How to take the lead with your clients

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It’s tempting to bend over backwards for our clients, feeling like we need to be ‘on’ at all times for them, poised and ready to reply to their every request and doing a few little extras for free to keep them happy.

But things can spiral out of control if you don’t set the right expectations from the start.

Decide who you don’t work with

Without deciding which clients are the wrong fit for you, how will you know which are the right fit? You didn’t start your own business or go self-employed to work with anyone; you did it to have more control of your time and work, so make sure you take that control. When thinking about who you won’t work with, you could consider the following:

  • Work and tasks you don’t do
  • Sizes or stages of business you don’t work with
  • Clients that don’t fit with your processes
  • Industries you don’t work with
  • Values that don’t match yours
  • That they will need to have a certain budget (nothing below that budget)

You don’t need to feel like you’re being rude when deciding who isn’t the right fit; it will save you both time and mean you are happier and can offer a better service to those who are.

Decide on what your boundaries are

You need to be clear on your boundaries, but you also need to stick to them.

  • What channel(s) will you use to communicate with your clients?
  • What days and times will you work, reply to clients, and take calls and meetings?
  • What work is included in packages or retainers, and what will incur extra fees?
  • What information do you need clients to supply, and by when?

Stop overdelivering

Have the money chat early and consider putting your prices on your website to eliminate time wasters. Prospective clients trying to dodge talking about money present a big red flag. Create a spreadsheet of all the tasks you undertake, the time they take you and a price for them so you can give an accurate quote to a client. If you are already overdelivering for clients, don’t feel this has to continue; message them to say that you will be charging for those tasks in the future.

Be very organised

If you expect your clients to hit deadlines, you better ensure you always do what you say you’re going to do.

  • Use software and automate all the activities you can
  • Incentivise your clients to submit their accounts to your early to help spread your workload
  • Use an online calendar that you can access across all your devices and use it to add reminders and tasks

Sack a client

It sounds drastic but can be highly cathartic, if not sometimes entirely necessary, for your business growth. The Pareto Principle states that 80% of your sales will come from 20% of your customers. Even if this isn’t the case for you, too much of your time is likely taken up by clients and activities that aren’t making you much money. Consider getting rid of your least profitable client(s), so you can make space for your ideal or more profitable work. You can do it politely and even give a referral. Treat yourself to a little celebration afterwards.

Be legally protected

Not only does having a contract and business insurance make legal sense, but the knowledge that it’s there in the background will also make you feel much more confident in your day-to-day business activities. There are legal experts out there who offer affordable bespoke contract writing services so that you can add a list of your expectations for the client and yourself. Then it’s all in writing, making you look unprofessional if you don’t stick to them.

Clients need you to take the lead – they might not think it, but you are the expert. Refrain from being a people pleaser and be more the leader your clients need you to be.

Further reading

Sophie Cross is the Editor of Freelancer Magazine and a freelance writer and marketer at Thoughtfully.

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