With any career path, there’s gives and takes; ups and downs. For a freelancer, this means that sometimes you’re faced with a client wanting to end a contract. It’s just one of challenges that comes with the flexibility and freedom of freelancing.
However, you have more control over preventing clients from ending a contract than you might realize. By “showing up,” over-communicating, meeting deadlines, and being transparent and genuine – combined with some good old fashioned hard work – you can keep your clients happy and even have the opportunity to get them to increase their budget.
We’ve heard a lot of freelancer stories over the past few years — our community is great about openly sharing their stories and lessons learned, and we’re there to help them along the way. Based on what we’ve heard and learned from our community, we’ve put together the top seven ways to keep your clients happy and paying.
1) Communicate clearly and consistently around goals and deadlines
The obvious suggestion here would be to “meet your goals and deadlines,” but we know that sometimes these things are out of our control or aren’t entirely clear. Before signing a contract and starting work, properly outline your scope of work, which should include:
- Metrics by which to measure goals and objectives
- Reporting system
- Rough deadlines
Jump on a call and reiterate everything outlined in the scope to ensure you’re on the same page. After you’ve signed the contract, the relationship’s success will depend on clear and consistent communication, and sharing your progress along the way.
Sometimes something urgent will come up that the client wants you to work on immediately. It’s your responsibility to then communicate that the new scope of work is going to push back the deadline on existing responsibilities and to share a realistic timeline.
We’ve found that project management tools such as Asana and short, 30-minute weekly check-in calls with your clients can be a saving grace in terms of prioritizing and keeping your clients happy. If your client isn’t big on phone calls, weekly summaries sent over email are amazing ways to keep up transparency and accountability as well.
2) Ask for in-depth feedback
If your client expresses an issue with the quality of your work,it likely really relates back to a feedback issue. Weekly check-ins and progress reports will help. You don’t want to waste your client’s time or make them feel that you’re not capable, but taking the steps to ensure they’re happy with your work is not a waste of time.
Don’t hesitate to share outlines, mock ups, etc. It will only take the client a few minutes to review and it will confirm that you share the same vision. This will also ensure that you’re not spending your time on something that your client won’t use, which can create hostility and lead to ended work relationships.
It’s your client’s responsibility to provide you with direct and honest feedback when they’re not happy with your work. However, if they’re new to managing freelancers, they may not know how to go about this. Guide them. Ask them to rate your work, sharing what they did and did not like about it, and most importantly – why they did or did not like something. This may be painful at first, but in the long run, it will help you produce better work and will make them want to give you more as they see you’re receptive to open and honest feedback. Feel free to share this ultimate guide to giving feedback that doesn’t suck with them.
3) Seek advice on new challenges
We’ve heard freelancers say that their clients decided they did not have the experience needed for the project mid-engagement. If you share case studies, prior work, testimonials and referrers, they should have no reason to believe you don’t have the experience necessary to get the job done.
If your client asks you to take on something you’ve never done before, be honest and transparent with them. Do your research, Google it, read articles, talk to people, ask a mentor. Being a part of a community (like CloudPeeps) can be incredibly beneficial here. We see our Peeps ask each other questions and share advice, experience and resources all of the time. The support will empower you to tackle the new challenges with confidence.
If you already have a great working relationship with your client built on trust, make sure that you’re upfront about something being a new challenge and explain how you’re going to find a solution and get it done. If it’s a new client, you may need to just figure it out and deliver as promised.
4) Ask a lot of questions, show interest
If a client isn’t used to working with freelancers, they might feel as though you’re not engaged compared to a full-time, in-house employee. Before beginning work, determine how you’ll communicate with one another in terms of tools and frequency. Make sure to always be there when promised and if you’re unclear on something, ask questions. It’s better to ask questions up front and create clarity than it is to guess and present work that doesn’t meet your client’s needs.
Plus, when you ask questions – not only about the project, but about business goals – you’re demonstrating that you’ve bought into the mission and care about the work you’re doing. This way, your client is much more likely to treat you like a remote member of the team.
5) Find a solution for expanded scope
Let’s say your client is so happy that they want to expand the scope of your work, but you don’t have the time or bandwidth. That’s ok! This is where collaboration and your network will come in handy. If you really can’t shift some things around to dedicate more time to a specific project, suggest that your client brings on another freelancer to work with you. It’s best for this is someone you know and trust and have worked with before. In the end, your client will appreciate your honesty and that you took the time to solve the problem for them.
If you really want to keep the client to yourself and increase their budget, you can be open about the availability you have and see if your client is willing to work on a longer timeline to accommodate. Either way, whatever you do, do not take on work you do not have time or bandwidth for, as that will lead to burn out and eventually an end to the relationship.
6) Be flexible with a client’s budget
Unfortunately, budget cuts are quite common when working with startups and can happen at the drop of a dime. If a client is no longer able to afford working with you at the current capacity, offer a leaner solution, scaling back your deliverables. This way, you’re not losing all of your income from that client, and they still get to benefit from much of your work. You’ll find more often than not, that if they’re happy, a client is willing to work with you to keep you on in any way possible.
And if you already have a solid relationship, this will also often lead to them referring more work your way so that they can continue to work with you on a tighter scope.
7) Help your client transition to in-house
Woohoo! You did such a great job getting your client set up that they were able to bring someone in-house to pick up the work from where you left it. Use this as an opportunity to sell consulting services to help educate their new hire and bring them up to speed. Even though they’ve brought someone in-house, that new hire will likely need time to ramp up, and you can be the point person to work with them. Maintain the relationship as a referrer and collect any testimonials and case studies from them to attract new work.
Wrapping it up
There’s clearly a theme to keeping a client happy. If you communicate clearly and consistently, meet deadlines, set priorities and expectations and maintain a certain degree of flexibility, you’ll be on your way to a happy and healthy client <> freelancer relationship.
Have you had a client cancel for a reason that’s not on this list? Leave it in the comment below, and will try to lend some advice on how to handle!
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