Freelancing has become a popular career choice in recent years. I’ve been a freelancer and small business owner for over 15 years, and one thing I’ve learned is that one of the most important aspects of being in a service-related business is client management.
Client management refers to building and maintaining relationships with your clients. Why do you need a relationship with your clients? Because it makes your job easier! A positive working relationship also helps you make sure your clients are satisfied with your work and it encourages them to hire you again in the future.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss the importance of client management for freelancers and contractors and provide tips on how to manage your clients.
Effective Client Management
Effective client management helps you establish trust and open communication during your client’s first interaction. Note that I said “client.” Your client likely knows about you well before you know about them. Another client may have referred them, or they found you on social media or through your website.
Those interactions are the first step in your client management process and they help set the tone for your entire relationship.
Your overall client management process includes your messaging (their first impression) and it also includes important elements like setting clear expectations, being transparent about your work process and responding promptly to any of your client’s questions or concerns.
Attitude matters too. Being friendly and personable in your interactions with your clients can often get you through some otherwise sticky situations. A friendly, professional approach helps you build positive relationships and makes your clients feel more comfortable working with you.
Building Relationships with Clients
Speaking of being comfortable, relationships matter.
Especially when you are running a business.
And if you’re a freelancer or contractor, you are running a business! Client management, which results in strong relationships with your clients, is crucial to your success as a freelancer.
In order to build strong relationships with clients, you need to understand their needs and preferences. This sometimes means understanding their business goals, their target audience, and their overall vision for the project. Other times, it’s just making sure you clearly understand the project parameters and what they want the project to accomplish.
When you take the time to understand your client's needs, you can provide more personalized and effective solutions. Those solutions help them achieve their goals and that equals happy clients.
Another important aspect of building a relationship is showing your client that you care about their success. I’m not talking about hand-holding (unless they pay you the big bucks) or bonding sessions.
When you provide excellent customer service, offer knowledgeable advice and guidance that leads to better deliverables, and show you are responsive and flexible to their needs, you make the client’s job easier. And honestly, that’s what freelancers are supposed to do.
Managing Client Expectations
I’ve found that one of the biggest challenges of client management is managing expectations. Nothing will tank a project faster than a client who expects more than they contracted you to deliver.
One of the earliest lessons I learned was the importance of setting realistic expectations from the start. I actually start this process on my intake form and on my discovery call.
Helpful client management steps in managing expectations include:
- Setting deadlines
- Outlining your work process
- Having a clear contract with project parameters clearly outlined
- Creating a client onboarding document that clearly states your preferred communication methods, response times, and other important working details
- Being transparent about any limitations or challenges
- Communicating potential delays or changes in availability
It’s also important to manage your client's expectations throughout the course of the project. You can do this by providing regular updates on your progress (especially on bigger projects) and addressing any concerns or questions your clients may have.
Handling Difficult Clients
Unfortunately, not all clients are easy to work with. Some are more akin to a pain in the… well, you get the point. At some point, you are going to encounter difficult clients. They might be demanding, unreasonable, or unresponsive.
When that happens, it’s important that you handle the situation professionally and diplomatically. Even when you want to scream at them. Trust me, I’ve been there.
Most situations are redeemable. Some, however, are not. In those cases, you might need to end the working relationship, especially if the client is consistently difficult or abusive.
When dealing with difficult clients, remain calm and professional. Avoid getting defensive or emotional and instead focus on finding solutions to the problem. If necessary, don’t respond to them for 24 hours to give yourself time to calm down.
Make Client Management a Priority
Client management is not only an essential aspect of freelancing, it should be one of your priorities as you develop your business. Building and maintaining strong relationships with your clients, managing expectations, and handling difficult clients are all important client management skills. And those are just the tip of the iceberg.
By focusing on client management, you set yourself up for a successful career as a freelancer. Remember, happy clients are more likely to refer you to others, and that helps you grow your business and increase your earnings.