Happy clients generate a profitable business, right?
Easier said than done. Gaining new ones and creating long-lasting client relationships can be a huge challenge if you’re trying to put a small business on its feet.
Ideally, you’d choose who you want to work with. But until you arrive at that point, there is but one solution to navigate this world of picky business prospects and win them over: client management or, simply put, the process through which a company manages its clients from the first interaction until they deliver the final work.
To handle client relationship management the right way, you must first understand the difference between a client and a customer.
Client vs. customer
A client is anyone who purchases a product or professional service. Client-business relations often take longer and involve a regular exchange of feedback as part of a larger project. They commonly receive more personal attention than customers because of the complex nature of the products and services paid for, such as getting legal advice for a particular case or a new design for their portfolio website.
On the other hand, customers buy a product or service without further contact between the seller and buyer. These relationships are usually short-lived, with brief interactions and less personal attention given to the customer by the seller.
Just think of the two relations in terms of direction. Customers purchase from you in exchange for a product or service, so the relationship is transactional, moving in a single direction. Client relations, in contrast, involve a constant exchange of feedback and resources.
When it comes to added value, in the case of customers, you’d typically focus on the product or service price, efficiency, quality, and value. To gain new clients, though, you additionally need experience and reputation.
Although often used interchangeably, the terms mean something different depending on the nature of your business. Advertising agencies, web development companies, law firms, and architecture studios commonly have clients. Meanwhile, you have customers if you run a restaurant. This distinction is evident in this popular restaurant management guide, which has 14 mentions of the word “customer” and no mentions of “client.”
Of course, you can have clients and customers at the same time too. Take design agencies, for instance, which have regular clients with long-term projects, but also sell ebooks, templates, or stock resources.
With this distinction in place, there’s also a clear aspect you might have noticed yourself: a business is likely to have thousands of customers but only a few clients with whom they’ll develop a much longer relationship.
If you fall into this category and manage clients for the long run, then read on to find out how you can do client management at its best.
Understand your client’s needs
Not listening to your client’s needs is the fastest road to problems in any business relationship. Hence the first basic step towards nurturing one is to gain their trust. Think about it. Would you let a stranger build your house? Well, not really. The same is valid for any service that requires a lengthy creative process.
A good first impression goes a long way. Once your client trusts your skills and word to deliver their requirements, the collaboration process will work smoothly. If, on the other hand, you’re hesitant to share information or lack confidence regarding the future project, you’ll end up with a doubtful client who’s likely to switch to a different company at the first disagreement.
In the end, you just have to gain the trust of every one of your clients. To do so, try the following three actionable steps:
Share your previous projects and results
There’s no better proof of your expertise than sharing your past work. If you’ve had similar projects, going into detail on how you’ve helped others achieve success turns you from a complete stranger two minutes ago into a reliable advisor they can confide in.
Past testimonials also help you gain trust and take any worry concerning your experience off of your client’s shoulders. A single testimonial can tell a client if you’re serious, meet deadlines, communicate well, and bring unique solutions to their problems.
Use this experience while managing clients to let them know what they can anticipate once work starts. Be transparent when you discuss the project’s roadmap. Sharing a clear roadmap with step-by-step milestones is one thing, but you’ll also have to prepare the client for potential timeline changes or extra costs so nothing will surprise them later.
All this being said, Caleb Rule advises not to hesitate to educate:
“I work in marketing. Sometimes, a client will know a great deal, and they ask excellent questions that lead to depth in strategy and execution. However, many of my clients know the basics or are well-versed in one or two areas. The ability to explain concepts to any audience is an undervalued skill – but it builds trust, and as my client gains knowledge, they also grow in appreciation for what we’re doing. One way I do this? With McKinsey and Company’s Consumer Decision Journey. It’s easy for a client to understand in 3 minutes or less the process of a customer saying I have a need and then getting to the point where they make a purchase – no matter their previous marketing experience.”
