Constant and clear communication is crucial to the success of any relationship — friends, significant others, colleagues, you name it. This couldn’t hold more true for client relationships. Healthy or not, there will be times where you find yourself communicating with your clients more than you do the other people in your life, especially as a freelancer.

In order to set yourself up for a successful engagement with clients, it’s important to set expectations and a plan for communicating upfront, before even agreeing to work together. Here are six steps you can take before and during the engagement to increase the likelihood of both parties remaining happy throughout the course of a job.

Set mutual expectations around outcomes

When coming to an agreement on what the engagement between you and your client will look like, confirm that you both have the same expected outcomes.

If the client hasn’t shared their goals and objectives, ask them, or work on developing them together. Include these goals in the agreement that both parties are signing. Every time a new request comes up, revisit those goals and objectives together to ensure that the activity aligns with them. This will help deter scope creep as well, which can be a huge issue for freelancers.

Manage expectations of day-to-day work

When developing plans or strategies — let’s say an editorial calendar for a blog — set realistic deadlines for yourself. If a client wants three new, original blog posts from you published each week and if that just isn’t realistic for you, explain that, then offer alternatives.

In this situation, the solution might be offering to publish one post per week while building a library of content, slowly ramping frequency up. Or perhaps it’s creating a contributor strategy to recruit external experts to write for the blog. No matter which route you take, be sure to make an estimated outline of how long each piece will take.

I’ve done this around content distribution for previous jobs before and it was eye opening for all parties. Remember, your clients hired you because you’re the expert on the topic. They might not know what goes into the thing that you’re working on. Make your responsibilities clear in order to avoid them being upset that not enough is getting done.

Consider a time-tracking tool

Having a physical report of how much time it takes to complete a task or project adds credibility to the case you’re making for your approach to the work at hand. Consider using a tool like Harvest or Timely to precisely track your time spent on each client. This is especially helpful when it comes time to invoice if you’re working on an hourly rate.

At CloudPeeps, we’ve teamed up with Timely to offer three months free and a 30% discount for Peeps. If you’re a Peep and interested in taking advantage of this, let us know at!

Meet deadlines, or be honest and have a plan B

Obvious, right? Well, all too often freelancers seem unaware of how much deadlines mean to a client. The best way you can build trust with clients is by meeting deadlines, and more importantly, communicating when you’re not going to meet a deadline.

After all, things that are out of your control happen. Your clients are people too, and although they may be frustrated at times, they’re going to understand.

It’s scary, but you have to inform your clients as soon as possible if you’re not going to meet a deadline. Otherwise, you’re hurting everyone involved. Give them adequate heads up and work towards a solution together so no one is left in the dark or disappointed.

Better yet, have a plan B ready to present when you break the news to them. By presenting a solution upfront, you’re adding a layer of credibility and trust to your relationship. Furthermore, you’re building a strong reputation for yourself.

Check in regularly

Regular check-ins take the guesswork out of freelance relationships. When you’re coming to an agreement on scope of work, include weekly calls to touch base on progress of your work. It’s great to set up these calls at the same time each week so that they take priority. Time can fly by, and it’s crucial to be sure you’re communicating with one another on a regular basis. This activity aligns well with setting expectations.

Check-ins bring everyone on the same page, and if there are any grievances, they can be aired at the same time each week. Be armed with any questions or needs you have to move your projects forward at each call and encourage your client to do the same.

Here’s what a check-in call should look like.

Have an agenda for each call and keep them short. Start each one out by reviewing the goals for the call, then allow each party to ask and answer any questions. If anything that’s not pressing for that week comes up, suggest that another call be scheduled to discuss that item, or that it be handled via email. That way, you won’t get off track, and will be more likely to meet your goals for the week. After all relevant questions have been answered, finish with a summary of action items left for each party, including how any irrelevant topics that came up will be handled immediately after the call. Then follow through with all action items discussed!

Create a communications plan

You and your client need to come to an agreement as to how you’re going to communicate throughout the engagement. Is Slack best for both of you? Or perhaps you’re both big email people. Find what works for both of you and stick to it. After all, you don’t want your clients thinking it’s ok to text you at midnight with an idea — or who knows, maybe that is ok with you.

Wrapping it up

Remember, you’ve chosen the life of a freelancer in order to have the freedom to do work that’s meaningful and exciting for you. It’s your responsibility to make the most of it. Communicate clearly and consistently with your clients in order to build long-lasting relationships that will result in more work and referrals down the road!

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