Nobody sets out to fail but, for the freelancer, there are some key elements that will deliver the best possible service and happy customers.
Key 1: POINT OF CONTACT IS CRITICAL
Your customer phones to offer you a new piece of business. They are greeted by a disinterested person that has no idea when you will be back in the office. None of us can be available 24/7, but whether it is voicemail or a real person, make the response meaningful and interested, and respond to every message as fast as you can. For email, set up a general inquiry email like firstname.lastname@example.org. But, don’t use an auto-response. “Your message is precious to us…” may appear efficient but it’s impersonal and overused and people now expect delayed or no responses from those.
Key 2: NEVER MAKE EXCUSES
We have all heard them. “There is a bug going around the office; the dog ate the first draft; my hard drive failed…” Excuses will certainly not calm an angry or desperate customer. So, admit the problem and do whatever it takes to show that you can deal with the issue. Most important – once the crisis is resolved, review what went wrong, plan ways of averting the problem, and communicate this to your customer. Pro-activity regains confidence.
Key 3: NEVER TAKE ON MORE THAN YOU CAN HANDLE
Your customer comes to you with a major project that needs to completed urgently. Can you do it? The immediate reaction is to snatch his arm off. But step back for a second and think.
What will be the impact of accepting this work? Will it affect your “business as usual” capabilities? What are the cost implications in potential lost business?
If this is so urgent, you should wonder why. Has a previous supplier pulled out and, if so, why? Ask the customer or dig around among your contacts. If it turns out that the requirement bears the legend “Here be dragons” you may decide to beat a tactical retreat.
If the plan looks feasible, you should be looking to charge a premium for the lateness of the job. Any sensible customer will be expecting one, although they will naturally deny the fact.
Key 4: BE THE BEST AND PRICE ACCORDINGLY
What? Don’t you understand how cutthroat this business is? Of course, but let’s look at it another way. If you deliver the best service on time then your customer will return and recommend. Fail to deliver, or deliver poorly, and your name will be mud in record time. Bad news really does travel fast!
If you are worried about losing the initial deal on price, talk to the customer. Most understand that you have to make a profit; most will accept that need and value your honesty. Alternatively, discuss with them what you are able to do for the price they want. They may appreciate your efforts to help. If they can’t, then you may be better off without them.
There are plenty of people who will work for lousy pay, but they usually deliver lousy product, too. Customers will not always be happy. It just does not work like that so get over it. But, when the plaudits and recommendations do occasionally arrive, they feel so much better.
Mike Dale lives with his wife and a slightly crazy cat in Llangollen in North Wales, UK, where he has worked as a full time freelance writer and business consultant since 2005. He writes on a wide range of subjects and has also had a number of fiction pieces published.