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Chapter 7

The definitive guide to going Freelance.

By Kyle Racki and Ross Simmonds

Managing Clients

Chapter 7. Managing Clients
Mobile phone with text messaging

When it comes to clients, you sometimes feel like you can’t live with them, and you can’t live without them.

Clients are the lifeblood of your freelance business, without them, you’re right back to your trusty 9 to 5. Like a double-edged sword, they’re both absolutely indispensable and a major cause for frustration, if not properly chosen and managed.

Luckily, most of your clients will be super awesome and you might even become long-long friends with many. But in my experience, and most freelancers can attest to this, there will be clients that will be extremely needy and some…a straight-up nightmare.

This chapter will show you how to keep your clients happy without compromising your work, your time, or your professionalism.

How To Manage Your Client Relationships

It’s easy to keep your clients when things are going well and both parties are pleased. Retaining clients when shit hits the fan is a true test of your ability to manage clients and create lasting relationships. These tips will help you keep things in order:

  • Tip #1: Agree on timelines, scope and strategy

    Managing client expectations is an important role that freelancers should take seriously. If not, you could risk your client misunderstanding the project, its goals and what success looks like. Whether a large or small project, a scope-of-work document is in order. Use this document to clearly communicate your commitments to the project, including timelines, budget and scope, and ensure all parties agree to it before any work begins.

    For example, if you’re designing a website, your client may expect that hosting and stock imagery is included in your price. After the project begins, if you are constantly telling them things are out of scope, the clients may begin to feel you swindled them when you simply didn’t manage their expectations from the beginning.

    Try to think like a client and outline what is and isn’t included. Remember the golden rule of managing clients; Under-promise, over-deliver!

  • Tip #2: Communicate frequently

    The root of many problems can usually be pinned to either miscommunication or lack of communication all together. Nip this one in the butt easily by providing regular status updates for ongoing projects, following up with past clients on the success and longevity of previous gigs, and initiate a meeting with potential clients to ensure that new relationships are always in the works.

  • Tip #3: Tools make it easy!

    There are a number of tools available to help you manage client relationships. From no-cost to low-cost to costly options, relationship management tools can help you effectively manage client relationships by organizing contacts, tracking your interactions, documenting project status, and prompts for specific actions, like following-up or scheduling a meeting.

How To Strengthen Relationships

Being able to develop good relationships with your clients is a lucrative trait. Strong relationships generate referrals, bring repeat business, and create opportunities for more fulfilling work.

The secret to doing this well really isn’t a secret at all. In fact, it’s simple – be human. Treat your clients as you would want to be treated. Care for client relationships as you would any other important relationship in your life.

Start by listening. In fact, try listening more than you speak. I bet you’ll learn something interesting about your client or will identify a need that otherwise might have gone unnoticed. If nothing else, everyone loves to feel heard, so give that gift to you client.

Sometimes you need to do two things. 1. Tell a client what’s good for them, even if they don’t want to hear it. Close your eyes, tough it out and just push through to the finish line. 2. If they are being disrespectful or rude or making it impossible to do your job, then fire them. Sometimes it has to happen. We don’t want to feel like we’re burning bridges but sometimes it’s the only way to keep your sanity. It’s just not worth it.

Rina Miele Freelance Designer
Honey Design

Ask questions and get to know your clients on a personal level. Find our what their favorite restaurant is, what their hobbies are, do they have pets or children and if they like to travel. There’s no better way to strengthen a relationship than putting in the time to get to know someone in a personal capacity.

It’s also important to establish trust with your client by ensuring that you’re being transparent and sincere in every interaction. Demonstrate that you’re trustworthy by delivering high-quality work and delivering it on time and within budget.

Ask About Expected Results

Are you confident that you clearly understand the client’s expectations for a final product? Do you have a shared understanding of what your deliverables are and how you’ll measure the success?

If not, you need to ask. No matter what they are, be sure both you and the client are on the same page.

What To Do When The Relationship Goes South

Sometimes no matter how good your work is, client relationships end up in smoke. If this happens, it’s probably because of poor communication on both parts. At this point you have two options, cut the client loose or re-evaluate the situation and resolve the issue.

If you’re considering the latter, you need to talk it out. Your approach should be firm yet personable and the conversation should absolutely take place face-to-face. There’s nothing worse that approaching a vulnerable issue in an email where tone and meaning are up for interpretation.

During the conversation, focus on solutions to the issue and make it clear that you’re in this together. No one should win or lose in the end, instead you should both find common ground and agree to put the best interest of the project first.

Unfortunately it doesn’t’ always work and you must cut the relationship loose. This can be an awkward and uncomfortable place to be, but it’s important that your split is amicable and respectful to both parties. It’s important to clearly explain the reason behind your decision and ensure there is a professional transition of the project back to the client. You might even go so far as leaving the client with a few recommendations of someone else who can complete the project. Here’s an example of how to fire a client:

Hey [Client Name],

I’ve been having some concerns around our ongoing relationship and would love to chat. Do you have 20 minutes on [insert a date] to chat? I have a few concerns and would love to discuss this in person.

[Your name]

See what I did there? It’s a request to chat in person. Why? Because that’s the professional way to fire a client. You wouldn’t break up with you partner over an email so don’t break up with a client over an email. If you are going to fire a client, do it in person when possible and if not, do it over the phone or Skype.

When you do speak with them, you’ll want to identify that the issue wasn’t 100% on them. You will need to take responsibility for any actions you took that could have streamlined the process or made it a better experience for everyone. You will also need to make the statement that it’s over and not suggest that you’re looking to work through things. Don’t give hope. Be respectful yet firm on your decision.

Going freelance hasn't meant I have eliminated difficult clients from my life but the difference is that now I can manage them the way I want to, rather than being dictated to.

Jennifer Faulkner Freelance Copywriter
Long Jacket Communication

What To Do If A Client Doesn’t Pay

Unfortunately, this happens. It breaks my heart that this is even worth noting, but not everyone is honest and reliable and sometimes clients take advantage of freelancers by skipping out on the bill.

You can do your best to avoid this deviance in a few ways:

  • 1. Make sure that you bill your clients on time and address any late or non-payment immediately. Your invoice should clearly state a late-payment penalty will be applied and a late payment notice should be delivered upon the date stated on the original invoice.
  • 2. Make your client sign a contract before ever beginning the project so it’s less likely they’ll outright refuse to pay you because they know there’s a contract binding them to it.
  • 3. Withhold some of the deliverables until the final payment is made. For example, if you’re a videographer you could watermark the video file and only release the non-watermarked version until the final invoice is paid. If you’re a designer you could withhold the high-resolution working files, or if you’re a developer you could withhold launching the website.

If the client still refuses to pay for your service, pursue non-payment in small claims court or work with a collection agency to claim your payment.

The best defense is a good offense. Do your research ahead of time and know who you’re doing business with and only engage with clients that deserve your trust.

Everyone just wants to know that they're getting the best "value," but value is subjective. It's all about listening, setting expectations, and ongoing communication.

Katelyn Bourgoin Marketer
Red Riot Communication

QUICK RECAP

  • Managing your clients’ expectations is one of the most important aspects of running a freelance business. You need to be okay with saying no to promises you cannot keep and be accurate in predictions and estimates.
  • Don’t be afraid to walk away from clients who are a drain on your resources and time. If you’ve reached a point with a relationship where the client is causing more headaches than they’re worth – be upfront, honest and specific as it relates to why you’re going to be getting rid of them as a client.
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