Last week I got to join some of the fine folks from Freelancers Union and a number of freelancers from around Oregon to talk about, well, freelancing.
One of the many topics that came up was how best to educate clients so they understand what it means to work with a freelancer. Or at least so they don’t provide fodder for Clients From Hell.
I don’t have any magic bullet answers, but here are a couple things I think it’s very important to educate clients about and an email template you can use to do just that.
Schedule & Availability
Before contracts are exchanged or the bureaucratic depths of accounts payable are plumbed, talk to the client about work schedules: yours and theirs.
Sometimes people think that freelancers work (or should be available) 24/7. I mean, you’re only hanging out at home in your pajamas waiting for people to call you, right?
And even if you are, that’s not what the client should think. So, set expectations early.
“My working hours are Monday through Friday between 7 am and 6 pm, eastern time.”
“I only work nights and weekends and am generally not available during ‘normal’ business hours.”
But don’t just stop there! Take the opportunity to sell yourself a bit.
“My tunraround time is generally x-y hours given enough notice.”
“Working nights means that, in most cases, what you need is waiting for you in your inbox the next morning.”
Corporate clients respond well to things that remind them of their own work. Work schedules and availablity are some of those things. Having frank discussions about them will help remind the client that you’re a professional, too.
Speak the Lingo
I hate business speak more than most, but I’ll use it with certain people because it gets me what I want.
When you speak your client’s lingo, they see you as part of the tribe. And if you’re part of the tribe, they’re less likely to treat you like an outsider.
It’s also easer for them to understand what you’re saying.
I’m not suggesting that you have to leverage the synergy of your internal assets and skill offering when on-boarding a new client, but you should be aware of and use some basic business phrases if you want to be heard.
Here are a few favorites:
“mitigate risk” = make things potentially less sucky
“leverage” anything = use what they have to do what they want and spend less money/get better results/avoid doing more work
“ROI” = “return on investment”= what they’re going to get out of this
“best practices” = what their industry thinks the best thing to do is (chances are they think they’re already doing these things!)
“stakeholders” = people invested in the project’s success, a.k.a people who can tell them “no”
(As you might guess, being able to speak the lingo will also help you see through the b.s. a whole lot faster.)
Talk About Money
Waiting to talk about money until there’s a contract in front of you is a mistake. Start talking about it early so you can identify where you’ll need to educate your client and where they’ll need to educate you.
For instance, you need to know how much they have to spend and they need to know how much you’re going to cost.
In the sage wisdom of “Say Yes! to the Dress,” never have a bride try on a dress she can’t afford. Because if you do, she’ll fall in love with what she can’t afford and that only leads one of two places: tragic disappointment or a blown budget.
By talking about money early, you can get a sense of what dresses are appropriate to show your client: the best you can offer at the price they have to spend. You avoid that tearful realization that their Precious is wayyy outside their budget.
You also need to know how you’re going to be paid, how long it takes for checks to be cut and if there are any particularities in how they process invoices and expense reports.
Don’t be afraid to ask these questions! They’re answered differently at almost every company and you don’t have the time to learn this by trial and error. Asking up front will save you both time, money and frustration.
Put it All Together
Feel free to use this email template when educating a new client, or when starting a new project with a client that might be due for some make-up classes.
Dear Potentially Awesome Client,
It was great talking with you about your [Super Spiffy] Project; I definitely think I can [make it even more awesomer].
To make sure I understand what you’re looking for and the type of help you need, I wanted to take some time before discussions get too involved to gather some information about your company and the project. I also want to give you some information about how I work so that you’ll be able to make an informed decision about working with me.
On average, I have about X active projects at any one time. In order to ensure I meet all of my clients’ expectations, it’s important for me to understand the time demands of new projects. My normal working hours are Aa-Pp, Day X to Day Y. During this time I’m available by phone, skype and email. Additionally, on ___day evenings I check and respond to after-hours emails. I find this helps speed projects along. Do you anticipate this availability would meet your project’s needs? If not, please let me know; I’ve been able to figure out alternative schedules with other clients in the past.
I like to make sure that I speak my clients’ language and that I’m being responsive to their needs. To that end, [can you tell me how this project fits into your company’s goals for the year/quarter?] [Is this project designed to leverage particular company strengths or assets? If so, can you tell me a bit about them?] [Is this a project you’ll be using to communicate with internal or external stakeholders?]
Please let me know what your budget is for the project or for the portion of the project you might hire me to do. I ask for this information up front because it helps me get a sense of what options might work best for you. I don’t want to waste your time showing you something that doesn’t fit your budget or that could cause you to go over budget fairly easily.
If possible, I’d also appreciate insight on how your company handles invoices and expense reports. I know that each company is different and if there is a payee approval process or if I need to be mindful of a particular format your company uses, I like to be aware of those things early on. My standard terms are net 15.
Thanks for taking the time to address these topics up front; I’ve found that they are all areas that are best to talk about as early in the process as possible.
If you have questions for me, please let me know.
A Frakking Awesome Freelancer
Categories: Dealing with People