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Tip for Freelancers: Admitting You’re Behind

You probably think this post is going to be about a negative experience I had with a freelancer? Not quite. It is about me as a freelancer and how I admitted I was behind.

For a majority of my consulting work, I am an independent contractor. I occasionally hire contractors to do some of the more specialized work, but most of the time I work by myself and for myself. I’m not part of a large consulting organization, am hired directly by the company I’m working for, and so on. So, it’s just me. The companies I work with like dealing with me or they probably wouldn’t hire me. However, I am still only one person.

And since I am only one person and I am still human, I inevitably get sick. And unfortunately when I get sick, I get behind. As a result of getting behind, I have to admit the fact to my clients.

The first step is of course realizing that you’re behind. I usually know when I’m behind pretty quickly. I have a lot to do during a given a week and when I’m  not getting a majority of it done, I realize it pretty quickly. A lot of people seem to get in denial about being behind. I’m not a productivity guru, so my suggestions in that area would not be that useful.

Once you realize that you’re behind, you have to admit it. This is a communication and subsequently, very much a customer service thing. This is an area where I think my advice could be useful.

Here is how you communicate with the customers/clients/etc. that are waiting on you:

Remember: no excuses.
There is a fine line between giving an explanation and an excuse. Customers are rarely interested in excuses.

Admit it.
It is okay to admit you took on too much work, you’ve been sick, or something happened. Just be truthful and promptly explain the cause of you being behind.

Explain what you’re doing to fix it.
Like most apologies, explanations, etc. your message or conversation should include an explanation about what you’re doing to fix the problem, get caught up, get that second draft ready, etc. You need to explain what you’re going to do to rectify the problem.

To finish it off, apologize. Make it a sincere apology or you’re just wasting your time.

If you can pro-actively admit you’re behind and explain why, most customers should appreciate it. It is certainly a lot better than just letting them guess what you’ve been up to or having to follow up with you themselves.

Photo courtesy of jivaca.

Freelancers & Customer Service: Conclusion

Today is the closing of Service Untitled’s series on freelancers and customer service. The series has been well received and I’m glad some freelancers have found it useful. So, here is the conclusion.

Do the right thing.
In his interview, Craig Newmark said “Well, I think everyone should do the right thing.” That applies to everyone from freelancers to the biggest companies in the world. As a freelancer, try and do the right thing. Don’t cheat your clients, be nice to your partners, and try and do the right thing whenever possible. In a different interview, Craig said something along the lines of “Screwing people can produce short term success, but never long term success.” Try and think of that all the time.

Go the extra mile.
Remember to go the extra mile whenever you can, especially when you aren’t that busy. It’ll pay off in the long run and most of your clients that you do go the extra mile for will really appreciate it.

Be appreciative and follow-up.
When you finish a project for a client, do something nice for them. Order them a book they mentioned they wanted on Amazon, send them a bottle of wine or a fruit basket, or at least send a personalized thank you note. If your client ending up paying you two, three, four, or five thousand dollars (and up), it is worth it to send them a nice bottle of wine. When a month or two has passed, follow-up with your client and make sure everything turned out as they wanted and ask if they need anything else.

Pay attention to little details and try and make keep the principle of “Little Things, Big Differences” in mind whenever possible. Your clients are using you for a reason, so make sure that every little detail is exactly how they want it.

Do what the client wants.
On a similar note, do what the client wants. Unfortunately, good design, great writing, etc. doesn’t always pay the bills – it has to make the client happy in the end to get the money and to get referrals. Some clients will listen to you and do what you say, others will want it their way. You can try to reason with the client and present some supporting facts for your opinion (and better yet, examples), but remember about the power of the purse. Some of your clients may not care if it looks good, they want it their way and unless it is done how they want it (or at least to a point where they agree it makes sense), you won’t get any referrals.

