As an independent contractor, you probably put a decent amount of effort actively and passively building your list of contacts and potential clients. Between networking, lead capture forms, business cards, and referrals, there are so many ways to make this all a breeze!
But what ends up coming out of these new contacts—whether that be a meeting, a booked session, or a cold lead—depends on how you manage your client base communications.
Your organization, communication, and marketing skills can be the difference between more clients and a negative reputation.
In other words:
Customer service is everything.
So how do you make client management a priority and ensure that customers are pleased with your work?
This is an issue that many independent contractors face daily. So, we’re going to review five steps for better client management that will drive revenue for your business.
Here’s what you’ll master:
1. Staying in Contact With All Clients & Leads
2. Marketing Your Business In As Many Ways Possible
3. Working to Build Your Reputation & Credibility
4. Bringing Your Client to the Drawing Board
5. Using a CRM to Record & Track Client Communication
1. Market Your Business in as Many Ways Possible
We don’t need to tell you that marketing your business is essential for getting new clients and seeing more revenue.
But here’s what you might not know:
A strong client management process starts with effective and honest marketing.
Your marketing efforts have the potential to put customer satisfaction at the forefront and leave a lasting impact on your potential leads.
And it’s not rocket science either!
The Relationship Between Marketing More & Client Management
Sure, marketing more will help you generate more income along the way.
But there’s something else worth pointing out:
The more marketing methods you use, the more people you can ultimately reach.
And as you build your base, this will give you freedom to be more selective with which clients you actually want to work with.
You’re no longer forced to accept all clients to stay afloat.
You’ll eventually have the ability to select clients within your niche and prioritize projects within your wheelhouse.
When you take on the projects you’re passionate about with people who fit your ideal client profile, happy clients are definite.
Experimenting With Different Marketing Tactics
Social media marketing works but it has its limits.
Unless your business is extremely niche to social media users, If you’re only marketing your small business on Facebook and Instagram, you’re losing out on potential clients outside of these platforms.
The same can be said for just about every other marketing tactic out there.
So, to reach the most people and find more clients for your business, you should experiment with different marketing tactics, like:
- Email marketing campaigns (put that email list to good use!)
- Content marketing
- Postcards, mailers, and fliers via EDDM (AKA: geographical farming)
- Social media and paid search ads
- Cold calling
- Billboards, yard signs, and telephone pole fliers
Widening your scope is absolutely crucial.
How to Position Your Business Ahead of Your Competition
There’s no doubt about it, any lead you have needs to know your name (or your brand name). They should also know about the services you provide and the products you sell.
But think about it…
What sets your business apart from your competitors?
Why should a client hire YOU to do the job?
Customer-focused marketing materials do wonders when it comes to client retention and recruiting new leads.
Instead of just adding your name and services to your website and postcards, add something like:
Your Latest Sales Volume
This demonstrates that you don’t just have happy clients, but you have a lot of satisfied customers.
Awards You’ve Won
Recognitions for customer service or innovations, an A+ rating on the Better Business Bureau, and even local awards show customers that you run a trusted operation.
Let everyone know about unique packages you offer and specific deals and discounts you’re running. A good reputation backed by an amazing deal is every client’s dream.
Why You Stand Out
How are you different from your competitors? Do you finish projects within 30 days, use state-of-the-art software, or allow customers to customize products?
Ask a few of your best customers to write a sentence or two about why they like you and the value you provide.
These tactics have a few benefits.
First, you’re giving your potential clients some incentive to call you.
But your marketing materials will be far more memorable.
Your clients are getting dozens of fliers a week and passing countless billboards on the way to work.
Your company’s name might not catch their eyes, but something like “Voted #1 Local Photographer by Wall Street Journal” sure will.
Related: 5 Small Business Marketing Ideas to Increase Your Client Base
2. Stay in Contact With All Clients & Leads
You have a hundred hot leads and dozens of existing clients.
And as much as you want to guide each through your sales funnel, you don’t want to come off as pushy.
So you wait.
You patiently wait for clients to pick up the phone and give you a call. But days turn into weeks and, months later, you know that lead is long gone.
A rookie mistake, but a simple fix with a better communication strategy.
Following Up After The Initial Client Meeting
First things first: don’t let that hot lead turn into a cold one!
Always follow-up with new clients within 24 to 48 hours of your first meeting.
In the call, text, or email exchange after your meeting with a new client, be sure to say something to the effect of, “It was nice meeting you yesterday.”
Politeness and respect go a long way.
Then, ask them when they’re free to meet again to discuss the details of the project.
“What day this week can we sit down to discuss our plans moving forward?”
Merely giving them your phone number and encouraging them to reach out when they have a free block in their schedule is a surefire way to lose that client.
The ball should always be in your court.
How and When to Communicate With Clients
There’s no gold standard in the world of client relationship management.
But there’s one thing you absolutely need to keep in mind:
Your clients’ boundaries.
As much as you don’t want to lose a lead, you also don’t want to overstep boundaries by calling your client every day, especially when they never seem to pick up.
There’s a fine line between harassment and good business practice.
Here are some tips for staying in contact with clients without risking good customer service:
Use Their Preferred Communication Method
Figure out how your client wants to be contacted (phone calls, text messages, emails, in-person meetings, etc.).
Keep Them Updated
Ask your client how often they want to be contacted or updated on a project (daily, weekly, monthly, upon completion, etc.).
Set Up an Emergency Contact Plan
Let your client know that an emergency change in plans may require more contact or a more direct method (phone calls, typically).
Use Email Marketing
Put every client on an email marketing campaign of some sort (even if it’s just a monthly newsletter or holiday greetings).
The quickest way to lose a client is by letting them fall off a contact schedule, either because of too much or too little contact.
The best way to build your reputation is by asking your clients about their needs regarding communication.