Manage (and exceed) client expectations
From the very first meeting with your potential client, make sure you get the following in check for managing clients expectations:
- What does the client need from this project?
- What are the project’s objectives?
- What risks should you consider?
- What are the quality standards your client asked for?
- What should you deliver at the end of the project?
A client meeting precedes all project management phases. What’s important to your clients might differ from what you see as essential. These meetings are also a measure to prevent any of those situations when you find out you have to change something only because you haven’t fully understood the client’s needs.
“One key mistake that I have noticed client managers make is that in an effort to keep clients happy, they make promises they can’t deliver. Saying yes seems to be the easy route at first. After all, you don’t want to say no and upset the client. But saying yes ends up being the bad choice because it sets the client’s expectations to an unreasonably high degree, so high that you end up disappointing them. Therefore, from the get-go of the client management process, I make sure that it’s clear to the client what he is getting, and more importantly, it’s clear what he is not getting.” – Jesse Harrison @HopeTree Legal Funding
As you guide the client requirements discussion, there are three main factors to pay attention to: time/schedule, costs, and scope. These are also referred to as the “triple constraint” in project management and can support the success of the client-service provider relationship.
Be honest about how long you estimate the project to last in terms of time. A realistic deadline can give you enough time to finish all the major deliverables and cover potential changes the client could request. Similarly, giving accurate cost estimates will prevent those moments when you have to ask for extra funds to buy more resources or bring an additional team member to help you finish on time. Finally, for the scope, nail that first meeting I discussed above to ensure you have all client goals in check, and everything should be good to go.
Also, there’s a marked difference between product management and project management. If a project manager focuses on the triple constraint, the product manager focuses on product development, ensuring product releases and improvements with less concern about the triple constraint. Read this article for beginners to learn more about project vs. product manager roles and how they fare in business.
Excel at communication
Think of timely communication. Any client management problem or need will be handled with no further issues if you manage to communicate every single aspect of a project with your client on time. Make sure you discuss everything to the point they have no questions left. The same is valid for the first meeting I mentioned and throughout your whole collaboration.
Most clients hate asking questions and wait days to get an answer. So be responsive and respect their time. Answer all emails and calls, show up a few minutes earlier to a meeting, and keep all conference calls to the point.
Above all, try to conform to your client’s work style. Certain clients might expect to get an update as soon as it happens; others will ask for a designated time to have a daily or weekly meeting. Inquire about these preferences from your first interactions to show your attention to detail and willingness to accommodate your own schedule to that of your client or stakeholder.
“The key to happy clients is clear communication. If you and the client are both on the same page in regards to goals, expectations, and progress, everything should run smoothly. Once you’re clear with the goals, expectations, and progress, there shouldn’t be any further problems as they’ve all been outlined. While I find that phone calls are much better for understanding each other, it never hurts to follow up with an email to verify what has been discussed.” – Ryan Scollon
Max Babych, CEO @Spdload, also shared his own tips on the importance of regular communication:
“You need to talk with clients regularly to understand how they see the project. Direct communication is sometimes difficult due to differences in time zones or clients just not having enough time. In such cases, detailed reporting helps to avoid conflicts and act constructively when risks arise. The more clients know about what is happening, the fewer answers they have to seek independently. The client wants to see the big picture of the project. Reports on the work performed over the past period of time, emerging issues, possible risks, and subsequent plans make it possible for all project participants to be aware of what is happening.”
Also, don’t forget to put everything down on paper, whether you’ve discussed it during a meeting, a phone call, or even if it’s just an idea that randomly popped in your mind: requirements, unique challenges you need to look into, and questions you might have for your client.
Consider creating a project management plan and showing it to your client for a detailed look at the project’s evolution. Here’s our full guide to building one, including a free template you can use to get started.
Establish a solid client communication plan
As part of a solid communication strategy, you need a solid plan. You’re probably going through the whole process subconsciously, from the first meeting to sending daily email updates or just getting together at the end of a milestone. Without a communication plan, it can be pretty easy to skip a step when you start handling several different clients and projects simultaneously.
