Effective communication is both a means to achieve your business goals and the very essence of your business. Have you ever been unsure about what the client really wanted? Have you ever forgotten what you or the client promised because you didn’t keep good records of your interactions? If so, your communication with clients could be improved.
Here are some tips to improve communication, both written and oral, especially with potential and current clients.
Determine your client’s communication style. Does the client prefer you to pick up the phone, send a quick email, or do they want to meet in person? If possible, try to adapt to your client’s preferred style.
Keep records of your interactions. You can do this by adding everything to an Excel worksheet, saving email, and noting conversations on the phone or during meetings. This will make it easy to see with whom you need to check in or follow up.
Pay attention to your tone, especially in email. Always remember to keep it professional, and pay attention to tone, style, grammar, and typos. (One good tip is to re-read an email before sending it.) In addition, make sure your voicemail has a professional-sounding message. Always treat the client with respect.
Be very specific about documenting project terms and expectations in advance. If you don’t know, ask, and have everything documented in writing. For example, set appointments for communicating with clients so you can be more prepared when they call. I sometimes screen incoming calls, letting them go to voicemail, and then call back as soon as I’ve prepared what I want to say. If you’re following up with a client, ask if you can call back at a specific time, or offer an alternative time to talk.
Focus on listening to what the client says instead of thinking ahead in the conversation. This is mostly useful for phone calls, but it can also be a powerful tool for negotiating rates. Usually in negotiations, if you remain quiet, the client might think what they’re offering is too low and give you a new offer.
Respond quickly. In order for us to provide great customer service, we need to make an effort to return email and phone calls promptly, within an hour or so if possible. Doing so reaffirms your professionalism and tells the client that you are easy to work with. If you’re unavailable, remember to activate away messages on all of your communication channels (email, voicemail, Skype, etc.). It shows that you care about the caller’s business.
Be available. Being a freelancer means setting your own hours, but if you want to work with clients, you need to be available based on their schedule. This is why informing clients of the time zone in which you conduct business is also important.
Try to identify your next step in advance. Make your process as clear as possible for you and your clients. When you accept a job, ask the client to confirm with a purchase order number before starting work (for agencies), or to confirm with a contract for direct clients. To make it easier for the client, you can include your price or fee when you confirm the deadline, which tools to use, and other key details. This makes it easy for the client to confirm those terms as well.
Make a template of the initial email you send to clients clarifying the scope of the project. This will save you a lot of time—and eventually money. The projects you work on may differ, but the initial stages are mostly the same. A template will help you ensure that you didn’t leave out anything important, while at the same time providing a way to record details about the work.
When delivering a job, remember to ask the client for feedback. You can also take this time to ask them if you can help with a future project. Or, simply say that you’re looking forward to working with them again.
Keep the client in the loop. If you’re working on a long-term or large project, send the client updates weekly, or daily, to keep them informed. It’s your responsibility to apprise them of the project status. Different clients may expect different levels of contact, so try to find out how often your client wants you to provide an update. Even if it seems a little excessive, you could send one or two email updates letting the client know that everything is going as planned, or that you are a little bit ahead or behind.
Confront problems. Don’t send an email five minutes before the deadline with a lot of questions concerning the file, or say that it will be delayed. If you’re delayed, inform the client as soon as possible so they can make arrangements. As problems arise, deadlines may shift or revisions may get out of hand, but you must communicate with the client to find the solution.
Verify everything by repeating and recording it in writing. Even if you agree on something over the phone, always send an email with details that the client can verify. Ask, don’t assume. If your invoice is not paid, or if you are unsure of something, just ask.
Always keep things positive. Don’t take your horrible day out on the client, and don’t let an angry client get to you. You can keep the conversation positive and focus on finding a solution instead. This applies not only to how we communicate via email or on the phone, but to everything we post online. Many agencies and direct clients tell me that they Google perspective hires and check out their presence on social media. What you share online can be seen by anyone, so it’s important to be aware of the image you’re presenting.
I hope this has given you a better idea of what to focus on when communicating with potential or current clients to keep them interested and coming back for more.
Tess Whitty has been an English>Swedish freelance translator since 2003, specializing in corporate communications, software, and information technology. Her educational and professional background is in marketing. She is a speaker and trainer at conferences, sharing her knowledge and experience in marketing and the freelance business. She is also the author of the book Marketing Cookbook for Translators. She hosts the Marketing Tips for Translators podcast, where freelance translators (and interpreters) find tips from fellow translators and other experts on how to grow and thrive in their freelance business. Her new book, Marketing Tips for Translators—The Ultimate Collection of Business Tips from the Podcast, is adapted from material presented on the podcast. She is the current chair of ATA’s Membership Committee and served as the chair of ATA’s Chapters Committee. Contact: email@example.com.