Building and maintaining client relationships is a central part of working life, and this is particularly important for freelancers and small businesses. Whatever type of product or service you are providing it is an essential consideration that you have lasting and trusted relationships with the people who provide you with work. You can be the very best at what you do, but treat your clients badly and you’re going to lose valuable projects.

There are some simple steps you can take to build lasting client relationships. As with the relationships in other areas of our lives, the way we interact with work clients should be based on mutual trust and respect. By communicating openly and honestly we can quickly turn these interactions into something more personal, working together as people rather than business contacts. Providing the best work efficiently and on time are the basics of freelance work, but we can go beyond this by learning more about our customers, teaching skills and sharing knowledge, and creating networks.

This post outlines six steps to maintaining lasting relationships with your clients; simple yet powerful ideas that help everyone involved enjoy the best rewards.

Clearly Plan Projects

When you receive a brief or are asked to draw up a quote, it is crucial that you prepare a clear outline of the project. Maybe your client will provide an accurate and detailed set of specifications, or perhaps they will be a little vague in what they actually expect as a project outcome. Whatever the case, the sooner you establish a project outline the sooner both parties can see how the work will unfold.

A project plan should be framed around clear objectives, the end product your client expects on delivery. Once you have established what needs to be produced you can work out a detailed timeline and agree on a deadline. This is also the time to offer a quote and settle on how much you’ll get paid; along as this is agreed from the outset there shouldn’t be any awkward disputes further down the line. Throughout project planning and price negotiations you and your client should be friendly and open to communication. This leads on to our next tip.

Communicate Openly and Effectively

Communication is essential in every part of our lives, not least in our work and business relations. In today’s world of mass communication there is a huge variety of ways to keep in contact with your clients, from email and social media, to phone calls or even old-fashioned paper mail. You should make yourself as available as possible for clients to get in contact, and reply promptly and politely to any enquiries.

Regular updates on project progress ensure smooth development and helps iron out any problems as soon as they arise. Freelancers sometimes keep a rather more erratic work schedule than regular nine-to-fivers, and days off don’t necessarily fall on the weekend. When you know you’re going to be offline for a day or two, it’s a good idea to let your clients know in a friendly note, so avoiding any mysterious absences when they try to get in contact.

Share Your Knowledge

Generally, your clients come to you for a specific service or product, but you undoubtedly have a variety of skills and breadth of knowledge beyond the work you are asked to deliver. As you get to know your clients better you may discover other areas you can help out with, share your knowledge and apply your skills to a wider range of problems than your client expected you capable of. In sharing your wisdom you go beyond being simply a service provider and become a teacher. By doing this for free you will boost your client’s confidence, potentially leading to a wider scope of projects, extra work and extra pay.

Network

In addition to sharing your skills and knowledge with clients, it also helps to share contacts from your address book. Your clients probably commissions work from various vendors for different services; if you can link them up with trusted and powerful contacts to provide theses services your clients will develop confidence in your advice. This networking may also be reciprocated: when your client links you up with their own contacts a web of rewarding relationships can grow.

Manage Time and Meet Deadlines

Getting work completed well and on time is essential to maintain client relationships. If you have planned the project timeline clearly and realistically, fitting it into your overall work and life schedule, then this shouldn’t be a problem. There are numerous software packages and applications available to help with time tracking, and good old-fashioned calendars and diaries are great for planning your work and seeing how it relates to your other commitments.

When you set out your original plan and quote a delivery date, it is much better to over-estimate than give yourself too little time. By allowing extra time you open the possibility of delivering early, which is bound to make you client happy and pleased with your efficiency. If things go wrong and you think you’re not going to meet the deadline it’s best to let you client know as soon as possible to avoid any nasty surprises. This leads to our final tip.

Be Honest and Be Yourself

All human relationships work best when both parties are open and honest, including our relationships with the people we interact with through our work. Be honest about your capabilities, how long it takes you to get things done and exactly what skills you have. If you mislead your clients about what you can provide then there will be disappointment all round, the relationship will fail and you will lose work. If, however, your clients know what to expect from you then they can build trust in your work and you abilities to deliver.

It’s also important to be yourself, don’t pretend to be a bigger operator than you really are. Freelancers, while working on a smaller scale, do have many advantages over bigger businesses by being flexible and personal in their work relationships. By recognising these advantages you can get to know clients as people and friends, and so develop strong and rewarding relationships.