments to the project.
7. Not being proactive
One hallmark of a successful freelancer is being proactive, and this is particularly true in communication. Freelancers who are proactive in identifying and addressing any issues that may arise during the project are more likely to deliver high-quality work and build strong client relationships. Take responsibility for the success of the project and be proactive in identifying and addressing any issues that may arise.
8. Not being respectful
Respectful communication is essential for building strong client relationships, but many freelancers struggle with this. It's important to always be respectful and professional when communicating with your clients, even if the client becomes difficult or uncooperative. Avoid using offensive language, making the problem about the people involved in the project (personal attacks), or engaging in other unprofessional behavior. Respectful communication demonstrates that you are a professional and that you take the client's needs and concerns seriously.
9. Not following up
Following up is an essential part of building strong client relationships. After completing the project, be sure to follow up with the client to ensure that they are satisfied with the work. This is also a great time to ask for referrals and testimonials! Following up with your client helps you build a long-term relationship that increases the chances of repeat business. Following up also gives you an opportunity to ask for feedback and to learn from the project.
10. Not learning from mistakes
Learn from your mistakes, my mistakes, and the mistakes of every other business person you meet. I’m begging you. Cautionary tales exist for a reason. Reflect on what went wrong in previous projects and identify ways to improve. Implement those changes in future projects so you don't make the same mistakes again. Learning from mistakes can help you improve your communication skills, and adopting the intentional step of learning from mistakes can ultimately help you be more successful in your business.
You and I both know that effective communication is a critical component of our businesses. I’ve made a good number of these mistakes over the years, but I’ve been intentional about learning from my mistakes. The result has been stronger client relationships and a more successful business. As you move forward in your business, remember to set clear expectations, respond promptly, use clear language, listen actively, ask questions, provide regular updates, be proactive, be respectful, follow up, and learn from your mistakes.