“Clients don’t like surprises,” said one of my business mentors.
“In an unpredictable world, they need to know that they can depend on you. If you can live up to their expectations, you’re building a long-term relationship.”
Wise words from a wise man, and yet I only partially agree with him.
In order to live up to your client’s expectations, you first need to know what they are.
Many clients forget to tell you, and many freelancers don’t bother to ask. They just assume they know, and get burned in the end.
Thanks to the marvels of the internet, there’s often little or no direct contact between a client and a freelancer. You know how it goes. We respond to vague job postings with a vague budget, and simply hope for the best.
If we happen to land the job, we get straight to work so we can meet the deadline. But what to do when we’re not sure what to do?
Some freelancers will turn to their colleagues, and ask them for an uninformed opinion:
“Please help. Should I pronounce this strange name in this way or that way?”
“Do I read all the footnotes or shall I leave them out?”
“What kind of tone or accent would be best for this book?”
Sorry people, but you’re barking up the wrong tree! It doesn’t matter what your Facebook friends think you should do. Your client doesn’t care what you think either.
Go to the source and ask!
The only way to consistently satisfy your customers, is to meet and exceed their expectations. You’ve got to offer exceptional value that justifies your rate. That’s how you build your business.
Now to the first part of my mentor’s advice. The part about surprises.
I happen to think that clients are human, and humans like surprises. That is, as long as they are pleasant.
The first way to surprise your client has everything to do with what we just talked about:
Unless it’s cut-and-dried, don’t just accept the job and get to work. Get in touch, and stay connected. Show some interest in the project you’re hired to do. Ask questions. Get details. Give updates. You’re not some speech-imitating computer program. You’re a real person, so show your client you care.
You’d be surprised how much goodwill you create when you communicate. Time spent getting to know your client’s preferences will save you time in the end.
So, let me ask you this. If you could work with someone who is open, flexible, and communicative, or with someone who isn’t, who would you choose?