Learn more in our Client Interfacing Guide.
3. Work to Build Your Reputation & Credibility
A good client relationship will depend on a few things:
The way you communicate.
The price you’re willing to negotiate.
The experience you provide.
Yet, a considerable portion of client management comes down to what your clients think about you. If your customers think highly of you, you’ll have an easier time working with them.
How to Build Your Reputation
A good reputation can take months, or even years, to build. But one dissatisfied client can make it disappear in mere seconds right in front of your eyes.
While you can’t please everyone, transparency, honesty, and accountability will keep your good reputation under lock and key.
Here are some tips to build (and keep!) your reputation:
Take Responsibility for Mistakes
If you accidentally overbook your schedule, apologize and do what you can to fix the situation. A discount or some free add-ons can go far.
Only Commit When You Mean It
Customers want to know that you can finish their projects by a certain date or within a specific budget. If the client’s needs are unrealistic, it’s better to say no than to guarantee they’ll be disappointed.
Learn more about How to Write a Realistic Project Estimate.
Keep Your Clients in the Loop
If only things went as planned every single time. When the schedule falls off track or budgeting changes need to be made, let clients know immediately to figure out an alternative.
Don’t Overhype Your Potential
Being confident is key to getting clients, but being overconfident is a guaranteed way to let your clients down. If something is out of your niche or skill set, be open and honest about it.
And finally, but most importantly, be kind.
Listen to your clients with open ears when they have new ideas.
Approach every conversation with grace and respect, even when emotions run high.
And do your best to de-escalate situations and put your clients at ease.
Even if you have to break the news to your client that you can’t do what they want, they’ll be less heartbroken if you say it the right way.
4. Bring Your Client to the Drawing Board
Whether you’re a photographer, architect, real estate agent, or small business owner, you offer your customers plenty of options.
Some will be satisfied by simply selecting a package or service.
Others have unique requests and want several add-ons. Some customers may even want to put a personal touch on the final job.
Find the middle-ground between your expertise and what the client wants.
Related: The Freelancer’s Guide to Project Management
Why Getting Clients Involved Is a Game-Changer
It’s not always realistic to let your clients run the show. After all, they’re not in your industry and don’t understand the skill and money that goes into their grand ideas.
But allowing clients to get involved does have its perks:
- They feel like they’re playing a role in bringing their visions to life.
- They understand the work that goes into your craft.
- They see the progress as it happens in real-time, thanks to cloud sharing.
Ultimately, they’re far more likely to be satisfied with the final product.
And when they start referring people via word of mouth and others learn about how involved you let them be, your referrals will go through the roof.
Design a Plan Together
Not all clients will want to be hands-on. Some let you take the reins, as you’re the expert and they trust your judgment.
Others will want to play a pivotal role at every step in the journey.
The first time you meet with a client, here’s what you want to learn:
What do they envision the final project or product looking like? Encourage them to bring images of their inspiration.
How Involved They Want to Be
Every company has a different approach to the client’s role in project management. You should talk to each client about their involvement during the kickoff for their project.
Do they want to collaborate directly on the project, or simply provide feedback? Do they want a formal approval process for each step of the project, or will they wait until they receive each deliverable to give feedback?
How Often They Want Updates
Again, updating the client is one way to keep them happy. Do they want daily pictures? Weekly updates? Find out early and stick to that schedule.
You should go into your first meeting with a notebook and a pen to jot down what your client says. Also, ask clarifying questions to be sure you understand.
Use a voice recorder (with client consent, of course) to record the meeting to listen back to later if you missed anything).
5. Use a CRM to Record & Track Client Communication
When your small business is growing quickly, it’s difficult to keep track of clients, one of two things will happen:
- Your existing clients and hot leads will begin to slip through the cracks.
- You find a way to organize client data with client management software.
The Basics of CRMs
Customer relationship management systems, also known as CRM software, can transform your operation, regardless of your business’s specifics.
CRMs like Salesforce, Bloom, or Zoho will help you keep track of things like:
- Customer contact info
- Notes on clients (what they want, their budget, packages they’re interested in)
- When you last reached out to each client (and how the conversation went)
A CRM centralizes this data, putting everything you need in one neat place.
But there’s another vital benefit:
Your clients will be highly impressed that you remembered every detail of their ideas and even some personal details during small talk.
They’ll know you actually listen to them when they talk, which can do wonders for your reputation.
Related: The Best Apps for Independent Contractors
Other CRM Benefits
Every CRM is different, but many have similar features.
When it comes to client management, CRMs have a number of great benefits, including:
In-App Messaging System
Keep all client conversations in one place. Never let leads slip through the cracks by accidentally missing their email.
Marketing Automation Tools
Send out email marketing campaigns to nurture leads, hot or cold. Simply design your campaign, schedule when you want to send it, and wait for the leads to start coming in.
Form Collection Features
Deliver customer satisfaction surveys to all paying clients (and actually put the feedback to good use!).
You can also have new customers fill out a form about their needs and expectations at the beginning of the project, then store the forms in the app.
CRMs are whatever you make of them.
You can use them for the basics, such as simply storing contact information.
Or you can use them to your advantage, getting valuable customer feedback, streamlining all communication, and staying in contact.
Client management can be tricky, as there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.
It takes practice and planning to build your client management skills.
Here are some tips to take your customer service to the next level:
- Always involve your clients in the planning process, and keep them in the loop as their project progresses.
- Respect your clients’ wishes when it comes to communication schedules.
- Redirect your marketing efforts toward the customer rather than creating generic advertisements.
- Be open, honest, and transparent, even when it means a client won’t be happy with the outcome.
At a glance, customer relationship management seems complex.
But at the end of the day, all it really means is putting the customer first.
Learn more about how Bloom can help you manage your clients.