How do you communicate with your clients? That's a question that most freelancers answer with a laundry list of all the social media tools and methods of contacting clients they use. In his post, Jake shows us why a little more consideration is required, and he assures us your clients will thank you for it.
The Platinum Rule of Client Communications
by Jake Poinier
We all know the golden rule--treat others as we would want to be treated--but that's insufficient when it comes to cultivating relationships. More valuable in a business context is what Dr. Milton Bennett coined in 1979 as the platinum rule: Treat others the way they wish to be treated. What I'm proposing today is a corollary to that: Freelancers and their clients need to communicate in the form and volume that's mutually beneficial.
My personal communications preference is email. Writing is an easy way for me to formulate my thoughts, and it gives me a record of what's been conveyed and what's expected. I know there are plenty of us within the writing world that feel the same way. I also recognize, however, that my clients may not. Some of the key factors include:
- Channel. As freelancers in 2016, we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to communicating: email, phone, IM, text, Twitter DM, Skype, and so on. If you don't know each client's preference, you should ask. You might be surprised. Some channels are also better for certain tasks, too: If there's a touchy issue, a phone call allows you to hear nuances and react, rather than typing out a message that risks being misunderstood.
- Frequency. It's equally important to have an understanding of how often communications should take place. Some clients may want updates at each milestone, others may want a weekly summary, while still others only want to hear from you when the whole project is done. Come to an understanding, and then stick to it.
- Timing. I am an early riser who will take calls at 6 a.m., and I don't mind interviewing someone on a weekend if that's what's needed to get the job done. You may have stricter boundaries than that, and your clients may have times that work better than others. It's all good, as long as you develop a mutual understanding and respect for each other's style.
- Purpose. Back in my days as a magazine editor, it used to drive me nuts when a freelancer would pester me with endless questions. (Yes, I realize that there are clients who prefer to work more closely, or who are more patient!) But if you overcommunicate to someone like me, or undercommunicate to someone who's expecting more interaction, you're jeopardizing the relationship.
Taking Corrective ActionYour client isn't the only one who has a say, because my variation on the platinum rule is that it needs to be mutually beneficial. If you and a client aren't in sync, you need to address it early, because it's going to get worse. They may not even realize they're doing something that bugs you, or vice versa.
An example: The other day, one of my clients sent me a four-paragraph text message, which is way too much information for me to process in that format. My brain locked up. I sent her an email that said, "Hey Bonnie, got your text, but I have to confess that I'm the world's worst text messager. In the future, if you've got something kinda complicated, please make sure to email it and I'll give you a prompt response!"
Sure, I could have bitten my lip and responded via text, but I knew that would ultimately be counterproductive for Bonnie and me, because I couldn't do my best work.
At the outset of a client relationship, do a quick check to find out the other party's preferences and come to an agreement on protocol. Not only is it courteous, it's smart business.
Jake Poinier blogs on a wide range of freelance topics at DoctorFreelance.com. He's the author of The Science, Art and Voodoo of Freelance Pricing and Getting Paid, and will be publishing a book on referral strategy for freelancers in August 2016. He'll follow you back on Twitter at @DrFreelance
Writers, have you had a client get frustrated with your communication methods?
How often do you ask your clients what they prefer in terms of updates?
What seems to work best for you?