Whether you’re selling writing services or offering coaching consultations, freelancing involves a lot more than just putting a price tag on your specific talent. Trial and error has taught me the business of freelancing: finding clients, sending follow-up emails, and requesting on-time payment.
Through my hands-on experience, I’ve also learned the importance of managing my clients’ expectations.
Your clients may want you to tackle multiple tasks at once, meet urgent deadlines, or even perform work outside of your contract. However, it’s up to you to set the tone of the business relationship in a way that benefits everyone involved.
In this article, you’ll learn seven lessons on how to manage your freelance clients’ expectations.
1. Decide the Communication Channel
In the past, the easiest way to speak to a client was to pick up the phone and call them. But now with the Internet and smartphones, there are several ways you can communicate with clients. The only issue is that with so many options, the client and you must agree on the right communication channel.
When you’re onboarding a new client, you should ask questions about their preferred methods of communication. For instance, clients may want meeting notes emailed, while they prefer Slack for weekly project updates:
Establishing the right channel ensures that there’s no confusion on how to communicate information. Plus, you don’t want your client to miss an important update that requires a quick response just because you used the wrong channel.
For internal use, you also may consider a formal communication plan. Esther Cohen, marketing manager at Workamajig, says, “Your communication plan will help you anticipate client needs and address them before they arise. Think of it as a way to communicate and mitigate risks.”
2. Nail Down the Project Terms Upfront
99Firms reports that there are “57 million freelancers in the United States, representing 35% of the nation’s workforce.” With so many available freelancers, you might feel overwhelmed about building your own freelance business. The good news is many clients need your unique services to achieve their goals.
You can create a positive client relationship by stating your project terms upfront. When you lay out all the details, both parties understand what they must give and what they will receive. So, for starters, you’ll want to draft a statement of work—defining specific tasks, milestones, deliverables, timelines, and payment terms.
In my experience, many clients will provide you with their own statement of work. In those cases, you’ll want to review the contract to see if it meets your standards. You should get an attorney to go over it, too.
More importantly, don’t shy away from asking questions about your payment terms. You should know exactly how much you’ll get paid, the expected payment date, and any invoicing procedures you must complete. Handling the payment details beforehand circumvents any delays.
3. Prioritize Communication Without the Jargon
What you’ll soon learn is that most clients want to feel in control. If they need specific project details, they don’t want to email or call you multiple times just to get a response. So, it’s essential for you to prioritize communication in the business relationship.
You can send detailed project updates on a scheduled basis. Rather than sending messages that “everything is okay,” you want to compose personalized communications with real insight on the project.
For instance, if you’re a graphic designer, you might inform your client that you’ve finished the research phase and have begun sketching concepts. By doing so, your client will feel confident that you’re making progress and will meet the agreed-upon deadline.
You’ll also want to communicate without using any jargon. Your clients won’t always be aware of industry terms. It’s best to explain your ideas in a plain manner. Jennifer Finney, a former client coordinator at Synectics Media, agrees:
“In all communications, it’s important to explain what you do or why you made a certain decision. You’ll need to give your client enough information for them to make an informed decision. Oftentimes, we can get caught up in ‘industry speak’ and not fully explain ourselves to clients.”
High-quality freelance services demand high-quality communication. With unique, non-jargon conversations, you can share your project progress to your client’s satisfaction.
4. Become an External Partner with the In-House Team
Oftentimes, when clients hire freelancers, we stand on the sidelines of a project. We’re only privy to what’s happening on our specific task. While this exclusion may be appropriate for some projects, it’s not necessarily the best option for your client.
To do top-notch work, it may require you to become an external partner to your client’s existing team. This team dynamic is especially true for long-term projects that may last for more than six months.
So, what does an external partner do? The first step is to ask for brand assets and internal data that will help you complete the project. Depending on your freelance services, this request may include logos, Google Analytics reports, or keyword research. Also, be ready to sign a non-disclosure form to get access to this information.
Valuable partnerships require a level of expertise from each partner. On your end, it’s important for you to become the go-to expert in the eyes of the clients. (That’s why they hired you in the first place.) Show your expertise by sharing the latest best practices with your client and explicitly explaining how it will benefit the project.
5. Meet Expectations, Then Exceed Them
Clients value exceptional service. So much so that HelpScout reports “7 out of 10 United States consumers say they’ve spent more money to do business with a company that delivers great service.” For freelancers, this statistic serves as a motivating factor, not only to meet your clients’ expectations but also to exceed them.
In my freelance career, I’ve exceeded a client’s expectations by delivering a content piece ahead of schedule or going beyond the word count to add a relevant customer example. Sometimes, it’s been as simple as explaining my writing process or providing a detailed outline for approval.
Quality service is beneficial when you make a connection with your client. Mark Taylor, a guest blogger for SuperOffice, writes:
“Customer service today is not about telling people how great you are and giving figures to prove it. It’s about creating memorable experiences that do the talking for you. All you need to remember is to: take your time, connect with the customer, and do more than they would expect.”
Clients respect freelancers that do what they say they are going to do. So, by exceeding their expectations, you can make a real impact on the business relationship and build your professional credibility.
6. Always Be Transparent and Honest
Today’s freelance clients are more well-informed than ever before. The Internet makes it easier for clients to find relevant information and quickly access it with just a few clicks of a button. As a result, clients have a high expectation that you will be transparent about your freelance operations.
For instance, you may have a client that constantly asks questions regarding the status of a project. You can save time by providing them access to a shared tool where you update the project status. That way, you eliminate dozens of emails and can focus on the task at hand.
Lots of mistakes will occur while launching your freelance business. How you respond to your mistakes will have a major impact on your business. Be transparent about any errors in your work with clients as soon as possible. Own your mistakes and offer solutions to correct them.
You also may consider creating a feedback loop for your clients. You can build a website form to accept anonymous responses or request critiques after projects. Use this feedback to take an honest assessment of the client experience and to make improvements in the near future.
Transparency is not just another trend for you to follow. It’s a tangible core value to strive toward in your freelance business.
7. Offer Extra Support, Whenever Possible
Clients face many challenges in their day-to-day work. Whether it’s meeting a strict deadline or needing to completely redo a project, your clients aren’t immune to business struggles. So, as a freelancer, you may find it appropriate to offer your clients some extra support.
Support can come in many different forms with no added expense to your freelance business. For example, you can set up a 15-minute brainstorming session to help solve a quick issue. This type of empathy builds trust with your client.
“When a customer has a serious issue, the empathetic listener goes out of their way to understand, internalize, and then help the customer. Treat customers as you would want to be treated in the same situation,” writes Kirill Tšernov, a content marketer at Qminder.
You also can support your clients by sharing their initiatives on social media. Tweet about their new product or create a Facebook post about their upcoming events. Social engagement brings awareness to your client’s brand while building a stronger business relationship.
Clients like doing business with people, rather than with businesses. Make your clients feel valued by going the extra mile.
Set & Manage Your Clients’ Expectations
Freelancing is all about maintaining quality relationships, and it all starts with managing your clients’ expectations. Through experience, I’ve learned the importance of outlining project terms upfront, prioritizing communication, and becoming a trusted partner to my clients.
Now, it’s your turn to use these lessons to help improve your freelance business.
Learn more about running your own freelance business:
- How I Found My Favorite Freelance Clients
- Top Tools I Use to Keep My Freelance Business Up and Running
- 10 Accounting Tips for Freelancers
Shayla Price creates and promotes content. She lives at the intersection of digital marketing, technology, and social responsibility. Originally from Louisiana, Shayla champions access to remote work opportunities. Connect with her on Twitter at @shaylaprice.