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Post Project Steps 1: Payment

Last year I covered 5 major subjects which were; How To Pitch, Converting that pitch into actual work, Good Client Relationships, Tricky Clients and When Projects Go Bad. All of these subjects were aimed at helping you to troubleshoot some of the trickier situations and people you will come across when self-employed. Now that we’ve dealt with some if the best practice during a project, and how to save one if its not going to plan, I wanted to talk about steps after your project is over.

Receipt Payment

It goes without saying that one of the first things you’ll want to do is check of course you’ve been paid. Thanks to mobile banking and the internet it’s now easier to ensure that a client has seen your invoice and paid you on time. Assuming you have been paid, one of the first things you’ll want to do is receipt that payment so the client will know. You can send this to whomever you’ve dealt with but I always think it’s worth asking if any accounts people need to be copied in. This will be a useful contact should anything ever go wrong further down the line.

Late Payment

There’s nothing worse than getting your statement and realising that you haven’t been paid. Try not to panic too much when this happens. It’s important to phone up your contact straight away and deal with the issue. Often late payment can be from sheer absent mindedness and nothing sinister. In order to prevent late payments in the future I would recommend that you reward good behaviour rather than punishing bad behaviour. Add 10% onto a client who regularly pays late and then knock it off for prompt payment. I’ve had a few clients that paid late every single time, but late is always better than never!

Non Payment

Sometimes a client will just vanish into thin air and will not have paid you. Just to re-cover some essential tips should this happen to you:

1. Make sure you do everything you can to get in touch

2. If you think they may be avoiding you, try having someone else call

3. If you still can’t get through try and reach accounts or another department

4. Always avoid small claims court where possible but the threat of a lawyer can be a useful tool. Try and befriend one and swap services so this costs you nothing.

5. Be sure to send all warnings etc in writing as evidence

6. Never sink to their level.

Hopefully you should not encounter non-paying clients all that often. The best way to avoid this issue is to take preventative steps. Do your due dillinge on the company beforehand. Always get a signed contract with clear payment terms. Get your deposit. Try where possible to protect your work in some way and don’t deliver until full payment is made.
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When Projects Go Bad 5: Stand Off

When a project is in trouble, you will often find yourself in a stand off with a client. Usually it goes something like this: they weren’t happy with something, you managed to sort it out, but now they won’t pay you until everything is 100% perfect.

Deposit

You might remember way back when we were discussing how to convert a successful pitch into a sale I talked about the dangers of deposits. When you have a projects that’s going off the wrong suddenly there becomes a very real chance that you’re not going to be paid the full amount. That means that potentially you’ve done all the work, devoted all your allotted time (and often more if a project is going wrong) and now won’t get half your money.

Disappear

Where there has been an ongoing argument the issue of trust comes into play. The client is unhappy about the service so far, but worried that the second they pay you you’ll disappear and therefore feels justified in withholding the money. The issue for you is that this dynamic can’t go on forever, you can’t keep working on this project and not getting paid. You have much more to loose than the client. They might have an 80% completed project, but you’re missing 50% of your earnings.

Extra Round

Normally in a process you will have given the client an amount of changes. now sometimes when things are going wrong this goes completely out of the window, but where possible try and hold them to this. What you then do is give the client an extra ring of changes. So rather than have a constant back and forth on what you need to do in order to get paid you say:

“Normally Fred we give clients 3 rounds of changes, obviously this project has had it’s trouble so what we’re going to give you 2 rounds of changes for nothing to apologise. Write up a full list of everything you think needs doing. We’ll then divide that up into essential and non-essential activities. We’ll complete all of the essential steps before payment, which will leave only the tiny extras. This gives us both a clear understanding of what’s left to do and also assures us that we can get paid for the hours we’ve put in.”

In some cases a client might insist that you do everything before they give you a penny. Make sure you refer tightly to the initial brief and don’t do any extras. Ensure you’ve covered your arse should they decide to run out.



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When Projects Go Bad 1: Feedback

So far we’ve had lessons on how to pitch, how to convert that pitch into a job and how to ensure you have good client relations during that job. We’ve covered some of the negative attributes that clients might be guilty of and how best to deal with them. Often factors like Penny Pinching or Micro-management will be the source of issues on projects, but now I want to go into how to salvage a bad project hopefully before your client leaves. The first tingling sensation that your project is about to take a wrong turn often comes during the review stage. The client isn’t happy with your work.

No Middles

One of the major disadvantages of any new client is that there’s a learning curve as to what they will want and what they like. In a normal job you only have one boss to please, and usually it won’t take all too long to figure out what they look for. When you’re working for yourself you have lots of different clients, all with their own personalities and preferences. You also don’t have a lot of time to find these out. Even with a clear brief this might not always be subjective, especially in a field that’s subjective like design.

Everyone’s A Critic

It can be quite difficult if you’re not used to handling criticism when you get negative feedback. This is especially true of small businesses where you know all the blood, sweat and tears that’s gone into getting the sale in the first place. Least of all that all nighter you pulled in order to get them this done in time. Objectivity can be hard to come by…especially when you like what you’ve created. This is the exact reasons why big agencies will have the people who ‘account manage’ they sit in the middle and absorb the brunt of the blow when negative feedback comes in.

DON’T Respond

The first thing to do is buy a little time. NEVER ever respond back in the same way other than to acknowledge their message. Buy yourself a little time and try and come back and review your work in the most objective way possible. Print out your original brief and see if you’re ticking all the boxes. Sometimes its easy to see something so often, you stop seeing the mistakes.

