In business as in life, communication will make or break you.
When dealing with your clients it is important that your message is clear. Nothing damages a relationship faster than a misunderstanding, which is especially true when somebody is paying you for goods or services. This is why companies now spend millions every year on social media, advertising, and connecting directly with their markets.
When on the receiving end of a paying relationship the responsibility falls on you to ensure that the right message is being communicated, at the right time, to the right people. At times this may seem unfair, especially when the project is collaborative. But they are paying for your time so have earned the right to receive effective communications.
There are a few areas you are responsible for:
Timeliness means that you never leave a client hanging, waiting for you to reply to a question or query. However, I do not advise and am not a proponent of instantly responding to messages as there is greater efficiency in chunking email tasks into set times throughout the day. But you should respond the same day.
You need to be patient with your clients. They hire you because you bring something to the table that they can’t. So it stands to reason that they don’t know as much about your specialty as you do and probably have some questions. Make sure you answer them fully, even if it is for the millionth time.
Another part of being patient is to make sure that you have enough time to devote to each client. It is no good to be overbooked and overworked to the point that all of your client relationships begin to suffer. There is a fine line between never saying no and biting off more than you can chew.
Finally, you hold all responsibility for following up. Even if you have requested something from them and are waiting for a reply, the onus is still on you to follow up that conversation. This also goes for follow-ups after the deal is closed. It is only good business sense to stay in touch with somebody who has previously paid for your services.
If somebody has paid you once, there is a greater probability that they will be happy to pay you again. But only if you treat them right.
Does the client carry any responsibility? Or are they always right?
While they are not always right, they do receive a lot of leeway. Unfortunately they can easily choose to get their goods and services elsewhere if pushed away. This can put you into a tough spot, but if the relationship is toxic then perhaps it is best.
The client does bear some responsibility during the process however:
- To not bury you in minutia
- To not monopolize your time
I’ve worked on projects where every time a new bit of info comes it, it is sent to me. This can be exhausting and pointless as well. Especially as not everything is pertinent to my role within the project. Luckily this typically comes across by email so I can moderate it with the aforementioned technique of handling them in batches all at once.
The second point, to not monopolize your time, is a tricky one. If you are on the job site then you are on the clock and they have every right to expect you to be in attendance 100 percent. But if their job isn’t currently at the forefront then chances are that you are on the clock for somebody else at that moment, so it is unreasonable for them to demand more than a few minutes of your time.
If physical goods are involved then your time can be monopolized by tire kickers. They come try it on for size but never buy anything.
Reasons for Communicating
In every job there are certain inflection points where a communication should take place. These are:
- Beginning of the project
- Status updates
- Waypoints / Milestones
- Info sharing
You need to initiate clear communication at each of these points. The breadth and depth of these will depend on the frequency of contact at that stage.
As frequency of communication increases, the length decreases. The opposite is also true.
Who to involve
In business applications there will typically be a distribution list that specifies the various contacts. In an email setting you can always check the Carbon Copy. The important thing is to remember who it is that you are working for and to not share privileged information with the wrong parties, while still ensuring that everyone who directly needs that information is included.
When in doubt only contact the person who gave you the contract in the first place.
This will mainly be determined by the details of the interaction, but I’m working off the assumption that both emails and meetings will be involved. The point to note is that you should stick to the method of communication that the project was started with. Move up the hierarchy of communication when appropriate, but never down.
Formal communication methods are called for at the beginning and end of projects, as well as at milestones. As things move farther out it is okay to be a little less formal but always be mindful that you are representing your brand. No matter how well you get on this is still a client that is paying you to ease whatever pain they are having.
When the job is done and the janitor has switched off the lights it’s already time for you to start thinking about follow-up. It bears repeating that if somebody has used your goods and services once, they will be more willing to do so again. A client that has paid is worth three potentials.
To ensure that you stay at the top of the list for future works, send a follow up message after a week has gone by. Ask about the status of the thing you worked on together and see if they need additional support.
There is software designed specifically to help you monitor who you last contacted and when. Myself, I use a spreadsheet that just notes the important details. But however you decide to track it make sure that it stays up to date and, most importantly, you follow up at appropriate intervals.
It is a Relationship
Working with people these days is built on trust. You are developing a relationship with these people, and you can’t do that without speaking to them. So contact them early and contact them often. Offer help and let them know you are available.
Build this network, nurture it, and it will take care of you for years.