Client onboarding and retention when you freelance

As a freelancer you might not be skilled in the art of customer service.  I know many people in my profession of web development, who are horrible at communicating with clients but are great developers.  If you want to succeed in getting and retaining clients, you need to get in touch with your “business side” and learn how to onboard clients and establish a trust that will carry you to new heights in your ventures.

Onboarding clients is when you establish a working relationship with a person/company who has hired you to provide services to them.  You should follow some key steps, so that you retain a “best in class” service to them:

Get the financials worked out:  Money can be viewed as taboo for a novice freelancer, but you need to do it in order to create trust on both sides.

  • Most companies will provide an 1099 for you at tax time if you work enough for them.  Therefore, you will need to provide them with a W-9 form from the IRS before work begins.
  • Your hourly rate should be established before work begins.  (Do your research on what hourly rates are for your services).
  • Define payment methods and terms upfront before work begins.  Clients can pay by check, PayPal, direct deposit, or even cash, so knowing this upfront will help you when the project ends.  Payment terms can vary too.  I usually request a percentage of the estimate before work begins, but only for large projects.  All other times I usually request a 30 day payment term.  If you don’t establish this upfront, though, they may try to bend the rules to their liking.  And if you’ve ever been jaded by a client, it’s hard to bounce back.

Establish working hours:  If you have a fulltime job or other daily commitments, you will need to let the client what your response time will be.  You should be candid with the client about this information prior to any work being done, because they may need someone available during working hours, require you to attend morning standup meetings, or need you to attend calls at random times throughout the day.  By saying “I have a fulltime job but I can spare 2-3 hours in the evenings and anytime on weekends”, you will establish a line of communication that is key.

Become Personable:  You might think you are personable now, but I’ve been in conversations where frustration builds between clients and servicers, and it’s a big no-no.  Remember you are the SME (subject matter expert).  You’re job is not to train the client or explain the inner workings of a flux capacitor.  The attitude you need to adopt is simple:  most everything is possible…it’s just a matter of money and time.  If you don’t come across like you want to find a solution, the client will find someone else who will.  While a half baked vision by the client might seem impossible, it might be possible once you talk through the details and do a little research.  Calmly saying “It might be possible to do, but I don’t know at this moment how long it’ll take or if the vision needs to change a bit.  But give me some time to think about it.” will show initiative and motivation.

Under Promise Over Deliver:  If you want to be a winning candidate for more work, set realistic expectations for yourself and consistently hit the deadline or a little before it.  Don’t go crazy on the amount of time you need to finish a project, or you’ll risk looking like a novice.  By doubling the amount of time onto a project, you’ll find that the quality of your work increases.  And this also allows for those hidden requirements to creep out of the shadows.

Don’t be a doormat:  I’ve realized that clients aren’t out to see how much they can get done in the shortest amount of time.  Clients who are looking for long term relationships, want quality and reliability.  The ones who want it and want it yesterday, are the ones you should avoid.  If you need the time to research, then convey that politely to the client.  If you hit a roadblock with a bug and it’s taking longer than expected and may jeopardize the timeline, then convey that politely sooner rather than later.  Nobody is perfect nor 100% accurate on project timelines, so you have that right to ask for more time.   In the end your goal is provide the client with excellence.

Establish communication methods:  Ask the client what’s the best way to contact them.  Some of my clients like it when I only email them during a project, while some like it when I send an email and then text them to read the email I sent.  I have relationships with some clients who feed me projects through email and I don’t need to contact them via phone at all!  It all just depends on the client.  Phone conversations are the quickest and best, though.  Establishing this upfront can alleviate anxiety and frustration that usually happens when miscommunication takes place.

Contact me if you’d like more advice!


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