Collaborating with clients is all about communication, and many freelancers and entrepreneurs wonder how they can work even better with their clients. Often times, I hear clients complaining about their vendors and vendors complaining about their clients and most of the time, it’s due to miscommunication.
But, it doesn’t have to be that way! Project management can be an amazing experience for both the client and the vendor, and all it takes is some basic flow and best practices for communication. Over-communication is rarely a bad thing, however, it’s all about balance: How do you help your clients feel at ease in the project process?
Working with many clients over the years, and managing many different projects, I’ve learned a thing or two about collaborating with clients. With anything, my project management process is always a work in progress to see what works and what doesn’t. But, I want to share some of best practices with other entrepreneurs so you can absolutely rock your client work.
1. Create a clear Statement of Work or Scope of Work (SOW)
A SOW document is a quick document you can draft up to ensure all of the relevant information, deliverables, costs, and most importantly – timelines – are in one place. This way, both parties agree on what is expected and you can reference the document should any issues arise. Draft it up, get it signed, and start working. Outline additional costs, such as changes in scope, revision requests, or anything else that may pop up so nothing comes as a surprise. You can then transfer these deleverables and timelines into a collaborative tool for open communication (See below for list of tools)
2. Schedule touch points
Depending on the timeline of the project, it might be a good idea to schedule weekly or biweekly touch point calls. This helps in two ways: it gives your client peace of mind to know that they get an update and it keeps them from sending you emails asking questions if they know a call is coming up where they can ask away. It allows you to give reassurance and show that you’re professional, organized and on top of shit.
3. Set deadlines, stick to them
Working on your own may mean you have no boss breathing down your neck to hit those deadlines, but client deadlines are equally as important. Set reminders, have a calendar, and ensure YOUR project management process is under control.
When you set a deadline, make sure to hit it. If you realistically can’t hit it, communicate it! Which brings us to….
4. If you’re going to miss a deadline, be transparent
Clients appreciate honesty, and if you can tell you’re going to miss a deadline, communicate it ASAP. Don’t overindulge; just tell them what’s up in an honest way. Don’t wait until the day of the deadline to let them know you won’t be delivering your milestone. If you’re unsure whether or not you’ll make it – communicate that as well. Then, if you make it, they’ll be thrilled instead of being frustrated if something comes up and you don’t.
5. Communicate in a way the client prefers
You work for them – they pay you! So, customer experience should be your top priority. Don’t force your client to do video calls if they prefer email, or use an app if they’re not very technologically savvy. If you prefer to use Google Docs, but they have no sweet clue how to use it, either ask them if they care to learn (and then teach them!) or adjust your approach to submit documents through attachments. If they like calls, pick up the phone!
6. Answer in a timely manner, or let them know what to expect
Some freelancers or entrepreneurs are not great with email, especially developers or designers who like to “get in the zone” and ignore their inbox while they work. If you’re one of the people who are not so great at email, or have black out periods, let your clients know upfront. Even go one step further and write it in your SOW – “I will be available to answer any questions from noon until 1pm MWF. Any other emails may take 24 hours to receive a response.” Feel free to add it to your email signature as well. The more you communicate, the better.
It’s all about setting expectations. A client won’t be frustrated if they know what to expect from you.
7. Use an app, if it helps
There are many client management apps out there that can increase visibility in what you’re working on and allow an open and communicative platform. Here are some great ones:
· Asana: A free, easy to use platform to work with a team, create deadlines, and collaborate
· Trello: This is my fave and we use it all of the time!! Another free tool for creating lists, inviting collaborators, and knocking off “to-dos”. We create deliverables and timelines here and allow the client to view the whole process. It can also integrate with GMail and GSuite so all of your deadlines are in one place!! I know, right?!?!
· Basecamp: For a more in-depth tool, this paid software is a great way to communicate projects to clients and work with a team
· Google Drive: Love this as well! You can create shared documents, folders, and collaborate together. For simple projects, this is great. It’s free, accessible, and you can even have a “Timeline” doc that you update for your client to check your status on
The bottom line
Offer the same service you’d want to receive from a company or person you were trusting with your investment and time. Remember that your clients chose you because they trust you! Everyone appreciates timely, professional communication and a little goes a long way with client work.
Taking some time to create a client flow that works with you, for each of your clients, will be a great investment in your business and client relationships. Be agile! One size does not fit all!