I do what I do because I admire and am inspired by people who work for themselves. When I take my kids into town I’ll often point out shops and businesses telling them the story of the founder. In fact, I’ll tell anyone who is willing to listen.
I thought everyone shared my passion until recently when my daughter pointed it out. My eldest daughter is an aspiring polyglot, and I’ve started to learn Spanish, which she thinks is really cute! I asked her why, to which she replied, “languages are my thing and I love that you’re getting into them, it’s like me getting into small businesses”.
According to my daughter, small businesses are my thing!
In my ideal world, we would all be doing work we can be proud of, working with people we love. With the hope of us all inching towards this I asked some of my freelance colleagues to share their experience of building wonderful client relationships and creating work everyone loves and can be proud of.
Despite today’s fast-paced innovative and ‘disruptive’ culture, some things stay the same, we all need customers and we all need the talents of others.
A massive thank you to everyone who generously shared their experience and advice.
1. Communication is the backbone of all relationships – Be human, be warm, be an excellent listener
“People like to speak with humans! Start formal, and then make them laugh! This doesn’t have to be unprofessional, but finding common ground, really helps to build a rapport with a client.” Katie Thompson, Content Writer & Digital Marketer.
“If possible, I like to meet clients in person for our in-depth research chat, as body language can be very helpful in building rapport and discovering what’s left unspoken. One HR consultant was almost springing from her seat with enthusiasm when she talked about dismissals and “leaving with dignity”. I’d never have picked up on that in an email exchange”. Helen Reynolds, Ink Gardener Copywriting.
“I prefer face-to-face conversations whenever possible, emails and phone conversations can leave a lot of unanswered questions and ambiguous suggestions about how you are to proceed. Having said that, I always follow up meeting with an email including a summary of what we discussed and what action is necessary to move forward, by whom and by when.” Adam Gill, Video & Production Services.
“Ask clients questions about their interests before getting into the discussion about business proposals. Gain trust and express empathy. Repeat their explanations about their issues to check that there’s no misunderstanding.” John Gallery, Sales, Marketing and PR.
2. Gain an in-depth understanding of the clients desired outcome and why they want to achieve it
“There is always a temptation to jump straight into “solution mode”. Resist it. I find that a good creative brief is an incredibly powerful start to any project. It provides the context of the problem at hand, getting everyone on the same page whilst leaving enough room for original creative thought to be borne. You can download my Creative Brief template if you wish.” Stuart Goulden, Strategic Marketing.
“I’m a big fan of starting with the end in mind and encourage clients to think about the problem they want to solve. So, if they want me to look at scripting some videos for example, what are those videos intended to achieve? Is it sales? It is to reduce calls to a customer call centre? I then work backwards from there.” Julie Sykes, Marketing & Communications.
“I find that the first conversation with the client is the most revealing and informative. They generally have it in their mind what they want and this is the moment that they are most direct. There is an initial outpouring of raw data and enthusiasm at this point and it’s a good opportunity to capture the feeling and the language that the client uses. After that, people tend to get caught up with details and assume that they have told you what you need to know. So don’t waste this moment. If possible, and with the client’s permission, I actually record many of these conversations on my phone” Adam Gill, Video & Production Services.
“Use the first meeting with the prospective client to learn about them before getting anywhere near putting forward a proposal – try to understand their core need that you can genuinely help them with and then bring your ideas into play with your proposed action.”John Gallery, Sales, Marketing and PR.
“I just ask lots of questions to try and nail down what they want to achieve. Sometimes I ask for examples as that can help us talk visual and gives a starting point. With experience, you start to be able to interpret vague requests and be able to get closer to what they are looking for.” Richard Gray, Branding Designer.
“Sometimes clients might have something very vague or difficult to measure, for example, “media exposure”, or they might have something more specific, such as search engine rankings. I ask a lot of questions, and only approach clients that I feel are suited to my skill sets. Then I try to present them with examples of how I have done similar work previously, which usually helps us to generate new ideas.” Katie Thompson, Content Writer & Digital Marketer.
“I’m big question asker! I like to ask what they don’t want as well as what they do want to achieve. Understanding both sides helps ensure that I get a fuller view of the project and also what to avoid! It’s sometimes easy to assume that just by asking what they want to achieve that you have a clear direction but that is not always the case.” Lorraine Wood, Graphic Design.
3. Work with people you love
“I’ve been in business long enough to trust my instincts. As a starter, I only work with visionary clients. Interesting people, doing interesting things. Either to make things better or make better things. I find I’m very aligned with those individuals and share their passion for the end goal. On the very, very rare occasion when it’s not an enjoyable experience or we can’t resolve an issue there’s no shame in cutting the relationship short and on good terms.” Stuart Goulden, Strategic Marketing.