Specifics

If you look at your work, feel its hitting the intended brief then you need to open a dialogue with your client. Do not be too defensive. Ask your client for examples of what they’d prefer, what exactly needs to be changed. Remember everything is subjective so the more specific the better.


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Good Client Relations: Your Questions

Do you get better clients over time?

No. I remember I was doing a spot of sub-contract work for a marketing company with a lot more experience than me and they were talking about some trouble they had been having with their clients and I realised that this is a universal trend across all industries. You will always have bad clients. What does improve is your ability to scope out what might be a bad job or bad client and how to handle them. Normally the reason people take on small jobs or petty clients is they need the money and over time you should gain in confidence and be able to live without them.

I’m trying to attract bigger, better clients but struggling?

Bigger clients come with time and usually want to see a bit of history behind a company before it’s worth them taking a risk. Bigger clients usually take a lot more prospecting and time than smaller ones and don’t forget this is work you aren’t being paid for. Try and find out who works with them at the moment and evaluate their marketing. What are they doing to attract customers that you aren’t? What language are they using? Often a bigger company will be tied up into a contract with their provider, try find out when its up for renewal.

I have a really good client but they are almost always late paying

I would recommend first and foremost you try and mix up the companies you are working with. Bigger clients and bigger projects usually mean longer time between payment. This is where having a few small, quick jobs could benefit you. Don’t forget that cash flow is the number one killer of most businesses.

As for your late paying client, if you trust them to pay you then late is better than never, but of course chasing up payment is an unnecessary stress. Ensure that you have shorter payment terms as it’s easy to forget to pay someone if you have a month to do so. Send them friendly reminders when there payment is due and try and politely remind them of their bad habit. Try and reward them for early payment rather than punish them for late.

I did a great job with a client but they just disappeared?

This quite possibly will have nothing to do with you so don’t worry. You can do everything right for a client and them still go quiet. It’s possible that they just don’t need you for now or perhaps whatever they hired you for is no longer going ahead. Try adding them to your social media connections and emails and hopefully they will come back, but often working for yourself is a thankless task.


A lot of your tips seem quite simple, it can’t be that easy?

You’d be surprised at the importance of doing the simple things right. So many companies don’t! If you can think about your clients, understand their needs and communicate frequently you’ll get where you want to go.
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Good Client relations 15: CRM

CRM stands for customer Relationship Management, which is essentially a fancy way of recording your interaction with clients. Here are some tips on how to get the most out of it.

Do I need a programme?

There are a lot of options out there in terms of CRM software, and I’m too lazy to write about them. It depends what sort of industry you’re in and the sort of information you have with clients, but generally most companies can make a start with just an excel spreadsheet as long as its saved in a place where everyone can access it.

Knowledge is Power

The point of having a CRM is to document your interactions with clients and from that to see buying patterns, sales opportunities and also understand why customers are leaving.

Details

The key details to include in your CRM are contact details within a company, an overview of what you did, when you last contacted them and then notes on the business, how they operate etc. It’s really important that you use a common language that everyone using your CRM uses. For example what is a prospect, what is a lead? Everyone needs to use the same terminology.

Noticeably Notes

Good note taking is essential to any CRM, not just who you called and when but those little things that make a client special. The idea should be that someone new could come in, read your notes and make a connection with your client. I always think that the most useful information is often the smaller things about your client that can give you something to talk about, like what football team they support for instance.

Catching Up

One of the core reasons for having a CRM is to ensure you have regular contact with your clients. It can be easy to get swept up with the next project or a new client, but the easiest way of getting new work is always with existing clients. Just a casual call to say hello can keep your services in their head.

Hassle

Keeping an up to date CRM is extra work that might seem like a hassle but ultimately is a valuable tool going forward the key goal of any CRM is to do the simple things in a smart way.

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Devid Disuza

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Good Client Relations 13: Cheap Skates

This is certainly one of the most common traits that I’ve seen freelancers get frustrated with. Clients who want the earth for pennies. So how best to deal with a tight pocket? Here are my tips.

Education

I’d like to think that most clients are not malicious but just under educated about the time and effort some things take…and that’s your fault! It’s your job to communicate this to the prospect so they better understand what goes into your product or service. Try and give them detail as to time and costs.

Price Comparison

Let’s say you have two identical umbrellas in front of you, but one is cheaper. Which one do you think you’re going to choose? It’s important to remember that basing your business around price is a race to the bottom and indeed there will always be someone cheaper. To an uneducated client hiring one person might seem the same as hiring another. This is why you have to create your own value. There are a number of ways to do this, through the amount of experience you have, through the speed you operate, to the quality of the end product. Never forget that in most cases you’re not really selling the service but the benefits.

Make it simple

One very straight forward tip is to make your billing as simple as forward. Bill daily and not hourly, use round amounts, and publish guidelines in your material. This will act as a barrier to entry for those clients who may simply not have the cash.

Low Bidding

I do think, especially with newer clients that there can be an aspect of ‘trying it on’ and seeing if there’s any room for negotiation. Stand up for your rates and never be drawn in on the potential for supposed future work. You can only price based on the here and now.

Just Less of You

The biggest tip with a cheapskate client is that you don’t lower the price for your service, you just give them less. (This may be hard to do if you sell products) where it would normally take 2 days for something see what an alternative would be for a day. I’ve found that where people can’t afford me suggesting alternatives, looking at templates or similar leaves them feeling good about you so when they do have money they can come back.


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