I hope everyone enjoyed the series on customer service for freelancers. If any freelancers have anything they’d like me to elaborate on or post about, feel free to suggest it by posting your idea in the comments.

Freelancers: Get Extra Business with Customer Service

So perhaps this is the post everyone has been waiting for – how freelancers can get additional business through customer service. Some people may be saying “Nah, that’s impossible.” Well, it is possible. There are plenty of companies that have done it, so why can’t individuals?

There were some items discussed in the previous post about tips for freelancers to improve their customer service. Some good ways to get additional business through customer service (mainly by the way of referrals):

  1. Getting to know the client.
  2. Go the extra mile.

By getting to know the client, you have a good chance at identifying what else they may need and you can gain referrals. By going the extra mile, you can introduce your client to additional services you provide and generate some great word of mouth advertising.

So how else can you use customer service to get additional business?

  1. Make yourself the go to guy or girl. Make yourself the go to guy or girl for everything. Build up a network of friends, partners, etc. that do things that your clients need. For example, if you do web design, have friends who do business card design or web hosting. This way, whenever a client needs something, he or she will ask you.You can either get a referral fee from your friends/partners and/or eventually you’ll be asked about something that you can do. Oh, and your friends/partners may very well send you business in return.
  2. Be honest. Be honest and don’t sell clients more than they need (no matter how gullible they may be or how rich they are). Sell them what they need and clients will respect that and continue to do business with you and refer their friends to you.
  3. Be the solution. A big problem with a lot of freelancers is they aren’t very reliable. Don’t make this the case with you. Give clients your cellphone number, your personal email address, or whatever – make it so that you are the solution and that your clients have no reason to go to a full service company. Furthermore, make sure that your friends and partners you refer your clients to are as reliable and as dependable.
  4. Follow-up. Read the posts on Service Untitled about following up. Following up is extremely important and something that you should do. When you are done with a project, follow-up with them. When a potential client says “We’ll need you in three months.” contact them in three months.
  5. Be nice. As always, be friendly and it will pay off. Make yourself easy to work with and keep the client in mind. It also doesn’t hurt if whatever work you produce is what the client wants (note: not good – what the client wants) as well.

Be sure to read other things on Service Untitled as well. The suggestions provided in topics like Little Things, Big Differences and Etiquette really make the difference between an acceptable and great customer service experience.

Monday will finish up this series. If you have any suggestions of things to cover, please do provide them. On Tuesday, I have a post in mind about a customer service call turned disguised as an (effective) sales call.

On an unrelated note, this is an interesting read. It is the manual that the people who prevent members from canceling their AOL subscriptions use (also known as Retention Specialists, I believe).

Customer Service Tips for Freelancers

So in yesterday’s post, I mentioned some of the customer service advantages freelancers have over companies. There were several advantages, some of which can make a big difference when utilized properly.

As long as the freelancer can handle his or her current workload, the customer service provided has the potential to be great. Here are some tips on how to utilize your advantages as a freelancer to make the customer service experience great.

  1. Get to know the client. Get to know the client as much as possible. Include lots of questions in the initial questionnaire to get a feel of who the client is, what they like, what they don’t like, etc. Don’t hesitate to put an “Interests” category. If the customer doesn’t want you to have the information, he or she won’t fill it out. If the customer does fill the form out, maybe you have a common interest and that’s something you can talk about.

    Pay attention to what the customer says whenever you correspond with him or her. Take notes about things the customer says and try and work them into future conversations. The customer will know you are paying attention and care, and it’ll pay off in the way of increased business from referrals.

  2. Provide frequent updates. Since you are a freelancer, you have no one to talk to for status updates – you know exactly what stage you are at and you should pass that information onto the client. Send the client an email every few days with short messages like “We just finished the visual layout for your new web site. Next step is coding.” In each correspondence, provide your contact information so the client can contact you if he or she has any further questions, comments, or concerns.

