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I’m a freelancer. I work from home and my business is 100% based on client services. I love the “work” part of my job, but what I don’t really enjoy is my interaction with my clients (that sounds bad, but let me explain).
I often feel like my clients think I am at their disposal 24/7. They always want something for free, or at a discount. They want me to live up to my end of the contract, but they don’t want to live up to theirs . . . I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. How do I build and keep a healthy relationship with my clients?” – Drew
Drew, thanks for your great question today. It sounds like your clients are stressing you out, and that’s no way to spend life! One of my goals is not only to help you build the business of your dreams, but it’s also to help you live a life of meaning, so this question hits on both of those topics. Soul sucking client relationships are not worth it!
1. Do You Look Like a Professional or Hobbyist?
My first and best advice is to stop calling yourself a “freelancer.” For some reason, people don’t take that word very seriously. “I’m a freelancer,” sounds like “I don’t have a real job so I’m doing this on the side until I find one.” (Sorry, shooting straight from the hip today!)
When you refer to what you do professionally, I recommend saying, “I’m a professional writer/photographer/graphic designer/consultant, etc.” Or you could say, “I own a professional graphic design business, etc.”
The great thing about saying it this way is that it establishes right away that you are a professional, not a hobbyist. So, down the road when these people hire you, they know you are the real deal.
2. You Must Manage Expectations
The next step toward establishing a healthy client relationship is to manage expectations from the get-go. You have to make everything clear up front.
3. Set Business hours
You should have some. Yes, being a solopreneur or small business owner often means long hours, but everyone needs a day of rest. Giving your client set hours of operation says, “This is a real business.” It also allows you to structure your work day into work rhythms that allow you maximum productivity.
4. Define Time for Appointments and Meetings
Let your clients know that you are available for appointments and meetings, but not always available for phone calls. Phone calls, excessive emails and other forms of messaging and meetings can waste your precious time and focus. Remember how you have to be ruthless with your time and focus?
When your availability is not clearly defined, it is only natural that clients will behave as if you are on call 24/7. This isn’t because your clients are jerks, it’s because they don’t know what you don’t tell them. Of course clients will try to use as much of your time as possible! You are awesome; you make things better!
5. You Need Enough Lead Time. Tell Your Clients!
Communicating how many days in advance you need project details before you can complete them (lead time) is such a valuable piece of early communication for some professions (especially graphic designers). Often clients do not understand that by rushing their projects through, you are setting aside other projects and deadlines.
6. Refund Policies Keep Awkward Situations at Bay
Having a policy related to refunds for services rendered is very important. Communicating this in advance is always a great idea.
7. Define in Advance How Contract Termination Works
For any number of reasons, contracts get interrupted. Both parties need to understand from the very beginning what will happen when/if they terminate the contract early.
And while we are talking about contracts, let’s talk a little bit about reading them. It’s important to have a contract, but just because something is IN the contract, doesn’t mean your client has read it, so be sure your client understands the details of your work together.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, “As it says in the contract blah blah blah,” and then hear that the other party didn’t actually read all of the contract. As I have said before, many people are skimmers. Prepare for this so your brain doesn’t explode out of sheer frustration down the road.
8. Be a Good Business Person (Seriously!)
I know this might be surprising to some of you, but sometimes clients hire disreputable people. And once that happens to them, they are forever wary of other professional contractors.
Setting a very positive tone early on with your client will do wonders for their trust level with you. And a trusting client is a happy client.
9. Be Dependable and Thoughtful
Do what you say you are going to do when you say you are going to do it. If something happens (because life happens, right?) and you can not do what you said you were going to do when you said you would do it, be upfront with your client. If you have to reschedule a call because your dishwasher exploded, don’t be cagey just be honest. People can sniff out cagey in a heartbeat.
10. Give Clients the Benefit of the Doubt
Sometimes, we as entrepreneurs, tend to think our clients are being difficult, when in reality it’s that they just don’t understand what they are asking for. Giving your clients the benefit of the doubt (giving them your trust) will give you a more positive impression of them, which will translate to them having a more positive impression of you.
Never assume your client (or anyone else for that matter) knows what to do, why you do what you do, or how things should work. Over communicate everything and explain the whys and hows. You’ll quickly see that ‘difficult people’ magically become dream clients.
Bonus: Be “For” Them
Whatever you do, whether you are a photographer, a designer, writer, web developer, Consultant, etc., whatever service you provide, you should be “for” your clients. Have the mindset that their success is your success.
You started your business to serve others by doing what you love. Be it consulting, graphic design, photography or accounting- your unique gift combined with your desire to provide a service to others is important.
As a service professional, your work is focused on serving others. As my friend and Leadership coach, Steve Farber says, “Do what you love in the service of those who love what you do.“
It isn’t rocket science. Being a good business person comes down to being a good human and treating others right. (Tweet this!)