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The Do’s and Don’ts of Client Relationship Management as a Freelancer

Finding new clients is a critical component of the puzzle of freelance.  But more so than finding amazing clients is making them happy and converting them from a one-time job to a long-term relationship. Nearly all of my roles in software over the last eight years have had an element of customer service, which means I’ve picked up many tips and tricks for client relationship management to craft ongoing client relationships for months and years to come.

If you’re new to freelance and don’t have a background in customer service, fear not. A client/freelancer relationship can blossom if you follow only a few rules of the road.

DO

Set clear expectations

Set expectations for the work you’ll deliver but also how payment will be issued.  Hourly contracts tend to be pretty straightforward.  But if you’re working on a fixed contract, understand the deliverable and at what point you can bill the client for the services rendered. The last thing you want is to spend hours or days working on a fixed-price project for a client only to realize that what you’ve produced doesn’t align even slightly with what they expected to see.

Underpromise and overdeliver

It amazes me how many people in client service positions can’t seem to grasp this concept.  This is one of the easiest, if not the easiest, ways to impress a client.  Say, for example, that you know you can deliver a quality 1,000-word blog post that’s polished, edited, and cleaned up in 24 hours.  When you’re discussing work with the client, suggest a turnaround time of 48-72 hours.  This not only gives you a buffer in case of a last-minute schedule change or writer’s block, but it also gives you the option to deliver in 24 hours and absolutely blow the client expectations out of the water.

Deliver quality, polished work always

It’s better to get an extension on a project to polish your work than it is to turn in something unfinished. This ties in nicely with setting expectations as you and your client should be working from the same definition of “done.” As far as I’m concerned, if you wouldn’t be proud to deliver the work to yourself, don’t turn it over to a client.

Keep open lines of communication

Establish communication preferences early on in your client/freelancer relationship. Some clients prefer to communicate via Slack or some other project management tool. Once you know the platform or platforms with which you’ll be talking, be sure to deliver regular updates to the client. Updates are especially important if you’re working on a multi-week project. No more than a few days should pass without you providing some kind of signs of life to the client that tells them you’re still working for them and haven’t forgotten about the importance of the assignment.

Ask for feedback, then implement it

Upon starting a new relationship with a client, I let them know I am here to provide them with precisely what they need. I always let a client know that I’m incredibly receptive to feedback. But more important than asking for feedback is actually implementing the change the next time around.

One thing I’ve done that helps is to keep a google doc for each client that outlines any particulars that we’ve hashed out along the way. For example, I had a client who requested that when I deliver an article that I provide header tags (<h1>, <h2>, etc.). Since this is something the client wants to see going forward, I added it to my reference document, which I’ll check before delivering work for that client in the future.

DON’T

Deliver assignments late without good reason or adequate notice

One of the main feelings you’ll want to project to clients while freelancing is reliability.  Clients want to work with contractors who can be depended on to deliver work when they need it.  If you’re struggling with an assignment or will be delivering it later than usual, give your client a heads up.  The worst thing you can do is to cease communication because you’re ashamed of not providing work timely. Most clients will be understanding if you’re going to be a few hours or days late with an assignment, as long as they receive notification in advance.  What clients cannot comprehend is an overdue assignment with no reason why.

Be overly needy

Think of your clients like a brand new relationship. Staying in touch after your first project is one thing, but frequently asking for work when it doesn’t align with the contract is another entirely. I’ve heard horror stories of freelancers brought on for monthly work that repeatedly go back to a client and beg them for additional work every other day. You’ll be better off to prove your value by delivering high-quality work and letting the client reach out to you when they’re ready for the next assignment.

Perform work that’s outside the scope of your contract

Do your best to stay in your lane and within the scope of the contract for a particular project.  With freelance work, especially, it’s relatively common for an individual to offer multiple services. In my case, it’s proofreading and content writing. One of the hardest things to do as a proofreader who is also a content writer is to fight the urge to re-write.  Clients who hire me for proofreading are looking for just that.  If it were a re-writing job, they would have hired someone to re-write the content.

What is acceptable in this circumstance is to suggest to the client your offerings that fall outside the project’s scope.  You might say something like, “I’ve enjoyed working on your content as a proofreader.  I wanted to let you know that I also do content writing work and feel like I can capture the voice you’re looking for perfectly.  If you’d like to collaborate in that manner in the future, please let me know!” This allows the client to hire you for work under a different contract potentially, and, assuming you’ve created a great experience thus far, they’ll likely be thrilled to know you can do even more for them!

The main thing about client satisfaction

I’m all about keeping the main thing the main thing. And the main thing when it comes to client satisfaction is treating the customer like you’d want to be treated. In every engagement with a client, I ask myself, “Would I be satisfied with this level of service?” and “Would I recommend this level of service to other people?” If the answer to either of those questions is ever no, I’m doing it wrong, and something needs to change. A recommendation from a client is priceless, and you never know who that person might talk to who is going to turn into your next favorite client.

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