Some know this, already, but my journey to WorkBook6 started through my former startup, which was acquired by the company in late 2017. Before I got ‘acqui-hired,’ I was the founder of an administrative support business called Maszi. Throughout this time working as an independent contractor (then business owner), I learned some very valuable lessons about managing client relationships. These have served me well, here, as well.
A big part of what makes WorkBook6 so valuable is that we’re not a ‘single shingle’ – there’s a growing group of people who work together to help our clients. I get this in a big way, because when I personally served multiple clients, it took many fumbled and failed attempts to find that delicate balance between both championing for the client and preserving my sanity. Ideally, when approaching a new client, you search for the win-win scenario where you can do great work for a fair price; the client not only values the work you do, but also feels valued as a customer. Sounds pretty straightforward, right?
So why are so many entrepreneurs struggling with “unreasonable” clients, with “unmanageable” expectations and find themselves struggling to end volatile client relationships? I’d like to share a few tips below (incuding some I’ve picked up at WorkBook6) to help kickstart these working relationships down the right path.
Aggressive sales, not desperate sales
Each client is a little bit unique in that you won’t find one cookie-cutter mold that fits all when it comes to specialized services. If you have the ability to tailor your services to suit specific client needs, great!
Use customization as a weapon in your pocket, but avoid being the “yes” person just to make the sale. Be aware of your scope and what services you are truly willing to commit to providing. It’s only natural a client is going to want to get the most out of their money, and you can’t blame them for trying to expand their resources as far as possible.
If you agree to provide a specialized service (especially one you are reluctant to do), don’t take this lightly. The services you claim to offer play an important role in the client’s final decision, so the lesson here?
Don’t make promises you can’t, or don’t want to keep, just to land the sale.
Not every client is the right client
Playing off tip number one, if you find yourself on an introduction call or meeting with a client who you know needs/wants more than you can provide, it is okay to walk away. I’m going to repeat that – it is okay to walk away, seriously.
Not every single lead is going to be a good fit for your business. It’s a hard pill to swallow, especially in the beginning stages of entrepreneurship when ramping up business is the number one priority. However, in most situations, retention is king, and accepting a client you know you’ll want to fire after a month or so is only going to distract you from your ultimate goal and beat down morale.
This is something we do very well at WorkBook6. We’re careful to preserve the culture, and I’ve seen the leadership team say ‘no.’ to plenty of business.
Know your worth
This is my favorite take-away from my experience as a contractor and was also the most difficult to learn.
Knowing your worth is incredibly strategic from a business standpoint. Here’s the caveat; your worth as a business or service, might not be exactly on point to what you think your worth is.
I’ve seen this pitfall two-ways: the contractor who does excellent work, truly a gem, but sets their price point so low they feel taken advantage of; or, the inexperienced and under-qualified contractor who sets their price-point too high and fails to perform, making the client feel taken advantage of. These are two different paths that lead down the same road.
Spend some time comparing yourself against the market, getting client feedback and mastering your trade before you determine what type of service you’re going to provide at what price. This is going to help funnel in the right type of client and business to compliment your working style.
100% Full transparency
Once we’re past tips one, two and three and you’re in the midst of working with a client, it is crucial to practice transparency (where appropriate).
Now, I’m not asking you to break NDAs or share unsavory details about your personal life here, I’m suggesting that you cultivate a personal relationship with your client, instead of a robotic one. When you are a contractor or hired service, you don’t have the protocol of sick-leave or vacation time to guide you during emergencies of periods of absence. Instead, you have to communicate.
My big three big rules of communication in client-contractor relationships are:
- Communicate early
- Communicate often
- Confirm communication has been received
When Maszi got to a larger scale, and I had multiple employees, I was able to identify from client feedback that the single-most irritating behavior from a contractor or vendor is unresponsiveness. I’ve rarely encountered the client who is unforgiving of an emergency hospital visit, running into unexpected obstacles when attempting to finish a project, or even needing a “mental health” day (seriously!). However, when it’s three days past a deadline and all they’ve heard is radio silence, people get angry. This is another strength of ours, here – WorkBook6 has created a series of communication rules and even has integrated Slack channels with each our clients to make communication as efficient as possible.
Prioritize communication and see how much more smoothly your client working relationship will run!
Write it down…and save a copy
The last tip I’ll leave you with runs along the lines of “cover your butt” as a contractor. While that may sound a little juvenile, I’ve found it to be very important.
While we’ve discussed actions to help set the contractor up for success, remember that clients hold some responsibility in the working relationship as well. It is important they are just as communicative in expectations and feedback. An unresponsive or distracted client can completely derail a working relationship.
It’s important to keep record of expectations, both in the initial working agreement and from project to project. When you launch the initial working relationship or project, make sure you are aligned on expectations for aspects such as turn-around time and work quality; then, document this!
Reference this agreement moving forward if necessary, because as the relationship continues, it’ll become much easier for client expectations to rely on their current needs, versus the original agreement. Without a written agreement, these lines become very easily blurred and can lead right into a recipe for disaster.
What are your favorite tips for navigating the client relationship?