One of the biggest areas of freelancing that many people fail to even think about is client communication.
Often people glaze over this thinking "Oh yeah, I am a good communicator so no worries here"
But the truth is, that isn't always the case.
Client communication may be one of the single most important factors in building your business.
How you connect with clients has the ability to turn one off jobs into repeat clients, referrals, and raving testimonials.
My goal with this post is to teach you some of the basic concepts of client communication.
1) Always respond to new inquiries as promptly as possible
Often the sale of a project goes to whoever responds first.
Even if you aren't able to give a full detailed response to an inquiry from a prospect, get into the habit of e-mailing back as quickly as possible. Answer with a few follow up questions clarifying the prospects needs.
This promptness shows that you are professional, and gives the prospect early signs of what it will be like to work with you.
2) Take genuine interest in the other person
Notice that I say genuine interest. You can't fake this part.
As a creative, you must become genuinely interested in the client and their business. Spend time learning about them, the history of the business, how they got started and what their goals are. This information helps you understand the client better and makes them feel heard and understood.
The key to this is to become genuinely curious. Don't just read off a list of questions. Have a conversation and try to get a grasp for what this persons life is like. How does this business fit into their life and how can you help them?
3) Be a person, not a robot
People buy from other people, so be yourself with the communication.
Write like you speak, and don't be too uptight or professional with every step of the way. Show your personality while still maintaining a presence of professionalism.
4) Be empathetic to the clients emotions
Try to understand the client, try to grasp what they are going through and what this project means to them.
When a client feels like they have been understood on more than just the details, but their emotional desires for the project as well, then they will feel more comfortable buying from you.
There have been multiple projects where I was bidding against other designers. The client told me that my rates were nearly double other proposals, but they still hired me. Quoted from the client: "I like your energy and I feel like you understand what I am trying to do with my business."
I wasn't hired because my work was better or my rates were cheaper.
I was hired because of the attention paid the emotional experience with the client.
Pay attention to the clients emotions, it is one of the best differentiators for your business.
5) Learn how to write clear and concise e-mails
If you are going to design a life where client's don't control your schedule, then you will be relying on e-mail communication. Phone calls can often eat up a lot of time while you can answer e-mails at your convenience.
The key with writing proper e-mails is to be clear, concise and to use formatting to make it easy to digest. Below are a handful of quick tips:
Avoid Huge Paragraphs - They are hard to digest. Instead break your chunks into smaller paragraphs of 2-3 sentences max.
Use headers to signify different topics - If you are covering multiple topics in one e-mail, create a simple header with bold text for each topic you discuss. This will make it easier for the client to know when you are switching topics.
End an e-mail with 'Next steps' - If you are covering a lot of topics in an e-mail then it may be worth telling the client what the next steps are on their part.
Thank the client often - Show gratitude when the client pulls weight on their end. No successful creative project can be accomplished without the clients involvement.
6) Don't just talk business
When you hop on a call with the client, ask questions about them and their life. What is going on with them, how are their kids? Do this in a genuine manner but take some time to get to know the clients personal life.
Remember that the attention you pay to the clients emotional needs may be one of the best ways to set yourself apart.
7) Be confident
Imagine you walk into a restaurant and you ask if the food is good. What would you think if the servers said "Uhh, yeah I think its pretty good."
That is the kind of confidence that many creatives bring to their client communications.
When you are talking with a client, you must be confident in the offering that you are bringing to the table. You must make them feel certain that you can solve their problems and that you will deliver on everything you say.
Confidence becomes easier as your craft improves, but the key is to be confident no matter what.
Even if the client asks for something that is outside of your comfort zone, say yes and then figure it out along the way.
Confidence is the secret ingredient to making creative sales.
8) Communicate regularly
Try to stay in regular communication with the client throughout the project no matter what.
If you don't here from them for several days, check in to see what is going on.
If they send you an e-mail and you are busy, don't ignore it. At the least respond within a day.
Respond quickly, even if it is just a quick message saying "Thank's for sending this over. I am busy today but I will get back to you on this tomorrow."
One of the fastest ways to frustrate clients is to disappear for a few days.
Stay in regular touch, keep them posted on updates and your clients will remain happy.
9) Under-promise and over-deliver
If you think you can get the project done by Friday, tell the client Tuesday and over-deliver.
If you beat your original deadline then you look like a hero in the eyes of a client.
If something comes up and you can't make your original plans (which things inevitably will), then you have a buffer and can still at least make your original promise to the client.
Under-promise and over-deliver,. Don't ever make the mistake of flipping this around.
The bottom line:
Paying attention to a clients emotions is the single greatest differentiator for your freelance business.
Clients are people. They don't just want to hire someone for the project.
Clients want to be heard and understood.
Listen to your clients, be a friend and pay attention to their desires.
If you can do this you will begin to see your projects and client relationships both improve.