One of the major challenges of being a freelance writer is learning how to manage your clients' expectations. There's nothing worse than an unhappy client, and as a freelancer there are a number of things you can do to avoid finding yourself in this situation.
This article will delve into exactly how you can do this, from setting your terms and expected results to seeking clarification and committing to your schedule. We'll also explore how to master your communication skills and how to set client boundaries.
So without further ado, here are the 5 steadfast rules to use when managing your clients' expectations...
1. Set your terms and expected results upfront
If there's one thing that's a recipe for disaster, it's hitting your clients with unexpected terms, fees and results.
If there's one thing you take away from this article, let it be this: always stipulate your terms and conditions before you start the job.
Fees and payment method
This seems like an obvious one, but it's crucial that your client understands your fees and preferred payment method before you commence any work for them.
You need to provide them with a breakdown of your services for the fee they're paying, as well as your preferred payment method.
Detailing your preferred payment method is incredibly important. Most freelancers like to charge 50% upfront, with the remaining 50% balance to be paid upon completion of the job.
This means that if, for whatever reason, the job is cancelled, the freelancer has still received some compensation for their time and efforts. It also helps weed out any potentially dodgy clients who might be considering the 'dine and dash' concept.
Check out our roundup of 5 simple invoicing tools for freelance writers to make your billing process a little easier.
Kill and rush fees
In a similar regard, it's vital that before you commence the job, you outline any kill or rush fees you charge.
A kill fee is essentially a 'fine' charged to the client if they cancel the job after agreeing to hire the freelancer, or after the freelancer has started work on their project.
A rush fee is an additional charge when a client requires the work done in the space of a tight deadline.
Both of these fees are completely up to the freelancer, but you DO need to outline these to any potential clients before work commences.
A client won't be happy being charged a fee they didn't know about.
Preferred communication channels
There's nothing worse than trying to find a message from a client whose communication has spanned across four or five different channels.
You don't want to be combing through emails, texts, voicemails and Facebook messages to find something important.
At the beginning of your client-freelancer relationship, stipulate that you only communicate via email.
You then have a digital paper trail of all your communications, and you'll be able to search for things easily.
Specify the format of your work
Make sure you and your client are on the same page when it comes to how they'll receive the completed work.
Will it be a word document with tracked changes? Will it be a shiny, clean PDF? Are you writing straight into a new WordPress post?
These are details that you need to clarify from the beginning with your client, to avoid any disappointment, confusion and/or extra work in future.
Set realistic deadlines
Naturally, another major challenge of being a freelance writer is to manage your deadlines. And this applies to both your workload and the client's.
Make sure that your client understands how long a task will take you, and when they can expect the finished project in their inbox.
Also be careful never to accept a job with unrealistic deadlines.
For example, if a client approaches you who wants content written for an entire website within a matter of days, it's up to you as the freelancer to explain that these are unrealistic deadlines. If the client wants quality content, then they'll have to adjust their expectations, or at least be willing to pay a hefty rush fee.
2. Seek clarification
Ensuring that both freelancer and client are always on the same page is another task that falls to the freelancer.
This is why it's so important that you always seek clarification when it comes to potential jobs. You need to ensure you understand what the client expects, and that they understand what you'll be doing for them.
Gather information before quoting
Much of the information-gathering actually needs to occur before you quote the client. There's nothing more frustrating than realising that you've underquoted for a job.
Make sure that you have all the information before you determine how much to quote the client. This means you'll likely need to seek clarification, ask questions, and be really transparent about all the details we already covered above.
Encourage client questions
It's not uncommon that wires get crossed and misunderstandings occur over email and other forms of digital communication.
It's up to you as the freelancer to constantly assess whether or not you and your client are on the same page.
Be sure that you're using simple layman's terms and not industry jargon, and always double-check with the client that they've understood what you're asking and offering.
Outline limits on revisions
If you've already had a few freelance clients, chances are you've probably had one who didn't know when enough was enough.
