Providing your best work efficiently and on time are the basics of being an independent, but no matter what service you provide it is vital that you build lasting and trusted relationships with the folks who provide you with work. You may be an expert consultant, but without good client relations you’re going to lose potential projects.
Many independents spend a great deal of their resources finding the next contract. However, new projects do not always require new clients. Strong relationships with current and past clients can position you for repeat business and helpful recommendations.
Independents should go beyond the basics by learning more about their client, sharing knowledge and building networks. The following outlines 8 tips in order to create lasting relationships with your clients.
A Clear Service Description – A clear outline of the project can be crucial when working with a new client. Whether the client provides a detailed set of specifications or if the project is a bit vague, the sooner both parties establish a project outline the sooner you will both know what is expected. This can decrease friction and even lower the overall project cost. Both usually lead to a stronger relationship.
Once you have a framework of clear objectives you can work with the client to layout a detailed timeline and set deadlines if necessary. Remember, it is better to overestimate than give yourself too little time. If a clear service description is not completed up front in an orderly fashion at a controlled cost, the process will become chaotic and the cost will be higher.
Open and Effective Communication – Communication is essential when building lasting client relationships. From phone calls to email and social media there are a wide variety of ways to communicate with your client. Try to make yourself available so clients can get in touch with you. It is crucial to make timely and efficient communication a priority. With that said your work productivity and personal life should not be consistently and unreasonably affected.
Exceptional communication can demonstrate to your client that the project and their satisfaction are important to you. Regular updates on the project’s progress are also important in gaining trust and this can alleviate any potential problems quickly. For those working offsite it is good to let the client know when you’ll be offline for a longer period of time such as a day or more to avoid any concern during these absences.
Share Knowledge – In many cases your client may not understand your area of expertise which is why they engaged your services. This is a great opportunity to build trust by sharing information that will help the client understand your capabilities. Working in this way will help the client feel more involved and connected with the project.
Other clients may have approached you for a specific skill, but you may have a variety of other competences and a range of knowledge beyond the project at hand. Over time you may discover other ways the client could use your knowledge. Share that wisdom with your client and show them how your skills can apply to a larger range of problems. This may lead to more projects now or in the future.
Be Honest and Open – The best relationships are built around openness and honesty. Be honest with yourself and the client about your capabilities, your skills and how long it will take you to complete a task. Trust can be built when the client knows what to expect from you.
It can be tempting to always be agreeable and avoid confrontation by telling your client the things you think they want to hear. As an Independent, clients rely on you to be an expert in your field; therefore it is essential to be open when it comes to your professional point of view regarding the project. Most clients will respect you confidently explaining your opinions and this in turn will increase your chance of a lasting relationship.
Get to Know Your Client – Independents have many advantages over larger consulting firms. One big benefit is that you can be more flexible and personal in your work relationships. Your association with the client will certainly be of a professional nature, but there is nothing wrong with acknowledging that you see them as an individual. If you get to know your clients as people and friends it can go a long way toward building strong and lasting relationships.
Meet Deadlines and Exceed Expectations – Completing your work well and on time is vital to strong client relationships. This is why it is best to set clear and realistic expectations from the start and give yourself an opportunity to make a strong impression with the client. By developing a reputation for delivering exceptional results you can put yourself in a great position for lasting relationships. With that said, if the project goes wrong and you don’t think you’ll meet the deadline it’s best to inform them sooner rather than later.
Keep a Positive Attitude – Independents can often carry a mountain of professional responsibilities. It is valuable to be able to maintain a positive attitude when around your client. Even if you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed it is important to show the energy and belief in yourself that you desire clients to feel about your work.
Network -Over the course of the contract you’ll share much of your knowledge and skills with your client. But don’t overlook sharing trusted contacts. You may be able to help connect the client with brokers or other independents to assist them with other service needs. They may reciprocate which results in a winning situation for all.