When you’re running your own business, it’s a no-brainer that you’ll spend a fair amount of time communicating with clients. It’s one of the first things you have to figure out how to do during your first few months of business. Am I being too nice? Am I using too many exclamation points? Do I sound snappy and rude here? From people who might work with you, those you’re currently working with, and those who come back wanting more work, you’re likely to be chatting with clients every day that you’re working – regardless of how long you’ve been in business.
However, sometimes communicating in a polite, clear, and professional way can seem like the hardest thing in the world. Throughout the life of your business, you’ll find yourself communicating with the full range from happy and unhappy clients, to people you’re excited to start working with, those you don’t want to work with (but don’t want to offend), and so on. In fact, you may find yourself in a sticky situation trying to communicate professionally with rude or unprofessional clients. Regardless of the mood of the project with your client, you have to be professional yet not stuffy and calm even if things are sort of sour.
Because communicating with clients can be sort of challenging, in today’s post I wanted to share some tips for communicating with clients in all stages of the project so that you can feel more comfortable regardless of the situation!
STARTING OFF ON THE RIGHT FOOT
Before you even book a client, the way you communicate with them is a great first impression for what they can expect while they’re working with you. That means you want to make sure you’re being professional yet personable with your potential clients. There are two ways you’ll choose from to respond to client inquiries, so here are a few tips on responding depending on which way you want to go.
STARTING THE PROJECT WITH APPROPRIATE COMMUNICATION
If you’re like me, most of the time when an inquiry lands in my inbox, I’m excited and eager to get started right away. However there are a series of questions that I have to ask all potential clients before diving right in. Obviously what those questions are depends on what you do, but you also have to make sure you’re clearly communicating your process and details of the project.
For example, if your potential client hasn’t worked with someone in your field before, you want to be clear about the expectations. Does she have homework to do before the project starts? When are the payment due dates? How available does she have to be while you’re working together? You also need to know what to share with your potential client and when. Don’t overwhelm your client with too many details in the very first email.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Struggling with your client communication? You need this post!” quote=”Struggling with your client communication? You need this post!”]
TURNING DOWN A POTENTIAL CLIENT
Say you get a project inquiry, though, and you’re not interested in taking it for one reason or another. It’s not appropriate to just ignore the inquiry just because you don’t want it. Instead, you want to communicate to the person who has inquired that you’re not the best fit for the project and refer them to someone else in your field. This is incredibly helpful to the client because you’re still helping them take the next step without necessarily having to work with them.
The email I send when I’m turning down a client looks something like this:
Thank you so much for filling out that form! I currently work within a more specific niche, so unfortunately, I don’t think that I’m the right fit for this project. I hope you can understand! If interested, please check out (name here) I truly believe your project would be in great hands with her. Wishing you all the best!
As you can see here, I’m clearly explaining why I’m turning down the project while respecting the time of the person who inquired. I’m also helping them take the next step by referring a fellow designer that I think would be a better fit for what they need done.
Talking to happy clients
It may seem like the easiest thing in the world would be to talk to happy clients, right? Well in most cases, that’s true! It’s easy to talk to people who are happy with what you’re doing and don’t want anything to be changed. There are two times throughout a project when it can get tricky communicating clearly or asking your client to communicate more clearly, and that would be when you’re asking for and receiving feedback and when you’re asking for a testimonial.
Effectively asking for clear feedback
When you’re a designer, one of the most challenging things you can do is try to get feedback from a client who isn’t used to providing any. It’s not as simple as asking if you like this and if not, why? I’ve had clients come back to me and say they didn’t like something, but they weren’t really sure why.
Instead of just putting your work out there and hoping you get clear feedback, it’s much better to be more specific on the type of feedback you’d like from the very beginning. When I used Basecamp as my project management software with clients, I kept a note in each project quickly explaining the best way to give me feedback. I liked doing this because it’s a great way to give your client a starting off point for their constructive feedback.
How to ask for a testimonial without being pushy
When you end the project with a happy client, it’s likely that you’ll want to get a testimonial from them. It’s also a good idea to ask them for feedback about the project as a whole. When I’m wrapping up with clients, I send over a canned response with any necessary links and information for their site and final files. Usually about a week later, I like to follow up to see how they’re doing, ask if they have any questions, and send them over to my feedback / testimonial form. This is the best way to ask for a testimonial, without putting too much pressure on your client.