“I always like to find a common ground when I’m working with somebody new – something we can both laugh about is a great place to start! When we both feel comfortable around each other, I can tell I’m going to enjoy working with them. If I’m writing about something exciting, even better!” Katie Thompson, Content Writer & Digital Marketer.
“When a client is passionate about their business, this comes through in whatever we film with them. I love working with these types of clients, their enthusiasm is contagious and fuels the creative process.” Adam Gill, Video & Production Services.
4. Spend the time to find a way to work in harmony
“I like to give people time to settle into their working day. So not before 10am, and never on a Monday. ‘The Power Of Now’ book by Dr Breus points out 60% of the population are Bear chronotypes, so function best mid-morning to mid-afternoon.” Helen Reynolds, Ink Gardener Copywriting.
“Ask clients when, where and how would be best for them. Meet in their territory, not yours. Be on the side of the client at your own expense – time, commitment to the project, use ‘we’ not ‘you’ when discussing the project, be part of their team not adjacent to it” John Gallery, Sales, Marketing and PR.
“Find the best medium for you and your client. I use LinkedIn, email, Whatsapp, text, phone calls or freelancing websites to talk with my clients. Choose one and be consistent. This will save you hours of frustration trying to recall information from any given number of communication tools.” Katie Thompson, Content Writer & Digital Marketer.
“Each client is unique and they have their own methods of working which I always find is an interesting aspect of each project. From my perspective as a freelance illustrator and designer, a comprehensive brief is always wonderful but I have worked with clients who have had a clear idea of what they would like and with clients who have not. I enjoy both processes.” Lucy Monkman, Illustrator.
“Ultimately, as a freelancer, it’s about being flexible to how your client wants to work and how closely you need to be integrated into their team for that to work best. But you also need to set your own boundaries, with regards to which channels and when. No one wants a work request on Whatsapp at 11 pm.” Richard Gray, Branding Designer.
“Not everything can be measured, so if you are somebody who likes to look at reports, (which is fine!) establish a reporting setup when you take on a project. This might be as simple as logging time and sending it over monthly to reassure them of work being done, or CCing them in emails to keep them updated on progress. If they have a project management system they like to use in-house, it’s wise to ask for access to this.” Katie Thompson, Content Writer & Digital Marketer.
“Be as open and honest about how and when you’ll get back to people. Some people prefer email and others prefer to talk face to face even if it is just to say “Yes that’s exactly what I wanted” (which is always what you want to hear!) The best question to ask is “what’s the best way to get in touch with you?” Lorraine Wood, Graphic Design.
5. Keep your promises
“DWYPYWD = ‘Do what you promised you would do’ – more communication not less – especially when things are not going to plan. People will be more understanding when you manage their expectations.” John Gallery, Sales, Marketing and PR.
“When setting a deadline, I agree to a project schedule with a client. This means breaking down the space of around one month into smaller portions. I’ll indicate to the client when I intend to start their project, to reassure them that work is progressing, which is sometimes weeks after our meeting.” Grace Abell, Creative Designer.
6. How clients can help the process
“Responding to you as promptly as you provide the proofs would also be helpful, but it’s not always high on their priority list, even though they have given you a deadline of the end of the week! Which brings me to realistic deadlines – one of my pet peeves is “ASAP”! Giving a specific day or date when the project is needed is better to work with that ASAP! Paying on time and some positive feedback. It’s always a nice fuzzy feeling when they pay you before the due date and tell you they love it!” Lorraine Wood, Graphic Design.
“I guess being open and honest about what you’re after and about the work produced but constructively. We’ve all had clients who have told us what they don’t want, but not what they do. So clear feedback is imperative. We’re not afraid to hear we’ve missed the mark if there is a clear direction from that. The brief is a dialogue after all, but that conversation has to progress or you never get beyond square one. Providing a clear, open brief that you can interpret. That usually works better than the brief which dictates the position of every single element, where the client tried to assume the role of the designer.” Richard Gray, Branding Designer.
“Clients know their business better than you, so you have to listen, but a client who is open to suggestion as to how best to represent that business (In my case, through creative video content) will benefit from my experience and get a better result.” Adam Gill, Video & Production Services.
7. Make it as easy as possible
“I use Trello so that I can see everything I have to do right in front of me. When it’s done, I simply move it into the next column. I also use Dropbox, which helps me find files more easily when deadlines are tight. Accept that you cannot say yes to everything, and give yourself a break! It’s better to get up and walk around or stretch for 15 minutes than to stare idly at a screen for 60.” Katie Thompson, Content Writer & Digital Marketer.
“The Pomodoro technique is useful – working for 25 minutes before taking a break. I keep a calendar, filling in the days I hope to be focussing on particular work. Since a freelancer can’t escape from life happening, I always intend to work ahead of schedule. Recently, this method saved my bacon. I delivered the project on time, the client was delighted and none the wiser that I had attended a funeral.” Grace Abell, Creative Designer.
