How to Manage Clients as a Freelancer or Consultant
Last Updated on March 20, 2023 by Administrator
One of the biggest challenges for freelancers and consultants, especially those offering creative services, is how to manage clients. A quick scan of online forums for designers, photographers, videographers, web designers or tradespeople, to name a few, will quickly reveal one of the most discussed and often joked about topics is client management.
Bad client management easily leads to burnout and quickly kills young and inexperienced businesses.
What Does Client Management Entail?
Client management relates to the steps and activities undertaken by a business to offer their services to and engage with those interested in their services, in a smooth, effective and favourable manner.
Note: We use the words ‘client’ and ‘customer’ interchangeably depending on context. Client however refers to those accessing a service and customer those buying a product. Either way, they refer to the one being served in a business transaction.
There are two sides to or goals of client management:
- Ensuring Good Customer Experience, which relates to responsibilities of the business to their client, and
- Ensuring Business Success, which relates to the business’ strategies for itself, in respect of clients. I.e., the ways in which the business facilitates and ensures its own success in service delivery.
The latter part will be the focus of this article; the business’ strategies for itself, in respect of clients. In other words, how a freelancer or consultant can ensure or secure their own success, dealing with clients. We get into those strategies here, but first we examine both sides to client management briefly.
Ensuring Good Customer Experience
Good customer experience is an ultimate goal of client management, and businesses or service providers have foremost responsibility in this area. For a good customer experience, a business must be
- Cordial with clients
- Patient with clients
- Effective in communication
- Fair in their offer, pricing and demands
- Able to involve the client in their work
- Transparent and honest in their service delivery
- Consistent with their quality of work and promise
- Ensure service quality is equal to or better than the competition
- Proactive in learning about and understanding their client
- Keep in touch and monitor client interests
- Open to honest feedback
All in all, they must ensure to do all that is necessary in bringing the customer satisfaction. There are many strategies, and tools such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, that help achieve these goals.
Ensuring Business (Service Delivery) Success
Client management is also necessary to facilitate the business’ own operations.
For one, regardless of how good a service is, business success also relies on good customer behaviour and responsibilities of clients toward a business. And, given that a business cannot control or predetermine who every client is, they must know how to manage or engage and relate with every kind of client, with a view to enhancing their operations or business needs, besides satisfying the client.
Among the various kinds of clients a business will deal with, it is most guaranteed every business will occasionally and naturally (as with society in general) encounter clients that can challenge or make one’s operations impossible; even the best and especially young businesses. Bad customer behaviour include clients;
- Being slow to make payment or not paying at all
- Being dishonest and inconsistent in their engagements
- Not responding to communication nor communicating clearly or on time
- Being temperamental, obnoxious or disrespectful to a business
- Not listening to advise or comments from the business
- Assuming the role of the professional, and thus prolonging or compromising work
- Trying to take all the business’ time depriving them of productivity and other earnings
- Demanding too much or overexploiting a business
- Being unreasonable or uncooperative
In spite of these, there are strategies that a business, particularly a freelancer or consultant, can adopt to manage clients and ensure favourable outcomes for the business and its clients. That would be the focus of this article.
So, for the purpose of this article, we assume a business or service provider, despite rendering great services and ticking all the boxes for good customer experience, still faces difficulties handling clients in their own interest.
Managing Clients as a Freelancer or Consultant for Business Success
The following are ways to manage clients as a freelancer or consultant, to protect and ensure success for yourself and clients:
- Quality Client Prospecting
- Detailed Pricing, and Package or Service Details
- Manage Expectations
- Terms of Service or Contracts
- Build Integrity into Your Processes
- Separate Yourself
- Keep Records of Conversations and Transactions
These are explained further below:
1. Quality Client Prospecting
First off, we need to recognise that not all clients are good news. In one’s desperation to find clients, especially as a small business, one may be tempted to take on anything they get; yet with all the challenges faced landing a client one may soon find that sometimes the precious client either becomes a pain to serve or eventually costs the business more than they were paid.
The first step to handling such clients is to avoid them to begin with. Now this is something we should be slow to do; we should all be slow to judge and be welcoming to all. However, quality client prospecting is also important as a cost saving measure.
It is sometimes possible to tell at the onset, from experience, if a client is good for you or not; you need to choose your clients as much as they choose you. Cues such as communication style, temperament, reasonability, level of interest, capacity and willingness to pay, etc. can sometimes be spotted early on in your engagements; although again this needs to be done carefully to avoid unnecessary prejudice and loss of good prospects. If it is very clear a prospective client is bad news however you should do well to avoid them or kindly hold back your services due to “unavailability at the time.”
In addition to the above there are two important documents every services business should have, and proper ones for that matter.
2. Detailed Pricing, and Package or Service Details
It’s important to be clear and specific with your pricing. You may have a simple list of services you offer and/or service packages, which are a list of things you do or offer as one service. Depending on the kind of services you offer you may have different packages for the same service, with each of the packages representing the different amounts of work and items you put in and the price for that. Sometimes you may have an additional document or section of your pricing document that breaks down exactly what goes into the service(s) you offer.
