How to Start Off on the Right Foot With Clients
Entrepreneurs want to start off on the right foot to create successful relationships with their clients. If you are a service-based entrepreneur, I imagine that you have come across a client issue that you did not know how to address. And, if you are like me, your reputation is important to you so you want to handle things professionally to avoid damaging that reputation.
I have found that if you set and clarify the boundaries in the relationship upfront, you and your client are more likely to enjoy a great experience.
Following are some of the questions you want to address with your client in advance:
How often can your client contact you?
How quickly will you respond? Unfortunately, we live in an era of immediate responses. It is more difficult for us to say, ‘I will respond when it is appropriate for me and when I have time". Expectations can also vary from person to person, which means that if you email certain people frequently, over time you can train them to know that a longer response time is standard and not a sign of a problem.
What is your preferable method of client communication (email, text, telephone, Skype)? I actually think that it is important to use the communication method that my clients prefer, even if it is not my favorite.
Will emails be routed to you or your virtual assistant? The biggest challenge in getting email support is making the mental shift away from thinking of email as your responsibility. Email is a large part of the workload for most entrepreneurs. Get help with this area of responsibility and you will not only find it easier to stay on top of email--you will find it easier to stay on top of all your work.
When can clients contact you (week days, week evenings, weekends, holidays)? Since most of us can work anywhere, any time, is it possible to mark the end of the day? Again, the best time to deal with this situation is at the start of a relationship. I treat my business like a regular job and set expectations when I first speak with a prospective client. I explain what my work hours are and that I am not available in the evenings or weekends. You may decide to be flexible and accept occasional out-of-hours work. Still, it could snowball into a regular thing. If you do not set the parameters ahead of time, you are setting yourself up for expectations that are not going to be acceptable.
How do you like to receive responses to your questions (individually, once daily, once weekly, specific day)?
How will you respect the client's privacy? My clients are strategic business partners and our relationship is built on trust. That trust is built on the belief and fact that all conversations remain confidential between us.
How will the client express their concerns to you? It is important to allow your clients the time and space to talk about their problems and concerns openly and honestly. The more freedom your client has to express how they feel, the more insights you will gain.
How do you want to receive feedback? Direct, verbal, immediate, via email?
What is your “scope creep” policy? Scope creep is when the client asks for more than was originally agreed upon and will reduce your profit.
What is your policy when the client does not show up? This must be clear and in writing in advance to avoid misunderstanding. My time is valuable and so is that of my clients. If they are late for their appointment, they lose that time. If they do not show up for their appointment, they will still be charged in full.
What is your rescheduling policy?
How will you handle unpaid invoices? Remember, you train your clients how to treat you. First of all, it is not rude to request full payment up front. In business, perception is everything. You must be perceived as someone who treats her business seriously; otherwise, people will not take your business serious and may not care much about paying you. Create a policy and a script to go with it. You can send an email requiring payment upon booking. Say something like, "To purchase a consulting session, please click the link below. Once you have completed your purchase, we will schedule your session right away".
How you handle delays due to the client failing to meet deadlines in getting back to you with information or decisions? I have managed hundreds of projects where the client failed to provide answers to the things I needed. I found that being frank with the client and telling them that they are holding up a potential decision—or success—on the project generally would light a fire.
Will your proposals and quotes have a time limit? Do you need to add an expiration clause to your proposals/quotes. If so, what is it?
How do you handle a client's unresponsiveness?
How do you explain your from start-to-finish process to your clients?
How will you communicate your boundaries and processes to the client?
Will you discuss your boundaries and processes during your initial call?
Will you email a blueprint of your boundaries and processes to clients for signature?
Will you host your terms and conditions on your website and have clients acknowledge them by submitting their signature via an online digital signature software such as E-Sign?
I also suggest that you get crystal clear on what your client's expectations are as a result of working with you. Also ask them about any fears or concerns they may have. Ask them what a success would like like for them. Have the client articulate what they need from you in order for your work together to be successful.
Be honest about whether you can meet their expectations before you begin. Discuss the kinds of things that could interfere with their expected results or timelines.
Find out what their best communication method is (text, emails, phone, Skype, etc.).
Ask them what type of learner they are (visual, auditory, reading/writing, or kinesthetic).
Ask them how they prefer to receive feedback from you.
Find out if they would like to incorporate something you did not address in your working relationship.
As they share their requests, needs, and wants with you, be honest about whether you can accommodate them. This is the time to be clear whether you will be a great fit or not. If your client expects things from you that you know you are unable to deliver on or that will be unpleasant for you, this is the time to speak up or forever hold your peace.
When you are clear on your thoughts presented above, you will be well on your way to establishing rewarding client relationships going forward.
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