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Finding new clients is a critical component of the puzzle of freelance. But more so than finding amazing clients is making them happy and converting them from a one-time job to a long-term relationship. And this is where it becomes critical for every freelancer to understand how to develop client relationship management skills.
Nearly all of my roles in software over the last eight years have had an element of customer service, which means I’ve picked up many tips and tricks for client relationship management to craft ongoing client relationships for months and years to come.
If you’re new to freelance and don’t have a background in customer service, fear not. A client/freelancer relationship can blossom if you follow only a few rules of the road. These are the do’s and don’ts of client relationship management. Whether you’re servicing your first client or you have twenty under your belt, you should have these tips top of mind.
Set clear expectations
Set expectations for the work you’ll deliver but also how payment will be issued. Hourly contracts tend to be pretty straightforward. But if you’re working on a fixed contract, understand the deliverable and at what point you can bill the client for the services rendered. The last thing you want is to spend hours or days working on a fixed-price project for a client only to realize that what you’ve produced doesn’t align even slightly with what they expected to see.
Underpromise and overdeliver
It amazes me how many people in client service positions can’t seem to grasp this concept. This is one of the easiest, if not the easiest, ways to impress a client. Say, for example, that you know you can deliver a quality 1,000-word blog post that’s polished, edited, and cleaned up in 2 business days. When you’re discussing work with the client, suggest a turnaround time of three to five business days.
This gives you a buffer in case of a last-minute schedule change or writer’s block. And it also gives you the option to deliver in 24 hours and absolutely blow the client expectations out of the water.
Deliver quality, polished work always
It’s better to get an extension on a project to polish your work than it is to turn in something unfinished. This ties in nicely with setting expectations as you and your client should be working from the same definition of “done.” If you wouldn’t be proud to deliver the work to yourself, don’t turn it over to a client.
What this means for me as a writer is that I’ll always give myself a cushion before the due date. I plan to finish my rough draft 2-3 days or more before it’s due. Then, after sleeping on it, I dive in and make my final edits and get it in shape to publish. Sometimes I repeat the process for two days.
And it amazes me the things I’ll see on the second or third round of edits that I missed while writing. Always, always, always allow yourself the time to polish work before you send it off.
Keep open lines of communication
Establish communication preferences early on in your client/freelancer relationship. Some clients prefer to communicate via Slack or some other project management tool. Others may prefer a shared google doc or email. Once you know the platform or platforms with which you’ll be talking, be sure to deliver regular updates to the client.
Updates are especially important if you’re working on a multi-week project with multiple deliverables. No more than a few days should pass without you providing some signs of life. It’s sufficient to check in and tell them you’re still working and haven’t forgotten about the importance of the assignment.
Ask for feedback, then implement it
Upon starting a new relationship with a client, I let them know I am here to provide them with precisely what they need. I always let a client know that I’m incredibly receptive to feedback. But more important than asking for feedback is actually implementing the change the next time around.
One thing I’ve done that helps is to keep a google doc for each client that outlines any particulars that we’ve hashed out along the way. For example, I had a client who requested that when I deliver an article that I provide header tags (<h1>, <h2>, etc.). Since this is something the client wants to see going forward, I added it to my reference document, which I’ll check before delivering work for that client in the future.
Deliver assignments late without good reason or adequate notice
One of the main feelings you’ll want to project to clients while freelancing is reliability. Clients want to work with contractors who they can depend on to deliver work when they need it. If you’re struggling with an assignment or will be delivering it later than usual, give your client a heads up.
The worst thing you can do is cease communication because you’re ashamed of not providing work timely. Most clients will be understanding if you’re going to be a few hours or days late with an assignment as long as they receive notification in advance. What clients cannot comprehend is an overdue assignment with no reason why.
Be overly needy
Think of your clients as a brand new relationship. Staying in touch after your first project is one thing, but frequently asking for work when it doesn’t align with the contract is another entirely.
I’ve heard horror stories of freelancers brought on for monthly work that repeatedly go back to a client and beg them for additional work every other day. You’ll be better off proving your value by delivering high-quality work and letting the client reach out to you when they’re ready for the next assignment.
Perform work that’s outside the scope of your contract
Do your best to stay in your lane and within the scope of the contract for a particular project. With freelance work, especially, it’s relatively common for an individual to offer multiple services. In my case, it’s proofreading and content writing.
One of the hardest things to do as a proofreader who is also a content writer is to fight the urge to re-write. Clients who hire me for proofreading are looking for just that. If it were a re-writing job, they would have hired someone to re-write!
What is acceptable in this circumstance is to suggest your offerings that fall outside the project’s scope. You might say something like, “I’ve enjoyed working on your content as a proofreader. I wanted to let you know that I also do content writing work and feel like I can capture the voice you’re looking for perfectly. If you’d like to collaborate in that manner in the future, please let me know!”
This allows the client to potentially hire you for work under a different contract. And, assuming you’ve created a great experience thus far, they’ll likely be thrilled to know you can do even more for them!
The main thing about developing client relationship management skills
I’m all about keeping the main thing the main thing. And the main thing when it comes to client satisfaction is treating the customer like you’d want to be treated. In every engagement with a client, I ask myself:
“Would I be satisfied with this level of service?” and “Would I recommend this level of service to other people?”
If the answer to either of those questions is no, I’m doing it wrong, and something needs to change. And just like the quality of the services you’re offering to clients, you’ll develop better client relationship management skills over time. It will become easier to set fair expectations, communicate clearly, and request feedback. And that is how happy clients are made.
Remember that a recommendation from a client is priceless. And you never know who that person might talk to that will turn into your next favorite client. Put your professional game face on in every interaction, treat clients like you’d want to be treated, and you’ll do just fine.
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