“Come with a complete plan. Make sure all working parties are working together. Have everyone involved and on the same page. Have clear and direct discussions. Always be prepared for a call or talk and find a goal for all of these. Clients do not like those that are not prepared for conversations. Everyone is busy, so no need to waste time. Do not ask the client what they want, first come with a plan and strategy in mind of what you think would be best and ask for their opinion and what they would change. They will appreciate the effort and know that they can trust that you are already thinking of how to better their brand/company.” – Celeste Huffman @Rocket Web
A client communication plan is a document through which you write all the strategies, tools, terms, and other specific details you’ll be using to communicate with your clients. It tells you how information is shared with the client, the preferred communication channels, how often information will be sent to the client, and who is in charge of the whole process.
To help you put together your first client communication plan, we’ve simplified the process of building one and narrowed it down to 4 basic steps:
- Clients and engagement action (from Mendelow’s Matrix)
- Identify the owners
- Choose the right communication channel
- Set up a communication frequency
To put these steps into practice, check out our full guide on how to build a stakeholder management plan, including a free template for a client communication plan.
How to keep clients happy
Every client defines their satisfaction in different ways: to receive more than they asked for, get deliverables on time, stay updated, or all of these together. But there are a few common ways in which companies ensure their clients stay happy and perhaps even turn to their services a second time:
Show you’re interested in fixing potential issues effectively
Extra care for the client goes a long way. So once a problem arises, be proactive. Come up with a couple of solutions even before telling the client about the issue. One reason people choose to work with an expert is to get a qualified opinion. In the end, the success of a project is a shared accomplishment between the client and contractor.
“The way to keep your clients happy is to genuinely care about their success. It’s as simple as that. If you are genuine, people can tell, and they want to work with you. When you care, you will not miss deadlines, you won’t cut corners, you will communicate effectively and often, you will always be polite, you will be collaborative in your approach, and so on.” – Natalie Athanasiadis, Founder @Ormi Media
Promise less, deliver more
A common trait professionals I’ve talked to shared was the willingness to deliver more than they promised. Of course, this can only be done by promising less and being realistic. No boastful bragging about what you can achieve, nor false statements about your past results. Clients will be pleasantly surprised if they get more bang for their buck once you present much more than they asked for from a project:
“You must actually deliver the promised deal, but in doing so appear in the best possible light. Commonly, people recommend that you should promise a lot less than you deliver. And in this case, I completely agree. Surprising and delivering beyond the line of duty works wonders with the client’s level of satisfaction.” – Andrew Taylor, Director @Net Lawman
I’ve already mentioned how vital setting client expectations from the beginning was. Being able to stick to them can also guarantee their happiness. To guarantee you won’t miss any of them, Melissa Morris, Business Operations Consultant, suggests writing an expectations email and keeping a scope-of-work document for a strong paper trail:
“Most client conflicts arise due to clear expectations that were never set. I recommend all of my clients create an expectations email. This email should be sent during client onboarding and must include details on the following four things:
- A process overview and deliverables
- Favored methods of communication
- Meeting details
- Anything else you need from the client
Be very specific about what is and what is not included in your project. I often recommend business owners have their clients sign off on the scope of work before the project begins. If a dispute arises, you can always refer back to that document.”
Own your mistakes
Mistakes are bound to happen. But whether you’re struggling to juggle multiple projects or just missed out on a thing you didn’t pay particular attention to, admitting a mistake you made can bring you closer to your client—as long as you fix it.
