If you're aiming to build a successful career in freelancing, delivering high-quality work is only half the battle. If your client relationships don't function as smoothly as they should, even the most impressive portfolio won't be enough to build a long-lasting business. Every freelancer is responsible for developing and maintaining healthy client relationships, but what does this mean in practice?
As a freelancer, you need to assume total responsibility for achieving results. You have no one to motivate you or ensure that you maintain standards, and letting clients down regularly is a sure route to freelancing failure. You can't afford to keep missing deadlines or under-delivering on your promises. It's vital to develop an efficient workflow system that works well for you.
Technology is helpful here - there's no shortage of productivity apps available, from simple to-do lists to full workflow management and collaboration suites, so find a method that works for you and make sure you build your working day around it.
You also need to be realistic in your timescales when pitching a project to a client. In emergencies, it's possible to pull an all-night work session to meet a tight deadline, but regularly putting yourself under this level of time pressure will lead to burn-out sooner rather than later. Give yourself some breathing space when agreeing on deadlines, even if this means turning down some unrealistically urgent jobs.
Communication is Key
Few things are as harmful to a client relationship as poor communication. With every project you take on, you need to get the parameters clear from the start so there's as little room for misunderstanding as possible.
Also, establish a clear method for communication, whether this is by telephone or by email, and make sure you're contactable at the times you've agreed. Always keep the client informed of your progress, especially if you come up against a potential problem which could delay delivery.
One common cause of client friction is a mismatch in expectations over delegation. As a freelancer, you will be perfectly comfortable working independently, but a client may be accustomed to a highly hands-on approach to supervising employees. It's best to be prepared for what may seem like unwarranted micro-management and interference, so that you can deal with it politely but firmly. If necessary, remind the client that the terms of engagement have been set out in the project brief, and you should be judged on the results and not your individual working methods.
One of the most important aspects of building a flourishing freelance career is handling feedback properly. Always ask for an honest review of the project, especially with new clients. Whether the feedback you receive is good or bad, you can use it to improve your services, and asking for it also helps to solidify communication with the client which could lead to further work.
However, be prepared for inevitable criticism from time to time. Don't take it personally - so long as you're happy that you've done your best work, any negative feedback should be taken positively and calmly. It's not a reflection on your skill or character, as it's just as likely to be a result of poor expectation management or poor communication as it is any under-performance on your part. Occasionally, it could simply be a client who will never be satisfied. Whatever the circumstances, take what you can from the feedback, then move on.
Requests for Revisions
It's far from unknown for a client to request a revision of the work you've done. If this happens, review the project brief and honestly assess if you've met the requirements. Unless the revision request is entirely unreasonable, it's usually sensible to action the changes rather than enter into a time-consuming and motivation-sapping dispute. However, if a client regularly asks for revisions you feel are beyond the terms of the brief, either factor this extra workload into your future fees or consider letting the client go.
The starting point of a thriving freelance career is to turn your natural talents and enthusiasm into excellent work. However, this isn't usually enough by itself. Developing and maintaining good client relationships is key if you want to build your freelancing business on solid and lasting foundations.