We've all had that client who, no matter how hard you've worked, has come back with changes, questions, revisions and other time-sapping needs that you hadn't initially included in your quote or fee.
In order to avoid these frustrating and often expensive situations, you need to make sure that you outline the number of revisions and follow-up support you're willing to provide, upfront.
3. Commit to your schedule
As you probably already know, keeping to a schedule is vital for any freelancer trying to make a living. As they say, time is money, and in this profession, you are responsible for your time and how you spend it.
Set your work hours
Freelancers are some of the hardest-working people in any workforce. They usually work far more hours than those who hold the traditional 9-5 job.
This means it's important that as a freelancer, you set your work hours. This is for a number of reasons, but the most important two are:
- So you don't burn out.
- So your clients don't hound you at all hours of the day.
Setting your work hours helps keep a barrier between you and your clients, and allows you to have a life outside your freelance writing.
Having defined work hours means that clients won't be hassling you over the weekend, or calling you after-hours to get an update on their latest project.
Master multiple project management
As a freelancer, you're going to have to become the master of multiple projects. At any one time, you'll likely have several projects in the works, and so it's crucial that you know how to multi-task and manage multiple deadlines.
We recommend using a task management system like Trello, as well as a calendar (try Google Calendar), to ensure that you're always on top of your upcoming deadlines, and can easily determine the status of a particular project.
Setting achievable goals is the first step to ensuring your happiness as a freelancer, and also the satisfaction of your clients.
4. Perfect your communication skills
You no doubt already know that communication skills are an essential part of being a successful freelance writer.
However, the following tips aren't always so obvious to those new to the industry...
We've all had that experience where you send an inquiry out into the internet void and never hear back. We've all waited days, or even weeks, for a reply that was important to us. And we all know how frustrating it is.
Be sure that your clients never feel that way about you.
Most people these days expect a reply within 24-48 hours, so make sure you do your best to reply to your clients promptly.
Purchasing any service, particularly for the first time, can be anxiety-inducing. One way to make sure your clients always feel at ease is to provide regular updates without being prompted.
Don't wait for a client to email asking where you're up to with their project. Send them a quick email halfway through to reassure them that everything's on track.
A small courtesy like this often goes a long way.
On a similar note, following up with your clients after you've handed over the completed work is a great professional touch.
A simple, quick email inquiring as to whether or not they're satisfied with your work is a great way to bookend the process.
It's also a fantastic opportunity to gain client testimonials if they're happy with your work. 🙂
Want to know more about the supplementary skills of a freelance writer? Click here.
5. Establish client boundaries
We touched on client boundaries in the sections above, but it's such an important facet of managing your clients' expectations that it needs a dedicated section of its own.
No personal numbers or emails
You need to have a dedicated 'work' email address (and phone number if required).
You should be able to segregate your freelance writing life from your personal life, so be sure you don't give out your personal details to clients – it's a surefire way to have work encroaching on your weekends and social life.
Clients need to know that you won't be replying to them over the weekends or while you're on vacation.
Having a work email address also allows you to set up things like autoresponders and email signatures.
Avoid unnecessary meetings
For the most part, meetings are a huge waste of time. People tend to talk in circles and digress, and all of this eats into your day, while technically being 'non-billable' hours.
Pretty much anything that can be said in a meeting, can be said in a more succinct email.
It's also far more useful to have these discussions over email so that you have every decision and idea in writing.
If for some reason a client demands a meeting, be sure to set a time limit on it and go in prepared with a written agenda.
Be consistent with your boundaries
Finally, there's no point in setting out all these boundaries if you're not going to be consistent with them.
Try not to make exceptions for people, as these will turn into unhealthy habits that will in turn waste your time and money, not to mention the hard work you put into establishing your clients' expectations.
And there you have it! Our steadfast rules for managing your freelance clients' expectations.
How do you manage expectations? Have you got any hot tips you want to share? Why not leave your suggestions and experiences in the comments below?