With my form, I’m first asking for details about the client so I know who it’s from, then I ask how they felt about the project and if they had any hang ups. These are things that I can consider when I’m reworking my services pages or chatting with potential clients. I also like to ask if they wish anything was different – most people say no, but it’s good to ask anyway because often we’re so deep in our own process that we can’t see if something should go in a different order or be conducted a little differently. Lastly, I ask if they’d like to leave a testimonial. If you want to see my form to get a better idea at my questions, you can do so here.
Sometimes clients are so busy launching their new brand or site that they forget to fill out the form, and that’s totally okay. If you realize this a few weeks or months down the road, just send them over a quick email to see how they’re doing, if they need anything, and mention that you’d love to feature a testimonial from them on your services page. When you follow up in this manner, you’re letting your client know they’re important to you while still asking for your testimonial!
Talking to not-so-happy clients
Probably one of the hardest things I ever have to do is communicating with clients that aren’t happy. Thankfully those times are few and far between, but as a business owner it’s inevitable that you’ll have at least one or two experiences with unhappy clients. There are a few different places that you might find yourself in with unhappy clients – either you want to fix the project to turn things around or you’re totally okay with just ending the project and moving on.
What to do when your client is unhappy with the work
Sometimes there are miscommunications with clients, and aside from that alone being sort of challenging to deal with, it can end up meaning that you do work that your client is less than happy about it. It can be hard to communicate with your client when that happens because your work ends up being so personal, that well… it’s hard not to take what they’re saying personally.
The best thing to do when your client is unhappy with the work you’ve done is to take a few minutes or hours away from your email to not respond, especially if your knee-jerk reaction is frustration or hurt feelings. This will keep you from being a bit on the defense when you respond. Then, when you’re feeling ready, respond and ask her to explain what feels “off” about the project. If you think it will help, ask your client to create a list of what they’d like changed. Usually when they’re not happy it’s either something you’ve missed or they may be feeling uncertain about what they asked for originally.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Learn how to communicate better with your design clients with this post!” quote=”Learn how to communicate better with your design clients with this post!”]
How to calmly and professionally end a bad project
Ending a project is never my first response when things are going bad, but sometimes it has to be done. I’d rather end a project and help my client find a better fit than continue on if our design styles are vastly different or if the mood of the project is just sour in general. The best way to end the project is by being calm and professional, explain why you’re not comfortable moving forward, and just like earlier, include the name of a peer that would work better. Unfortunately, this is also a time when you may be faced with offering a refund, so handle it as professional as possible.
If I were ending a project with a client, I would likely say this:
After reviewing the work we’ve done so far in the project, I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re not on the same page, and it would be the best for the project if we ended here. I know this likely doesn’t come as a surprise to you, but I hope you understand.
Because of the work done to this point in the project and per the contract we both signed, I owe you a 50% refund, which I’ll be sending shortly after you receive this email. This will be sent to the same email address you paid your invoice with.
If interested, please check out (name here). I truly believe your project would be in much better hands with her.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to let me know!
It goes without saying here that you want to have a clause in your contract that says what you’ll do if the project is cancelled by you or the client. That way, if something comes up, both you and your client can refer back to the signed contract to see how to proceed.
Using canned responses to save time
One of my favorite ways to save time throughout the week when I’m sending emails is using canned responses. You can create these right in your Gmail account, and you can use them at various times throughout your project. I love canned responses because it saves a lot of time and mental energy since I just have to click a few times, swap out a little bit of text, hit send, and then move on to my next task.
I have three different canned responses: inquiries, on-boarding clients, and wrapping up with clients. I only have these three main responses because these are the main emails I’m sending that have generally the same points in each one. If you feel like you’re sending the same exact email throughout the week, I definitely recommend taking a few minutes to set these up as canned responses. You can use this great tutorial, and I definitely recommend bolding or italicizing the text that you need to swap out or add that way you don’t accidentally send an email with wrong or missing information.
So, how are you communicating with your clients?
After reading my tips, are you comfortable with how you’re communicating with your clients? Will you be trying out anything new? I’d love to hear in the comments below!