Trust is the number one influencing factor to the success of any type of relationship. Trust allows for open communication, autonomy, mutual respect and effective collaboration.
Trust is especially crucial in freelancer-to-client relationships. It’s only with trust that you’ll be empowered to lead strategy, test new ideas and make decisions on the fly when executing for a client. When a client trusts you, you have the freedom to produce your best and most creative work. In return, they’re more likely to hire and refer you for more work.
Here’s what you can do to build and maintain trust with your clients throughout the relationship – from the courting stage all the way through to the end.
1) Share testimonials and work samples
Your past work will speak volumes about how you perform – so will the types of clients you’ve worked with. If a potential client is a high-profile tech startup, for example, they’re going to be much more comfortable knowing you’ve worked for another high-profile tech company.
Even more important than showing your quality of work is what you’re like to work with. If you meet deadlines, are a good communicator, etc. Testimonials will help build trust before you even speak to a potential client if they’re prominent on your website or portfolio.
Here are a couple of examples of trust-building testimonials:
Make it a habit to ask clients for a brief testimonial or if they’re open to being a reference when they share positive feedback about your work.
2) Email like a professional
How you present yourself in your initial communications with new and potential clients is crucial to building trust. That doesn’t mean you need to be formal, per se. An effective email is more about being relevant, brief and to the point while remaining friendly. Speak to your client how you would a colleague. Depending on their style, you can keep it casual, but be sure to present yourself as the professional and business owner you are.
For example, if you’re crafting a pitch, speak to their pain points and answer any questions or requests they mentioned in the job description or brief. Share examples and broad ideas of what you would accomplish for them. Here’s an example of a well-crafted, efficient and effective pitch:
If you have a phone call with a potential or new client, follow up with an email recapping main points covered and next steps. Continue this habit after they become a client. The more you have in writing, the better for maintaining trust in the future. It’s always good to be able to reference points you’ve agreed upon in writing if an issue is to arise.
Be sure to double or triple spell and grammar check every communication. It’s amazing how quickly a typo can cause someone – especially a potential client – to lose trust in you.
3) Be respectful of their time
You and your client are both busy – be respectful of everyone’s time. That means keeping calls or meetings to the amount of time scheduled, not canceling or rescheduling last minute, not forgetting to show up or showing up late, etc.
The more clients you have, the more difficult it gets, but also try being flexible to their call and meeting schedule when planning out communications. If they have a team meeting they want you on every Monday, do your best to make it work. This will demonstrate that you care and want to be a part of the team as a freelancer. That you’ve bought into their mission and culture and want to be a part of the planning process.
4) Don’t flake
Unfortunately, freelancers have a reputation of being flakey as a result of people hearing stories of freelancers or contract workers disappearing mid-project or not communicating well. Of course, this is not true of most freelancers – this is how misperceptions work.
To maintain trust and a positive reputation, don’t flake from jobs. If for some reason you need to let a client go or realize you’ve taken on too much work, do what you can to transition out smoothly. Finish the project whenever possible. If that’s not feasible, try finding a replacement you can recommend. Do everything you can to get the project ready for handoff — prepare files in a folder, create instructions and process documents, etc.
The same general guidelines apply if you’ve been “courting” a client and realize you don’t have the bandwidth to take the job on. Be communicative – let them know you don’t have the time and recommend someone else you trust instead. Or ask them if they’d be willing to have you work on a lighter workload to start and scale up.
No matter your next step, the worst thing you can do is disappear entirely. You’ll look unprofessional and will lose out on word of mouth business in the long run.
5) Meet your deadlines
Obvious, right? The best way to build and maintain trust with your clients is to consistently meet your deadlines with quality work.
Deadlines aren’t arbitrary dates. There is a science and importance behind them. If you miss your deadline, you could be throwing an entire project off for the rest of the team.
Sometimes meeting deadlines means pushing back to your client. You don’t have to say yes or agree to everything. If your client asks you to meet an unrealistic deadline, respectfully explain that you won’t be able to complete the work by then. If they push back, detail what accomplishing the task or project will entail for you. Meet them in the middle. Surely, you’ll be able to compromise on a date that works for both of you.
Naturally, sometimes you’ll need to pull an all-nighter for an urgent project – that’s just the nature of any job. As long as it’s not every week, these should be manageable. And when you do, your client will be grateful for it.
6) Communicate effectively and over-communicate when necessary
If for some reason you’re unable to meet a deadline, communicate that to your client as soon as possible. Things happen – professionally and personally – your client knows that. Just keep lines of communication open and be ready to explain why you won’t be able to meet the deadline and present an alternative date. This will lessen the chances of them being upset and will make them much more likely to be accommodating to your schedule.
Effective communication goes beyond just pitching and communicating around deadlines. Depending on what type of process you and your client have set up, make sure to deliver on your process. This could be weekly check-ins or recaps via Slack, follow-up emails, monthly reports, etc. Be sure you’re communicating what it is you’ve accomplished and how it’s impacted your client’s business. Clients love to see how freelancers are spending their time, because every hour spent is budget spent.
7) Be honest and transparent
When in doubt, be honest. If you make a mistake or miss a deadline, communicate that to your client. Being direct and honest will instantly build more trust.
In the case of a mistake, be ready to explain how it happened and what you’re going to do to fix it. Apologize and be humble. They may be frustrated, but ultimately your client is going to understand that you’re human and these things happen. Remember, the sooner you bring it up, the sooner it can be resolved and the better off everyone will be.
8) Ask for feedback
If your client isn’t openly offering feedback, ask for it. This will show your client that you care about the quality work and if they’re happy or not. That you’re committed to meeting and exceeding expectations – that you’re dedicated to the job.
It also shows that you’re open to learning and growing as a professional, which will make them more likely to expand the scope of your work in the future.
In turn, when your client asks for feedback on their management skills or processes (this is a sign of a great client), present any ideas you have for them. The more you can improve their processes and save you time and them money, the more they will trust you.
9) Be yourself
A part of being honest means being yourself. You can be professional and still be yourself. Meaning, you can be quirky or silly with a client as long as you’re appropriate and have a good sense of their sense of humor and style.
Being genuine makes you more relatable and approachable, which in turn makes it easier to build relationships with your clients. Strong relationships mean clients sticking with you rather than moving to the less costly competitor because they’ve invested trusting you — an asset far more valuable than money.
10) Go an extra mile here and there
If you can afford to spend some extra time you won’t bill for to help a client out or to dig deeper into an issue, write a better blog post, etc. – go for it! Going above and beyond to help your client or to produce great work will not only deepen their trust and loyalty but will make them want to refer you to their friends and colleagues.
Just be sure not to get taken advantage of. Doing work for free can be a slippery slope – but if you’ve communicated effectively and honestly, your client should understand that you did them a favor and will be appreciative of that.
Put yourself in their shoes
Sometimes building trust is simply a matter of treating a client how you would want to be treated as a client. Have you hired someone before? What did you expect of them? How did you want the relationship to work?
Exercise some empathy when working with clients. Understand that you’re one of many pieces of their business – just as they are of yours. Then act as you’d want a freelancer to treat you.
Are you looking for new clients to build trust with or projects to dig into? Check out the jobs currently available on the CloudPeeps platform.
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