“There is nothing worse than the feeling that somebody is hiding something. When I first got started in marketing: I set up a Google ad to bid on a competitor ad group. I was brand new to Google Ads at the time, and I mistakenly wrote an ad that could pull in another company’s name. They saw the ad and called my client (a lawyer) to ask what was going on. I had to explain my mistake and then also call the competitor (an industry friend) and apologize. Because I was willing to face the mistake head-on, this client said they grew to trust working with me because they knew I would own up to anything that went wrong.” – Caleb Rule
Don’t miss deadlines
Finishing a task or project before the deadline boosts your accountability in your client’s eyes. These guide you during all project stages by helping you prioritize one task over another and derail from the project’s scope. To prevent those “Sorry, we’re not done yet!” moments, Chloe Brittain, Owner @Opal Transcription, has three practical tips anyone can apply:
“Turning stuff around on time is an easy way to gain brownie points with your clientele because a lot of businesses and freelancers struggle with it. When it comes to meeting deadlines, I’ve found the following three things helpful:
- Don’t procrastinate – Start new projects as soon as possible so you won’t miss out on future opportunities.
- Don’t spread yourself too thin – Sometimes it’s better to say no to a project if you’re not sure you can do it justice.
- Negotiate an ample time buffer on larger or more complex projects – Then, try to turn work in early, before the expected deadline.”
Regardless of your business, being decisive in the client relationship management process maintains the health of the partnership. Any moment of hesitation can make the client doubt your seriousness and knowledge of the field. Strong decision-making skills come in handy with all client interactions as they establish trust and reassurance, two must-haves for any business situation.
“Decisiveness requires a confident, assured approach and a degree of adaptability and thinking-on-your-feet action. It isn’t, however, purely on the shoulders of client-facing staff to communicate this air of authority; the wider business must offer timely solutions which make prompt decision-making possible. Uncertainty can damage the relationship your business has cultivated with its clients, belying your expertise and making them mistrust your judgment. At worst, it could result in the loss of business, so decisive action must be put first in all client interactions.” – Antony Simon, Client Services Director @Banc
Honor the client’s vision and feedback
When you’re proud of the work you delivered, it can be easy to get into an argument with a client who doesn’t quite like how the results turned out. Still, constructive feedback remains highly valuable when molding your work around your client’s vision. Once you make changes based on their recommendations, the bond will only become stronger.
“With client management, their vision must always be prioritized, whether you are in agreement with it or not. As a designer, I am regarded well enough in the industry to be trusted with the creative concept of a design, but more often than not the client is also passionate about the work and wants to add their input. If their ideas are not in agreement with mine I will still work with their ideas. If there is time I will deliver an alternative version depicting my own idea so that they can compare the two.” – Crissy Bogusz, Creative Contractor
How to deal with “difficult” clients
Most client relationship management experts I’ve talked to generally agree that labeling a client as “difficult” is solely based on your perception of a client’s needs. So spotting a client that will be difficult to please or communicate with starts with first identifying potential conflict areas to know if they’re worth the effort or not. Fortunately, if you’re prepared and gain more client management experience, you can do this from the beginning.
“Spotting difficult clients should be done in the onboarding process. Among the things to look out for is respect for the service you offer and your expertise, if their business is in a good financial position and they afford your services, and if they like to control everything which would be to the detriment of your outcomes. If any slipped through the cracks, take the opportunity to tighten up your initial meeting process.” – Natalie Athanasiadis, Founder @Ormi Media
These first talks help you spot clients with unrealistic deadlines, those who want everything done as fast as possible, the ones who want a lot for almost no money, and many other cases you need to get ready to handle.
Next are a couple of on-point client relationship management tips you can apply once you’ve identified a client that’s “harder” to work with:
The importance of contracts
If you’re a small agency with just a couple of clients with short-term projects, you might be okay with handling only quotes and invoices, but it’s a whole different story when it comes to lengthier projects. In the latter case, a contract is a must as it outlines all the terms and requirements of the client-contractor relationship, preventing unwanted situations like when a client wants to settle for more at the agreed price or pay less.
In the absence of it, create at least a flexible contract or signed agreement as a safety net—regardless of the project size.