    If you don’t hear from a client as often as usual (say they email you once per day usually and you haven’t heard from them in four days), send an email, make a call, etc. and make sure everything is okay and on track. If they say “So and so” just happened, act accordingly. If someone in their family passed away, send a card, etc.

  3. Address concerns quickly. Address client concerns as quickly as possible. If they mention they didn’t like the color of something, change it, and then send it back to them. Chances are, it’ll be a few hours before you hear back from them again and you can then work on other things.

    Obviously, if you have a lot of work, you can’t do this all the time, but you should do your best to follow up on time. For example, if you say “OK, I’ll have the new draft to you in a day.” make sure you have to the client within that time period.

    Try to respond to emails quickly and make call backs whenever you get a message and have some time to respond. Freelancers have to do every part of the process (as opposed to just 1 or 2 parts that someone might do in a company), so things can get a bit more complicated when it comes to time management.

  4. Make decisions. Make decisions whenever you have the opportunity. If the customer asks “Can you do this at such and such a price?” don’t say “I’ll have to check and get back to you.”, you should try and say “Yes, we can do that.” or “No, unfortunately we cannot do that.” Less bureaucracy is something that freelancers should really utilize.
  5. Go the extra mile. Go the extra mile whenever you have the opportunity. If you aren’t too busy and are finishing up one client, throw something in (like business card designs, etc.) to add value to the package. The word of mouth will be worth the little bit of extra time and will likely get you some business.

    You can take it a step further by throwing in something that you aren’t really well known for or that you are trying to get going (like business card design, for example). This way the customer can say “Did you know so and so the freelancer does excellent business card design?”

Tomorrow’s post is how freelancers can get additional business through customer service. Hopefully this post has provided freelancers with some ideas of how they use their freelancer-ship (a made-up word) to their advantage when it comes to customer service.

Customer Service & Freelancers

There is going to be a brief series on freelancers and customer service. Here is the schedule – the series will last four days.

Day 1 (Today): Introduction and advantages freelancers have when it comes to customer service
Day 2 (Thursday): How freelancers can utilize their advantages and improve customer service
Day 3 (Friday): How freelancers can get additional business through customer service
Day 4 (Monday): Conclusion and overflow day

Over the years, I’ve dealt with a lot of people who would be considered freelancers. Graphic designers, web designers, programmers, writers, builders/contractors – every type of freelancer one can imagine.

Some freelancers seem to think they are excused from giving customer service because they don’t work for a company per say. They work for themselves. However, these freelancers are wrong. The customer service freelancers provide should be as good, if not better, than the customer service their competition provides. A freelancer’s competition? Other freelancers and companies. They better get customer service right, because they have a lot of fields to compete on.

Freelancers do have some customer service advantages.

  1. There is only one person to mess up. It may be a cynical view, but the smaller the customer service department, the less people who can mess up. With freelancers, there is only one person who can mess up on anything, and that is obviously the freelancer.
  2. The customer service experience can be very personal. Since the freelancer knows every client, the customer service experience and all other freelancer-client interactions can be highly personalized.
  3. There are lots of opportunities to go the extra mile. With freelancers, there are lots of opportunities to go the extra mile. Since there isn’t very much corporate bureaucracy, the freelancer can make decisions.
  4. No bureaucracy. Enough said. The freelancer can make decisions.

There are plenty of other benefits that freelancers have over their competition (at least the companies), but these are the main ones that I can think of. Chances are, I’ll edit the post and include more.

Most of the tips in this series will be for freelancers who work on the Internet (graphic/web designers/developers, writers, programmers, etc.), but most of the tips can be applied to more “traditional” freelancers like contractors, plumbers, or anyone else.

Also, if there are any freelancers who read Service Untitled (which I would say is likely), feel free to provide your topic suggestions. I’ve scheduled for one overflow day, but if there are a few really great topic suggestions, they can definitely be covered.

Tomorrow’s post is how to use these advantages for better customer service and some other ways freelancers can improve the level of service they provide.