How to manage clients as a freelancer

William Bauer

How to manage clients as a freelancer

Are you a freelancer? Your freelance status implies particular modes of organization and communication. Here we’ll give you the keys to collaborating efficiently with your clients, leading to smooth gigs, happy clients, and more referrals.

First of all, you should keep in mind the importance of communication when working with your clients. It is an absolutely key element. We will drill down on this in the first part of this post, then we will give you specific tools to deploy effective communication and collaboration strategies with your clients.

The 3 Keys to Successful Communication with Clients

1. Agree on your availability

First of all, never forget that you are your own boss. If you work from home, your clients should be aware that you do not have an official office and that you work independent of time constraints. You are flexible. You manage your own schedule, according to the projects you have chosen to work on, your desires, or even your travels. It’s imperative to communicate your availability, your schedule, and how you will work together, very early in the relationship.

Agree on time slots where you know you’ll be available to respond and make it known that anything outside of this will result in a slower turnaround. By laying the foundation and setting boundaries, you won’t be pulling your hair out when you get messages late at night.

2. Figure out your client’s mindset

When you accept a new project, you are becoming an extension of an existing team. Spend time understanding the issues inherent to your client's business, and why they are reaching out. Are they struggling with revenue? Are they overloaded with work and need an extra hand? By digging into their motivations, you can fast-track to making them happy with the end-result.

3. Discuss expectations

Wether you use a client intake form or prefer to have a discovery meeting, you want to gather your client’s expectations. How do they envision a successful outcome? Pay attention to their mannerisms while they describe the work. It may take some time to develop the skill, but you can find out a lot about about someone through their subconscious cues. If they’re all over the place with their ideas, you might be in for a headache. If they’re very precise and know exactly what they want, great! You can get it in writing and reference their words.

Digging into your client’s expectations will save you time, money and frustration down the line. Try using this line: “in your opinion, what does a successful project/job with me look like?” This can get the ball rolling for hearing their expectations.

Managing your customer relationship from a distance

As a freelancer, maintaining a strong relationship with your customers is essential for the well-being of your business. A prospect, and therefore a potential future client, is a real person with their own values, they are not just another number that can help your bank account. Taking care of the relationship before, during and after your services makes all the difference in securing a repeat client.

Choosing the most appropriate methods of communication

When freelancing, the approach to work is different than your typical 9-5. This is why you’re doing it afterall! Sweet sweet freedom.

The downside is that you have to be on your toes and constantly try to optimize your organization and communication. To stay efficient with remote work, try to spend some time testing tools that suit your workflow the best.

1.  Familiarize yourself with popular remote work tools

Get ready for a lot of back and forth with your clients. Email can turn into a giant mess of threads, so you’ll want to test drive some tools for yourself. Don’t be afraid of asking experienced freelancers what their “Small Business Stack” is. They’re more than willing to help talk about what works, and what doesn’t!

If you want a place to start, check out these tools:

  • Google Drive, Box, Dropbox, and WeTransfer for file transfer
  • Zoom, Google Meet or Microsoft Teams for remote calls
  • Trello, Asana, Monday or Clickup for task management
  • Typeform for client questionnaires
  • Quickbooks, Freshbooks, Zohobooks for Invoices
  • Proposify for proposals
  • Airtable, Excel for databases
  • and of course, we can’t forget to mention Matryo to centralize all of your client communication.

Looks like a big list right? The good news is there’s no wrong answer in choosing your “Small Business Stack”. To avoid confusing your clients with all these choices and to avoid receiving too many notifications per day, try to agree beforehand on the tools you will use together. It’s important to be in the driver seat, or else your clients likely won’t respect your boundaries (no one wants those client texts outside of work hours).

2. Define your availability expectations from the start

It’s great to be aligned with your client on your mindset and philosophy. Working with a freelancer implies being flexible and adaptable, so it’s on you to be firm about your schedule, obligations and personal life. Don’t be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Your work with clients is a more like a partnership than an employee-manager relationship. Don’t forget that you can fire them too ;)

To help reduce friction, define the conditions of your arrangement in advance: duration of the project, hours available, pricing, and what happens if they make extra requests. Take the time to make a proposal and get their signature. It shows you are serious and professional, and you won’t stand to be pushed around.

3. Write down all your discussions

This mode of remote organization can sometimes involve oral communication: video conferences, phone calls, discussions over coffee, etc. It is perfectly normal to favor these synchronous modes of communication (link to article 5), but try to put everything in writing afterwards. Impose a real rigorous habit of keeping a written trace of each of your exchanges. You never know what could happen, and it’s best to be on the safe side.

Final note: strategies to improve communication

To wrap up, here are some concrete strategies to save time, improve your communication with your customers, and establish a long-term relationship:

  • Establish processes that can be replicated from one client to another
  • Repeat your clients words back to them, so that everyone is on the same page
  • Raise issues early in the project
  • Find tools to improve remote communication: get into the habit of making video calls, setting up a project management tool, and last but not least - giving NineFive a try. We promise you and your clients will love it.

Happy freelancing!

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