“The only way to counter problems like a client not paying on time (or at all), a client stating the work was incorrect, or encountering too many changes that were not agreed upon is to specifically state all of the terms of the job within a contract. Sign this official file together with the client before you start any work and have a deposit paid upfront. To ensure compliance, keep a note of every communication, even if you speak via phone, and confirm discussions with a follow-up email so that there is a record of it in case you need to refer back to it.” – Crissy Bogusz, Creative Contractor
Listen and communicate with no errors
When problems appear, active listening will help you understand the client’s demands, so no details are left out of the conversation, the leading cause for the majority of the mistake. As part of an error-free client communication process, Alisha Santoorjian Thunstrom endorses listening as the key to getting clients to express their dissatisfaction or preferences while creating a unitary understanding of the project’s development at the same time:
“The most important aspect of handling unhappy clients is to listen. It’s a must-have client relations skill. Typically, clients are upset for a reason, but they also won’t always articulate precisely what’s driving their frustration. Listen closely and repeat your own understanding of what they are saying. If your understanding is wrong, they will realize they didn’t communicate exactly what they meant and will try to rephrase it. Becoming an active listener will help you get to the heart of the problem and fix the real issue at hand.” – Alisha Santoorjian Thunstrom, Vice President of Client Services @TempWorks Software
Remember to allow your clients to understand everything that goes into the project, ask their questions, and clarify their needs before you get to work. Taking the time to listen to a client’s concerns sounds simple but is so often overlooked as businesses use their own policies and know-how to assume they most definitely know what their client wants:
“A client that is unhappy wants to feel validated, respected, and understood, and you need to demonstrate that you empathize with their views – even if you don’t necessarily agree with them. For instance, you can be sorry that a client feels unhappy without agreeing that the cause of unhappiness was due to your own fault. A great way to do this is to ASK the client what they would like you to do to fix the issue. By making them state what they’d like you to do, they’re less likely to make an outlandish request. Even if they do ask for something untenable, open up negotiation for alternatives or explain why what they are asking for can’t be provided.” – Mark Chambers, CEO @English Blinds
Dealing with financial issues
Financial misunderstandings happen to all of us. Realistically because most clients are looking to get as much as they can from the price they agreed upon at first. So client relations management professionals have various ways of ensuring they get paid correctly:
“To eliminate any payment issues, I set flat rates and always require payment upfront. I offer a money-back guarantee if a client is not satisfied with our work, but we won’t begin a project until a client financially commits to working with us. Because we work remotely, this policy eliminates the risk of putting in the hours only to be ghosted by a client at a project’s completion.” – Matt Glodz, Founder @Resume Pilots
If your project faces many changes that were not part of the first agreement and could take you months to cover, start a new project for that client and sign a separate contract to include the needed adjustments.
“Changes are expected to a large proportion of my design projects. The only reason to be put off by this is if you feel you are not being compensated for your work. If you’re paid hourly, this is a problem with that solution. If you’re working on a fixed rate project, be clear on the number of changes allowed within that price range and what constitutes a change and what does not. For example, it’s very common for clients to ask for a total redesign of a project. This is considered a new project because this idea was not agreed on beforehand. A change constitutes adjustments to the work that’s already been presented to the client as of version 1.” – Crissy Bogusz, Creative Contractor.
If you choose to go for hourly rates, you still need a contract to mention that rate, how your time will be monitored, and how the payment will be made. To show proof of the time you put in, use time tracking software ⏱️ and send a time report to your client for approval or attach it to an invoice. These time reports will also help you create better time estimates in the future, so you’ll know how to give accurate quotes to your future clients.
Time report example in Paymo
Maintain your calm
You will inevitably face impossible requests from your client, so the best option is to stay calm. Clarify the disagreements and keep your cool as you’re trying to understand them, then provide a sensible solution. With this regard, Jessica Lee, Marketing Director @Direction, Inc, makes an eye-opening assertion by placing work ethic and style dissimilarities at the base of all client stress issues:
“Try to understand and identify differences in work ethic and style so that you know when there could be a conflict or clash of interest. We, for example, always remain calm when it comes to client management, no matter how upset a client may make our team, and seek to resolve the core issue that’s causing stress. The next key is to approach them with data and facts; it helps steer the conversation away from tension and accusations and keeps it moving towards a positive direction.”
