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Establishing Good Client Relationships: How to Turn a One-Off Project into a Repeat Customer

By Jessaline Tuason

As an independent contractor, one of your most valuable tools is your work. What are some steps you can take to turn a one-off project into repeat business and build strong client relationships? In this article, learn three important things you can do with a new client to ensure success.

Build Strong Client Relationships

1. Make A Great First Impression

What they say is true, you can only make one first impression. Here are a few good rules to keep in mind to ensure your first impression with a potential client is positive and memorable.

  • The Golden Rule. Every client has the potential to be the best client you’ve worked with. They may have the best connections, provide a number of projects, or offer great pay. Treat them as if they were the best client you’ve ever had.
  • Do Your Research. If you’ve been connected with a potential client for a project, it’s important to research the company, the industry, and the project before your first meeting. This will give you the big picture of what the core company values, goals, and work are. You can speak the “language” of the client to genuinely connect with them. Don’t pretend to be an expert, but show that you care and are already invested in the project.
  • Pre-Deliver. Based on the information you’ve been given about the project and gathered through your own research, bring ideas about the work you can do to your first meeting. This will show your level of commitment, the caliber of your ideas, and the passion you have for your work.

Keys to Success

  • Keep up with the industry and company to stay relevant.
  • Have a boilerplate client template (including how many hours a week you expect to work and/or your project rate, etc.).
  • Be professional. Let your client set the tone for how serious or relaxed your interactions are.

2. Set The Right Tone For The Relationship

Great! You’ve made a good first impression and the client wants to work together. Now it’s time to talk through the details of the project. This is the most crucial step for a project’s success and ultimately the success of the relationship with your client. Set the tone for success through expectations and communications.

  • Setting Expectations Upfront Is Key. Doing this with your client early on ensures that you both have an understanding on the timeline, milestones, deliverables, hours, compensation, and scope of work. Although this may sound tedious, it will eliminate confusion later on.
  • Communication Is How You Meet Expectations. Establish a system for clear communication (i.e., how often, what platform, when). Different clients will want different levels of communication and engagement with you during a project. A great way to please everyone is to have two forms of communication:
    • Passive: Set up an organization tool that both you and your client have access to, such as Dropbox, Google Drive, Asana, or Basecamp. Your client can peek at what you’re working on. Or they can make edits and comments that allow you to work at your own pace.
    • Active: Make sure you have planned times to have active engagement such as a phone call, video call, or an in-person meeting. You’ll get live feedback from your client.
  • Set Up Your Internal Process. You know yourself best. Take the time early on to establish a system for yourself to make sure you will be successful on the project. Set calendar reminders, save your work in multiple locations, and create systems to streamline your process.

Keys for Success

  • Cloudpeeps (see section two) has a good starting point of what to review with your client before you begin a project.
  • Set boundaries! Respect your client’s time and your own. Try not to answer emails or phone calls during times that you have told your client you are unavailable.
  • Use Google Drive or Asana as an organizational tool. Both of these platforms connect calendars and reminders to email or phone, have document storage, and allow sharing and editing. (Not to mention both are free!)

3. Ensure a Successful Project

Once you’ve set expectations and established methods of communication, it’s time to start your project. For a project to be successful, you need to ensure those expectations are not just met, but exceeded.

  • Regular Meetings. Make sure you check in regularly with your client or team on progress towards your milestones. During these meetings, leave time for feedback on your work, both positive and negative. Address what you can continue to do or possible ways you can improve.
  • Continued Communication. Contact your client on a regular basis. Respond promptly to your client, even if you are not solving the problem right away. Simply acknowledge that you have received the request and are working on it. Summarize and clarify next steps after every communication, no matter how trivial. This ensures there is a clear understanding of what needs to be done.
  • Stay Up To Date. Follow what’s happening with the company and within the industry. Staying in the loop with the bigger picture can give you a genuine connection with the client.
  • Go The Extra Mile. If you can make your client’s life a little easier, they will be happy and may recommend you in the future. Even the little things can mean a lot — sending an email, making an organizational spreadsheet, or creating meeting notes.

Keys For Success

  • One of my favorite phrases in life is, “Under-promise and over-deliver.” Make sure you are being realistic when you set goals so that when you can exceed those expectations and goals, your clients will be overjoyed.
  • Make a call! Phone calls get a bad rap in the age of email and text messages. Unplanned phone calls with no agenda and no interruption often lead to quick, simple answers. They can often be an opportunity for you to bond with your client.

Conclusion: Secure Repeat Business

As a contractor, not knowing when your next project is can be stressful. One way to help ease that stress is to ensure that your clients will want to continue to use your services or recommend your services to someone else.

Building relationships takes time. At the end of the project, you should not try to convince your client to re-hire you. Instead, throughout the project, build trust with your client through communication, dedication, and strong work. The tools laid out in this article can help you be successful in turning your one-off clients into repeat customers.

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About Jessaline Tuason

Jessaline Tuason is EM Marketing's Consultant Community Manager, keeping her eyes and ears out on consulting trends and how EM can help support our consultants. A San Francisco native and road-trip enthusiast, Jessaline has a passion for the Future of Work, and is helping to bring us there one consultant at a time.

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