You’ve just landed a new client and are jazzed to get started. So is the client. Except the fact that they still have to juggle their responsibilities on top of what they’ve hired you to work on. Turns out all that time they blocked off to work with you got eaten into by another “emergency” (or a day in the life of running a business).
You’ve learned to roll with the punches as a freelancer, so this is nothing out of the ordinary. You’re still excited to get started. You won’t fully know what questions you have until you’ve had a chance to sit down with the assets and information they provide.
You can tell the client is stressed about other things, so you want to make sure you can do whatever you can to make sure what you’re working on goes smoothly. Here are three tips that have helped my relationships with clients over the years.
Take notes. When you’re starting a project it all seems clear and simple. Until it’s not. You want to have detailed notes you can go back to if the scope of work creeps. But more importantly, you want to be able to keep looking back at what the goals and mission of this project are so you can make sure you can keep the focus. What seems obvious when you write it down, quickly comes blurred weeks and months down the line. I’m a firm believer in paper or notebooks. Who cares if it gets messy. It also helps to date each conversation and organize it so you can find it again. (Sometimes I save photos/scans of my paper notes online too.)
Ask (more) questions. Learn as much as you can about the project, background, and goals, but remember, the client is hiring you because you’re the expert. There are likely things they’ve never considered because they’re so in it that they haven’t been able to step back. As the outside consultant or freelancer you bring new eyes and a fresh perspective. They may not have an answer to all of your questions, but even a non-answer can help provide you with direction and help you figure out where to focus your attention. When you make the client think, you can help prove that they’ve made the right investment. Even a little push back can be a good thing. It is how you can get to the best work. Questions are also one of the best ways to help get your point across rather than dictating the way things should be done.
Speak their language. When you start working with clients across different industries the lingo they use may be different. It can be good to have a conversation early on about their customers/users/audience and how they refer to them in different contexts. Write this down so you can keep going back. You want to start speaking their language. If their user is actual a shopper, start calling them shoppers. If they’re a student, call them a student. If their customer service representative is a student success specialist, call them by the later. These little cues that you adopt helps prove that you’re really paying attention to what they’re saying. When you speak the same language, it’s easier to move a project forward.
If you take a closer look, the thing that links these three simple—yet completely under utilized—tactics together is LISTENING. 👂 It’s something that is emphasized when we’re children, but sometimes in adulthood can get muddled, especially as we’re expected to always have an answers. Don’t pretend to know it all. Start by getting curious.
Listening can be easier said than done, so start practicing on friends and family so you’re ready when that next awesome client comes along. Watch for when you find yourself nodding in agreement, but you’re actually tuning out. Be aware of when you’re interrupting. Even consider allowing more awkward silences into your conversations to see if the person you’re talking to has anything else to add. Ask follow up questions that show you’ve actually listened. You never know what may be the little nugget of information that provides you with a new key insight will be.
The better listeners we become, the better work we can put into the world that will resonate with the people we’re designing/writing/creating/building for.
Now it’s your turn! What are your favorite secrets for working with clients? Share them in the comments below!