Learn from your past mistakes
Sometimes the best place to seek advice is your own past experience with client management. That client who “forgot” to pay you. The one you spammed with hourly updates. Or the ones you spent an extra month working for at no extra cost just because they asked for additional changes.
All mistakes can be used as a lesson so you won’t face any “difficult” clients in the future. Courtney Barbee, Co-owner/COO @The Bookkeeper even advises refusing to work with clients you can’t adapt your work style to:
“Sadly, at times, the way to avoid severely difficult clients is to screen them out before engaging. If you can identify early on the people who can’t be satisfied, or who do not feel they should have to pay for services, it is best not to work with them. However, some clients only appear difficult but, once you determine their needs, are sweethearts. There are clients whom I’ve been warned about, who, once I determined their communication preferences, are easy to work with.”
To qualify your future clientele, Matthew Edgar shared his own client management experience and this convenient idea of creating your own list of things you expect from your client, so read on to see how this technique worked for him:
“My business partner and I have a list of standards and expectations we have for our clients. It describes characteristics that we’ve seen almost universally in the clients we’ve helped. For a stress-free and successful relationship, we want to make sure the new clients we bring on share many of these traits. We expect to work with clients who get our approach because we’ve learned that working with clients who don’t understand it leads to unpleasant outcomes. We also ask clients about their own expectations. That helps us get to know their company and team, but it also lets us gauge how well we fit into what they’re looking for. When we make a mistake and let a client through who doesn’t match our standards, having this list makes it easier to let the client go and refer them to somebody who’s a better fit.”
Chris Von Wilpert, Founder of Content Mavericks, also shared his unique method for filtering his clients:
“Imagine you want to scale the quality of your clients and not consider how many you’ll get. To ensure a business is going to be the right fit for your strategy, you have to filter clients yourself. Let’s say you promise to generate 1,000 leads per month (from content only) and have noticed you can convert content to leads at 5%:
20,000 organic traffic x 5% CR = 1,000 leads
So the first question I ask a client is what their organic traffic on their highest-ranking articles is. With over 20k/month I know I have a very strong chance to win for them. If they also have a proven lead follow-up process to convert sales, then it’s a proven winner for both of us. If not, their sales process will fail, so I’m out. That’s how you filter out the “bad” clients and choose to work only with those you can win for.”
How to retain your clients
So you’ve got your clients happy and fixed all misunderstandings. What’s next? Keep them as your loyal clientele.
Loyal and happy clients are more likely to request your services after your first collaboration ends. To help you retain your clients, Jason Macoy, Lead Administrator @Generation Marketing, has a couple of client management tips you can apply as soon as you start interacting with them:
“As a client relationship manager, it is necessary for you to retain your clients. You must set goals and expectations on how you could reach the client satisfaction that you need. To do that, have a retention team constantly check the client’s experience. What’s the general feeling regarding your brand? What do you need to improve? Show dedication. Clients really appreciate all efforts to satisfy their needs. Always innovate how you could provide them with better service. Also, offer your client a report on the improvement of the project as it’s still under development. This gives them a visual statistic outlook that shows them the difference of having you as their partner. Once they’ve got real numbers and results to work with, they’re more likely to work with you in the future too or even recommend you to their business partners.”
