There’s a critical moment in the signing-a-new-client process that not enough people talk about.
It’s the moment after the initial inquiry lands in your inbox and your prospect asks the big ‘W’ question:
“What happens next?”
On the ‘must have’ list for success as a freelancer—whether you’re a designer, developer, marketing expert, etc…—the ability to craft a unique, enjoyable, and easy client experience is right up there with talent and a determination to hit your deadlines.
Creating a carefully-designed, awesome process for your client projects rocks for 3 big reasons:
- It helps you get great work done
- It builds fantastic trust that keeps your clients coming back for more
- It turns the folks you work with into raving fans who spread the word about you like wildfire
So, when a client asks ‘What’s next?’, that’s your first opportunity to get the ball rolling, beautifully.
While it’s up to you to decide your exact process, here are some solid guidelines that will ensure your client feels supported, understood, and (most importantly) like they’re having a great time co-creating with you.
1. It all begins with research
Before you get on the phone with your prospect, or respond to their email, take the time to look at their site and the work they’re putting out.
Does it jive with you?
Is it something you could see yourself being a part of?
Is it something that you would feel proud to show off?
I get it—you can’t always be choosy with clients. But choosing clients with messages and goals you believe in does make projects easier.
“If you’re just not buying what your prospect is selling, or don’t love their style, you might find yourself getting resentful and easily frustrated.”
Look around and take notes about what you find, and what specific areas you might want to discuss further with them. If it doesn’t feel like a fit, consider letting them move on to the next professional, so you can free yourself up for more projects that align with you.
Hopefully, however, it’ll be all green lights all the way, and you can move on to the next stage!
2. Have a clear plan from the start
When you’ve worked your magic, and the client is amped up and ready to sign on the dotted line, it’s time to start laying out your process.
To make this part easier, have an overview ready that explains the step-by-step process of working with you. (Gmail’s ‘canned responses’—which allow you to insert a pre-written message in any email instantly—are great for this!)
Here’s one of my responses as an example:
“I’ll start by sending you over my client intake questionnaire. Once you fill that out, we’ll hop on the phone for an in-depth, head-to-head interview based on your answers, goals, and the product we’re going to create together. Then, it’s draft and feedback time! I’ll deliver the drafts via Google Docs, you’ll get X number of revisions, then we can aim to have this all wrapped up by [DATE]. We’ll finish with one final review call, and I’ll send you on your way!”
Having everything clear from the beginning means you can move forward with confidence. It also helps you set and maintain expectations and boundaries from the get go.
Pro tip: To battle scope slip, be sure to stipulate the number of drafts due in your contract as well. That way there’s no confusion, and if they start to push your limits, it’s easy to refer back.
3. Questions make it all flow. Get good at asking them.
Questions are the key to creative success. After all, the more you learn about the project and the client, the closer you can get to a home run on the first swing.
I ask all of my big questions in my initial client intake questionnaire, and on our 1-2 hour project interview call.
If you don’t have a client survey put together I highly recommend it! It will help you form a well-rounded understanding of the project ahead of you and all the key elements that will be in play, like details about your client’s ideal customer/client, their pain points, and the solution your client’s product or service promises.
Personally, I like to get creative with my Q’s and really dig into who my client’s’ target audience is, their value proposition, and the vibe they want to beam out to the world.
I do this by asking questions like:
- What inspired you to start doing what you do?
- What are your goals for the content?
- What are some voices (in your industry or otherwise) that really inspire you?
- What do your clients/customers have to say about you?
- What makes your business extraordinary?
- What people do you love to serve?
- What people would you rather not attract through your work?
- If you had to write a playlist for your target market, what would be the first 3 songs on it? (This is one of my personal favorites as it helps me get into the right headspace, and makes for great background jams)
Asking these questions has a two-fold benefit.
On one hand, it gives your client something to work on that will help both of you get crystal clear on the project and spark your inspiration as you toe the starting line.
On the other, asking questions can help you spot a range of red flags, including the reddest of them all: under-preparation.
“If a client can’t fully explain what their product is, who their target market is, or the solution they’re offering… you’re gonna have a bad time.”
(Unless you offer strategy as part of your services).
However, if no flags are flying, and you’re satisfied with all the answers you’ve received, it’s time to kick off the project! Which brings us to the next element of your client experience: teaching them how to critique your work.
4. If a client’s not giving you good feedback teach them how
Many clients might not be sure how to critique the work you deliver. It can cause confusion for both of you as they struggle to articulate what they really want, and you struggle to deliver.
One idea to combat feedback befuddlement is to offer a detailed explanation about what sort of direction you’re looking for via email.
- What was their first opinion on the piece?
- Did that opinion change?
- What do they want to see added or removed?
- What jumped out at them, good or bad?
- How is the overall tone/direction/idea/vibe feeling to them?
This keeps your client from running into ‘Am I doing this right?’ anxiety, and will speed up the process of the entire project.
5. Be honest. This is your work as well.
Don’t just regurgitate a client’s ideas back to them (unless they ask you to—and even then, try to offer different perspectives anyway). When you’ve been working on a project for months or years it’s hard to step back and see if with a fresh perspective, which is why you, as an outsider have such a valuable opinion.
Help them open up to new concepts they might not have considered yet. When you’re asking questions, go deeper if you don’t fully understand something.
Take a look at the project and see how you can come at it from a different angle.
“Commit to caring about your client’s success. Because when you’re genuinely invested in what you’re working on, you can produce standout results every time.”
6. When it’s all over, make sure you get yours (with respect and finesse)
Equally important as the start-to-finish experience is what happens after the project wraps. Don’t leave them or you hanging! This is your opportunity to make your business and your work better.
Yes, it’s great to ask for testimonials, but clients can be a little intimidated by the ‘Just write a paragraph’ request. I suggest sending over a testimonial request that’s complete with a few key questions after your wrap call.
A few ideas:
- What do they think is the best part about working with you?
- How do they feel about their business now?
- Did they wish you’d delved into certain areas more?
- Would they recommend you?
Clarity, creativity, and fantastic collaboration are what turns clients into raving fans of your work.
If you do one thing today to help build your freelance career, I’d suggest spending the time to put together your own process for new clients.
Already have a client process? Remember that your needs and goals do change over time, so check in with yourself to see if it’s still working for you. Is there a way it can be improved? How can you make it more streamlined and fun for everyone involved?
In the freelance world, you’re the shot caller. So consider what sort of timelines really honor your creativity and work speed the most.
What do you need your clients to deliver on this epic journey of working with you?
What will make them comfortable and confident?
How can you go deeper with your ideas?
What will make it easiest for you to do your best work?
Then go forth, map it out, and get it done in a way that feels right, and keeps the people you work for coming back again and again.
Image credit: Ben Rosett