Maintaining client relationships is a crucial part of business as an independent contractor. Clients provide the work you need to keep your business up and running, and establishing trust and a good rapport with them is often just as important as delivering stellar work on a project. A strong relationship can lead to repeat work in the future as well as valuable recommendations. Follow these five client management tips to build quality connections and establish a strong reputation for your business.
Good communication builds the foundation for a productive relationship and is especially important if you work remotely and may not meet with your client face-to-face on a regular basis. When you kick off a project with a new client, make a point to learn what their preferred communication style is and work together to create a plan for how you will provide updates as you complete project milestones.
Make sure that all of your communication efforts are efficient and timely. Even if you don’t provide weekly or monthly reports, be sure to track your work and accomplishments so you can easily update your client if they ask about the status of the project. If something goes wrong or is delayed, it’s important to contact your client as soon as possible—be prepared to talk about the situation and provide possible solutions. Your client should feel comfortable being open and honest with you, and that means being open and honest with them.
Even if your client isn’t detail oriented, you should always start each project by planning out a scope of work (SOW). A SOW outlines project details including roles and responsibilities, a timeline, and goals. Reviewing the SOW together with your client will ensure you are on the same page in terms of expectations and can help you avoid difficult conversations down the road. For example, if your client requests a new component halfway through a project that doesn’t align with what you’ve both agreed to in the original SOW, you can use the document to open up a conversation about how to best move forward.
Avoid overpromising at all costs—instead, set realistic timelines and build in extra buffer time for deliverables in case something comes up. While overpromising can be an easy trap to fall into, it doesn’t benefit anyone in the end. It can damage the reputation of your company, hurt your client if you can’t deliver something they need on time, and prevent you from dedicating valuable time to additional clients you may have. By building a few extra days into your project plan, you can stay on track and deliver early in a best-case scenario!
As an independent contractor, much of your job is action-based—networking, giving advice, executing projects. However, taking a back seat and listening closely to your clients is just as important as leading the way. Clients aren’t always good at articulating what they want, but finding out what their true needs are and articulating their request is probably something you excel at. Prompt your client to talk by asking questions and listening carefully to their response. Then, relay back your understanding to confirm you are on the same page. Taking time to listen will help build trust and credibility and reinforce to your client that you are meeting their needs.
While you don’t need to go above and beyond in every client interaction, finding small ways where you can exceed expectations and add value will go far in building a lasting relationship. Little gestures such as delivering part of a project a few days in advance because you know your client will be away on vacation or providing an in-depth walkthrough of a particular feature you know they are interested in will go far.
As your project comes to an end, look for opportunities where you could help better a client’s business. Talk to them about your idea and back up your proposition with a case study or example of how you’ve successfully implemented something similar in the past. You may just open their eyes to something they hadn’t considered before and become involved in a new part of their business.