The easiest—or at least most straightforward method—to keep clients coming to you is to give more than other competitors do. Whether that’s doing extra tasks or just putting in more work hours to ensure everything is done within the deadline or even earlier:
“Formally, you are not required to go beyond your own responsibility and work more than 8 hours or on a weekend. But if we think more broadly, we get a competitive advantage as it will give clients the impression they’re getting a high-level service.” – Max Babych, CEO @Spdload
Or you can try your tricks and unique ways of showing your interest in the client:
“When it comes to client retention, I assimilate their calendar into my own so that I know when they have a big product launch or if there is a significant global event, for example, Second-hand September for my sustainable fashion clients. I can then contact them ahead of time to pitch a blog post. I always end projects with a follow-up email encouraging the client to keep in touch on LinkedIn, recommend me to their associates, and reach out themselves if they need further assistance. Often this will include a financial incentive like monthly blog post packages or a discount for a larger-scale project.” – Sally Fox, Copywriter
Turning clients into loyal ones is a profitable deal. You get to lower your acquisition costs, gain free word-of-mouth referrals, and receive valuable feedback while you build your brand, an asset that will eventually help you stand out among others. If you want to learn how to calculate your costs and profit, check out this practical use case full of examples regarding project profitability.
With faithful clients, you can take business relations to the next level with client relationship marketing. Sure, most people who are not looking for a service or product like yours won’t like to be marketed to. Loyal clients are a different deal. They’re always looking for a personalized offer or a special service you can provide for them as part of the client management service.
And there are lots of marketing tactics you can try to improve your client relationships:
- Client surveys to test loyalty or competitive benchmark
- Customized email marketing campaigns
- Bonus points and rewards programs
- Face-to-face events and meetups
- Exclusive content for your existing clients
How client management tools help you handle business relationships
When it comes to client management and interaction, a considerable part of the time is lost on sorting out administrative issues. “You need to send us the invoice,” “We didn’t get the report,” “Did you make the payment?” and every other matter prevents us from putting work into the actual project. This all comes at the expense of increased costs, confusion, and potential deadline delays. The good news is that a couple of tools can help you keep all your client data together and secure.
First, as part of a complete client management system, there is one that you just can’t work without—a project management tool with a client portal. This client portal usually represents a cloud-based area where you can communicate and share files or status updates with your clients – depending on the level of access you give them. Because of this, the client portal stands as a better choice than Slack or live chats for sharing sensitive information like important announcements, changes, or reports.
NOTE: Check our project management tools list, where we reviewed the most popular tools with a client portal.
A client portal is much more time-efficient since it allows you to upload a file and make it available to all clients with the right to see it. Say goodbye to back and forths and occasional data slips, and welcome to more time for yourself and your craft.
At best, clients can access their time reports, invoices, estimates, and even make online payments and see a history of them for improved cash flow. Pair this up with what was mentioned so far (secure file sharing and timely communication), and you’ve got yourself a pretty solid collaboration channel.
Second, you’ve got essential tools for client management such as Google Docs for working on documents in real-time, your trusted email service provider, Dropbox for sharing extra files, or lots of complementary Slack apps to add to your team’s workspace.
But few of all the tools I’ve mentioned come with that important feature that keeps communication—well—human when you’re working online: video conferencing. There are several options out there, from your typical Skype to Bluejeans and Lifesize. This being said, I was particularly interested in a statement made by Joseph De Maria from Teach To Scale, who use Zoom to conduct their client meetings since it allows them to send out a personalized link to their clients and eliminate any delays:
“Make it easy! We do what we can to make common sticking points easier for our clients. A classic example is eliminating excuses about searching for calendar links or Zoom links by creating a custom URL to trigger their meetings (www.theircompanysite.com/zoom). This has improved meeting attendance for our client calls and increased our referrals significantly over the years.”
All of these tools are mandatory if you’ve got multiple projects and clients to work with at the same time. For any company dealing with more than three clients simultaneously, a digital system like the ones I’ve referred to is a great helping hand that will significantly reduce the time you used to waste on managerial duties.
For smaller agencies, or if you don’t have too many clients and complicated projects to handle collaboration on, build your custom client management system step-by-step.
Create your own client management system
Even if you do work with just one or two clients, you still need to devise a plan so you and your team can handle all future interactions.