“I keep track of the hours I’ve spent on something and then sense check at the end if it matches the price I’ve quoted the client. That doesn’t mean I’d bill my client if I took longer than expected, but more that I’d learn from it when pricing future work” Julie Sykes, Marketing & Communications.
8. Contracts and statements of work can help everyone feel more at ease
“Make sure you have a clear brief from the start. Of course, plans change, and that’s fine – but make sure you have that in writing to confirm that you are now taking a different route. It’s wise to revisit project outcomes regularly and discuss them with the client so that you know you’re both on the same page.” Katie Thompson, Content Writer & Digital Marketer.
“When writing up a contract it is important to specify who is responsible for what. The client needs to be made aware that they have responsibilities too, frequently including arranging interviewees, locations and access to events. Keep an updated diary, accessible online and also a physical version close to hand for quick reference when a client phones out of the blue.” Adam Gill, Video & Production Services.
“It really depends on the client and the project. More often than not, this is provided by the client with some negotiation over its contents. Some of my longer-term relationships really don’t warrant or require a contract given shared trust and understanding. My main piece of advice on contracts is to be backed up by great business insurance – it will cover you for late or non-payment, amongst lots of other things.” Stuart Goulden, Strategic Marketing.
“I have contracts with retained clients, for example, those who order X amount of content per month or X number of hours. I think it is most important to state your payment terms and have a clause that extends to services outside of your remit. For example, if a client asks you to write an article, but then later asks you to source images (which may take up extra time), ensure that this time is covered. Likewise, it’s wise to have a clause for amendments – you need to agree between you how much you will charge if the client decides to change the brief. Finally, a termination notice period is crucial, as you need to allow yourself time to find other work.” Katie Thompson, Content Writer & Digital Marketer
“You learn over the years to try and spot time wasters or non-payers but it’s not always easy, which is why I like to get a 50% deposits from the client before starting as that tends to wheedle out those people who are going to be painful to work with.” Lorraine Wood, Graphic Design.
9. Love what you do
“Be honest with yourself. If you are not enjoying what you are doing maybe there’s another way that takes you to enjoyment and job satisfaction. Never give up – there’s always another opportunity around the corner – keep looking.” John Gallery, Sales, Marketing and PR.
“We work for ourselves because we love what we do. If you ever find yourself not enjoying a particular project, ask yourself: “Is this worth my time? Do I have a good relationship with this client? Would somebody else benefit from this project more?” Sometimes you have to take a step back and remind yourself that your health is what’s most important. Never underestimate your worth. Freelancers deserve to be valued, and paid, just like everybody else. Don’t waste your time trying to chase people who do not appreciate what you can do for them. There will always be somebody out there who does.” Katie Thompson, Content Writer & Digital Marketer.
Our wonderful contributors:
Adam Gill is a creative, proactive and resourceful Producer Director with over 25 years experience in professional and international video production. This includes creating TV content, producing promotional campaigns, launching and developing channels, managing budgets and mentoring talent. To find out more visit www.vidaveo.com
Grace Abell works with everyone from entrepreneurs at the beginning of growing their business to time-proven institutions. Her client list has a slant towards broadly environmental organisations, including horticulture, renewable energy, sustainable transport and wildlife conservation. To find out more visit abelldesign.co.uk
Helen Reynolds helps increase profits through fresh words, with Google-friendly web content and tips on making the most out of Twitter or Facebook for business. To find out more visit www.inkgardener.co.uk
John Gallery focuses on creating a difference with innovative initiatives, generating awareness through PR and direct sales & marketing activity including targeted cold calling, plus personal representation to corporate businesses, booking agencies and at trade shows and networking events. To find out more visit www.greatpotential.co.uk
Julie Sykes helps businesses as an interim resource with their change communications programmes, corporate communications, marketing strategy and campaigns. To find out more visit www.redyellowmarketing.co.uk
Katie Thompson is a trained journalist and proofreader, Katie offers freelance writing, copywriting and proofreading. Whether you’re a student, a business owner, or just somebody who needs a little extra help with words. To find out more visit www.katielingo.co.uk
Lorraine Wood has been helping businesses grow across a range of sectors for over 20 years by delivering graphic design services that get the desired result. To find out more visit www.penementdesign.co.uk
Lucy Monkman began her career with fashion illustration and she has since worked in design, in editorial and in publishing working with a wide range of clients both locally and nationally including Harpers & Queen, Junior Magazine, Paper House and Penguin Books . To find out more visit lucymonkman.com
Stuart Goulden is the founder of Like No Other, a strategic marketing agency and startup studio. He also blogs about digital marketing tools with Surge, helping fellow marketers to do more with less. To find out more visit likenoother.co
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