Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on FlexJobs.com.
This is an exciting time for your new freelance business! Your marketing efforts are finally paying off!
Clients are beginning to explore your new freelance services. Now, what do you do with them?
It’s time to work on the next stage of your business plan and create an onboarding experience that will delight your new freelance clients while communicating with professional clarity.
Handling New Freelance Clients With Professionalism and Delight
From the moment a prospective client reaches out, you have multiple opportunities to help them see that you are precisely the solution to the business challenges they face.
1. Set Expectations for a Response Time
Create a plan for what to do when a client reaches out with a request for your services. If a business contacts you as a prospective freelancer, making them wait around for a response means you’ll jeopardize losing their business to someone more responsive.
But that doesn’t mean you must drop everything to respond 24 hours a day. Instead, consider having an auto-reply on your professional email or an instant message that lets them know when they should expect your response.
During the week, that might mean a response by the end of the business day or within 24 hours. On weekends, you can state that you’ll respond when you return to the office on Monday.
Set boundaries and a standard of professional communication early on to ensure that your client sees you as a professional. Doing so will avoid making them feel frustrated as they wait for a response that isn’t coming until you’re back to work.
And if you can respond sooner, all the better! Strive to exceed your freelance client’s expectations from the beginning.
2. Use Professional Email Etiquette
Often, your freelance communication will begin as virtual communication. Your tone and professionalism can make or break your client’s confidence in you and your work.
Even if you happen to be communicating with a friend or a relative, you want to set a professional tone to help define the context of this business transaction.
Beyond using a professional email address, use the following tips to create a polished response:
- Use a professional subject line.
- Open with a work-appropriate greeting, rather than casual slang.
- Respect their time by being friendly but concise.
- Clearly outline the next steps in the process.
- Double-check for typos and obvious grammar mistakes.
- Include a signature with your name, title, website or online portfolio, and any other ways to contact you.
3. Go Beyond the Surface to Meet Their Needs
In your email exchange, offering your availability to discuss their needs is often the next step.
Also, a questionnaire to clarify your freelance client’s needs is almost always appropriate once they’ve gotten to the consulting stage.
A consultation and a questionnaire can help you understand their business needs and how you can support their immediate and long-term goals.
For example, if you’re a freelance virtual admin, maybe they requested support with corporate travel-booking tasks for an executive. A few quick questions will ensure that what they’re hoping to book is the service they most need.
4. Offer What They Need as Well as What They Want
A new freelance client may see an immediate need that isn’t being met, but they likely haven’t taken a deep dive into the underlying cause. Once they’ve answered a few questions to help you better understand the big picture, you can propose a few different options.
For instance, if a client needs corporate travel, some overall schedule management that includes booking travel might better meet their needs. If you see that schedule management might be a good fit for them, you can create a pitch to show the value.
Ensure that you still quote the original product they reached out for, but take the time to investigate what else your client may need to delight them in unexpected ways.
5. Become Their Brand Advocate
If you had to choose between working with two different salespeople, would you choose the one with a generic sales pitch? Or, would you choose the one who presented themselves as your biggest fan and had some suggestions on how to help you find success?
Most of us would choose the latter every time.
Whenever possible, leave yourself enough wiggle room in your schedule to do some research before speaking with them. Look through their website and social media and try to find some information about the person you’ll be speaking with.
The more you know about the client and their product or service, the more you can tailor your conversation and services to their specific needs.
When you present yourself as a brand advocate, they will see that you’re an excellent fit to help them grow their business.
6. Get Everyone on the Same Page
Once you’ve agreed on the next steps, let your client know when to expect a contract. No matter how big or small the project or how well you know the client, you need a contract.
A contract amplifies the exchange of your services for payment as a professional business transaction and protects you from endless back-and-forth that will eat into your time.
Depending on your business, that contract should detail your project timeline, payment expectations, refund policy, and limit for revisions.
You should also consider if your contract needs to include expectations for the client.
For example, suppose you’re a designer or content creator. Does your design process include the approval of rough drafts? If so, you should set an expectation for timely responses with an additional fee if they are missed.
Setting expectations ensures that you’re able to schedule future clients appropriately. When you don’t clearly set those boundaries in the beginning, you’ll struggle to balance your workload down the road if they don’t respond promptly.
7. Utilize Effective Marketing to Grow Both of Your Businesses
Make it standard to gain approval at the beginning of the relationship to add their work to your portfolio.
You can frame it as mutually beneficial by clearly stating where you’ll be cross-promoting your service and their business on social media and throughout your network.
Most clients will jump at the opportunity to have free publicity.
You’ll also ensure that you’re not making any assumptions that could damage your future relationship if they prefer that you don’t include them in your portfolio.
Grow Your Freelance Business One Client at a Time
Freelancing is not for the faint of heart. As a solo entrepreneur, you have multiple hats to wear. And that’s never more true than when you are in the initial growing phase of your freelance business.
By taking the time to handle each new freelance client with professionalism and clarity, you can grow a thriving freelance business.
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