Any solid system can guarantee improved communication, fewer mistakes and delays, and better insights. However, these aspects are harder to manage if you’re using only email or basic spreadsheets. For instance, you might want the software to have a timesheet module to remind your client when a payment is due or send your client a notification when the status of a project has changed. In this case, an invoice management tool is good to have because you can manage your clients and payments with ease.
In the absence of it, create your own client management system following the next three steps:
1. Outline the client management process
As I’ve already emphasized, the first step of any client management system is to understand the client’s requirements. What are they looking to get at the end of the collaboration? What about their goals? And how do they expect to work with you? Consider what their demands will be from your first meeting throughout the project’s development until it is over.
To document this, create a task list to outline the entire client management process in stages roughly. Here’s an example of a simple to-do list you can put together to cover each step of this process for a web design project:
- The first client meeting
- Web page design stage
- Web development
- QA testing
- Final fixes
- Website launch
Having a visual look at these phases will allow you to understand each step of the client relationship process, tackle a client’s needs, and handle any drawbacks. These simple tasks lists will later be turned into detailed lists, each with its own additional tasks and subtasks:
Task lists in Paymo
Start your free Paymo trial to create an outline for your own client management process.
2. Set up what you need
Now that you’re fully aware of all client requirements, start thinking about everything you’ll need to conduct the project and successfully handle client relations. The things to have in mind at this point include:
- How you’ll organize and manage contacts: paper, email, spreadsheets, or other free tools.
- How you’ll communicate with your clients: use your usual channels (Skype, email, or phone) or invite clients to your Slack workspace and give them access to specific channels to stay updated with the project’s status.
- How you’ll share files: Google Drive or Dropbox work, but make sure you create backups for everything.
- How you’ll analyze the results: project management software helps you create reports in a matter of seconds; without one, you’ll need to stick to traditional spreadsheets, charts, or tools like Google Data Studio for smarter—and more visually appealing—reporting. Anyone appreciates a clear data explanation so put in a bit more time into creating a report for your client that stands out.
- What clients need to know during each communication stage: consider what information you can share and with whom. Also, make sure you provide enough support materials to your clients so they’ll know everything that’s going on around the project. Maybe you’ve got something they need to help you with or extra information they should provide halfway through the project. Put these down in an email, ebook, or to-do list.
3. Create your actual client management system and implement it
Organize, prioritize, track!
While work management software or project management tools allow you to create client databases, Kanban boards, or Gantt Charts, not having one will leave you doing all this by hand during the client management process. So consider using at least a free task management tool to connect tasks to the right client, so you won’t find your team focused on one project and ignoring the rest.
Note: If you’re looking for a framework or various methods and strategies, read this guide and adopt a project work methodology that suits your type of activities.
You can still stick to spreadsheets to organize your clients and their projects, requirements, or resources. However, this option remains more complicated than having a task or project management software in place as there are no automation options or a communication portal to facilitate file and feedback exchange.
Prioritizing tasks and client communication is a bit easier to do without turning to your computer. You can choose from various prioritizing techniques or make simple time-based priorities. Check out our complete task management guide to read more on these hands-on techniques and practices.
You’re still not done, even with all the client requirements, tasks, and communication methods in place. Once you get the client’s green light to start work, the existing client management system proves its value.
Summing it all up
Adopting a client-focused mentality can take time. The actionable steps I’ve already mentioned will help you get your own client management system in place, whether you do everything manually to handle fewer clients or automate the processes with the help of work or project management software to focus instead on delighting clients and doing a great job.
Regardless of the client management method you choose, here’s a final checklist of the things you must get for a good head start:
- Plan everything from client communication to tasks and resources.
- Focus on gaining the trust of your clients if you want to retain them.
- Create a company culture that revolves around delighting clients by involving all stakeholders in the communication process.
- Pick your tools (digital or not).
- Always follow and appeal to the client’s requirements. Always.
- Go the extra mile for free to gain referrals thanks to your client management services.
- Learn from your past mistakes, even if that means choosing your next clients based on a series of your own standards.
As always, above all, work happy.