The golden goose for a self-employed individual is repeat business from existing client relationships. Securing these residual client relationships really begins on day one of your first project. Whether you are a freelance consultant, musician or expert bird caller, these five client relationship commandments will help you impress your client and secure repeat business.
1. Mind Your Manners: During a project, always mind your Ps and Qs. Acting professional at all times and using your manners may seem like an absolute no-brainer, but I am shocked at how often I run into scenarios where people make gaffes that cost them the next job.
- Don't talk over people. Make it a point to wait your turn politely and if you find yourself rambling over the top of someone’s thoughts, say “pardon me” and allow them to continue.
- Be on time. Do whatever it takes to be on time to all your appointments. You should always be waiting for the client, not the other way around.
- Be prepared. Scratch that, be overly prepared.
- If the client has offered to purchase lunch or dinner, don't go crazy ordering (you would be amazed at the kind of stuff I have witnessed). No extra desserts to take back to your hotel room or double appetizers just because you can’t decide. Take your cues off the client.
- Leave your phone in the car or buried deep in the recesses of your back pocket with the ringer shut off. Nothing is more unprofessional than a meeting being interrupted by your cell phone call or text alert.
- And most importantly, take the time after a project is completed to seek out those who hired you and tell them thank you.
2. The Client is Always Right-ish: The client obviously hired you because you had something to offer. But every client is different. Some clients will just trust you and let you do your thing. Other clients will be a bit more, shall we say, uncompromising. You should express your point of view and identify points of concern so that the client can weigh your expert advice against their own. But in the end, the client's point-of-view always win out. Even if you are convinced their choices will result in the next Titanic.
3. It Isn't About You: Everyone comes to the table with perspectives and ideas. A client is much more likely to rebook work with you if you ensure a healthy dose of collaboration and validation. Listening is a skill everyone can work to improve upon. Rarely have I ever left a meeting saying “Man that guy sure listened a lot.” Listening is critical to understanding the wishes of the client. One exercise I use to help me keep my mouth in check during meetings is to write down each thought that comes into my head as others speak. Once there is a break in the conversation, I then determine if my comment is still necessary or relevant before introducing.
If the client isn't a great communicator, make sure you seek vigilantly the client's point of view. When in doubt, ask questions and clarify. Assumptions can be the kill shot to any relationship.
4. Follow-Up, Follow-Up, Follow-Up: Let's face it; work and life are busy for everyone. As great as a project may have gone, once it ends memories get hazy. It is your job to stay top of mind with your previous clients. Send out marketing emails, drop them a call or mail them a piece of marketing collateral. Make sure you personalize anything that goes out so that your communication doesn't end up in the junk mail trash can.
5. Go the Extra Mile: Sometimes if you aren't happy about commandment #2 (the opinionated client), you can begrudgingly move forward on the client's request. Talking badly about the project or the client is never a good idea. Making predictions about how horrendous the end product will be or how wretched the production will be won’t solve anything. Put on your grown-up panties and figure out how to turn your lemons into a mojito. You never know, the client may seem like their crazy when in actuality, they are crazy like a fox. The end product may just be a wild success.