Either way your pricing document(s) should detail very clearly and specifically:
- Your pricing and what goes into it
- What the client can expect from you
- The process you will be following to deliver the work
Any room left for ambiguity can become room for excess demands from a client. Be sure to communicate or present these documents to EVERY client before proceeding with work or taking payment.
3. Manage Expectations
This relates to ensuring that you as a freelancer or consultant are on the same page, in terms of expectations, with a client. Part of this can be achieved through a Terms of Service or contract. However, extra steps should be taken to:
- Show the client the quality of work they can expect (for e.g., through samples of works done), where possible
- Get the client to show you what they want to see or get in the end, where possible
- Let clients confirm choices you make for them, where possible, before they are implemented
4. Terms of Service or Contracts
Terms of Service
In addition to pricing document(s) you should have a ‘Terms of Service’ document. This doesn’t need to be a long boring legal document. You simply need a document that explains to the client;
- Your payment requirements
- Payment schedules and refund policy
- How best to communicate with you (through which channels)
- How the client can check and ensure they get the quality of work they want from you
- What you need from the client (work resources)
- What you expect from the client (behaviour or otherwise)
- Any other details required for smooth service delivery from you
Keep your terms of service as concise and as easy to consume as possible; you wouldn’t want to bore your clients with paperwork for a simple service, yet they should be detailed enough with all the essentials. You should also use an encouraging tone rather than a strict one wherever possible.
Then, present your Terms of Service to EVERY client before proceeding to work with them. This document may be attached to your invoice or sent directly and separately to them during early engagements.
If, in spite of the above measures to keep your Terms of Service easy to consume, you find it difficult “slapping a client with the ‘legalities’ of working with you” so as not to discourage and subsequently lose them, you may communicate your terms of service gradually to them through normal conversations, ensuring to touch on all the essential details prior to starting work.
You wouldn’t want to hear at some point in your service delivery the statement “you didn’t mention that…” when conflict arises with respect to work expectations, otherwise it becomes a valid argument against you and requires you to bare whatever cost is in question.
In some cases, if you have the capacity to, you may want to detail specifically through a signed contract, the deliverables and timelines a client can expect, what they are entitled to (for e.g. with respect to copyrights and other permissions in the case of a photographer or software developer) and other details. It may include elements of a terms of service as described above.
Some also sign Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs), which enforces confidentiality in your work where needed, in addition to a contract on deliverables.
These may be done by hiring a lawyer or searching online for templates of contracts that are closely related to your case and modifying them to your needs. Contracts become more important as the complexity of work and expectations grow, for example in software development, construction or facility management jobs.
5. Build Integrity into Your Processes
Both documents described above are for your benefit as much as the client’s. They help you see and shape clearly and properly over time, your service offering and pricing.
These documents would likely not be perfect the first time, and that’s perfectly okay and welcome. Take the opportunity to draft better documents, through continuous engagements and lessons learned from previous projects, to aid future work.
The important thing is to stick to your own provisions and rules captured in those documents as much as practicable. Clients will often pressure you to make exceptions for them, especially with respect to payments. The problem is, EVERY SINGLE CLIENT thinks they are THE ONE that deserves an exception. When you compromise once, you compromise all the time. It is therefore important to adopt strict compliance to your pricing and terms of service.
6. Separate Yourself
Even if you’re working alone as a freelancer, create a team atmosphere for your business. Clients are more inclined to respect your terms of service and financial obligations when there are other people in the picture. If you work alone many clients will try to exploit their relationship with you and become more reluctant to make due payments or respect your time and business commitments among others.
The ideal thing is to have a team in place with assigned roles and processes. If you cannot afford that, one option is to adopt a strict attitude, to be able to say NO to clients’ excesses sometimes. If that might cost you good relationships too, try the following to separate yourself from your business and create a team atmosphere for little to no cost;
- Use the pronoun “we” for your business always
- Keep a business line separate from your personal line
- Assign roles to family, friends or partners even if as inactive and unpaid members
- Ensure to included others in the picture when communicating your processes
- Give others access to your business line to respond for you occasionally
- Refer to wherever you work from as your office, and/or use a co-working space. With co-working spaces if you cannot afford a monthly subscription, you can still use that as your office location, and book a desk for client meetings as and when necessary.
Hiring a virtual assistant (VA) might also prove to be a cost effective solution to many of the above as they can handle an extra phone line and other tasks for you for minimal fees.
7. Keep Records of Conversations and Transactions
Keeping records of your conversations and transactions with clients significantly helps with client management.
Ensure you keep a record of all conversations you have with a client; sticking to instant messaging or email as a preferred means of communication for business helps in this regard. This allows you to remember what has been discussed, in order to deliver exactly what is required. It also helps you resolve conflicts when one person disagrees with what was previously agreed on or communicated.
Ensure all transactions are accompanied with invoices and receipts, even when you offer a service for free. You should always send an invoice or receipt to your client, detailing exactly what is to be offered, its duration and other details applicable including any discounts applied (even if 100% in the case of free work, which should be avoided anyway).