Little League, Big League – 8 Things to Consider with dealing with your client.

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Many young entrepreneurs want to work with big companies, without understanding what it truly requires to successfully execute projects with big brands. In my entrepreneurial journey, I have found that individuals, and SME’s are much more forgiving than the big companies, and it’s a completely different ball game when you step into their court. You can’t step into the a Big League game, and play like a little league player – you will get crushed in moments. On this note, I have put together a few things to keep in mind when you decide you play in the Big league – Actually, all of these apply to all client work (Small, or Big), because in the end we all want to be known for our professionalism, and quality delivery.

Document EVERYTHING:

If it’s not in writing, then it never happened. When you work with companies, you’re dealing with multiple people at the same time, and it’s very important to communicate primarily in writing – via email. It’s easy for information to get lost in transition, especially when you have responsibilities changing hands, and clients that are working on multiple projects at the same time. Keeping everything documented will not only help your clients keep track of your needs, but will also protect you in instances of ‘he said’, ‘she said’, ‘they said’. Many clients have selective amnesia – especially when they are responsible for whatever issue is at hand. You’ll breathe a heavy sigh of relief when you can RE-FORWARD an email that was received and acknowledged (oh yes, always ensure that the recipient acknowledges receipt).  Even if you’re friends with your client, it’s important that you draw the line between personal and business – do not manage your entire business relationship via phone conversations and physical meetings. There will be clients who say that they don’t care how the work gets done as long it’s done. Thank them for that, but still ensure that you send across a detailed plan of what is being done, and ensure that they sign off on the plan.

Make sure your company paperwork is up to date: 

Working with a big company means filling out pages of long, unexciting, detailed paperwork.  It also means that you will need to provide registration documents, updated tax documents, Shareholder identification, insurance papers, corporate trainings, corporate citizenship, bank references, supplier standards, and more. The task of sorting these documents out can be quite daunting, and so frustrating that it leaves you wanting to just give up on working with the big guys. But if your business is going to grow, you need to take your company paperwork seriously. If you cannot do it yourself, hire someone to do it for you. Either way, it must be done. Get those tax documents done, and stop postponing sorting out your insurance papers.

Set Realistic timelines: 

This is one rule of business, whether you’re working with a big brand or an individual, you should always give realistic timelines. When you agree to deadlines that you cannot meet, you’re risking your reputation. Sometimes, clients will give unrealistic timelines, and they will take no prisoners when it comes to delivery. You must be able to speak up about your concerns, and negotiate a timeline that works for you. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. If the timeline provided by the client, means that you will need to deliver poor quality, then you’re better off turning down the job. Remember it’s your reputation at stake here, not theirs.

Don’t over-promise, Over Deliver Instead 

Overpromising is part of our culture. Fact. I’ve hardly met a tailor that wasn’t 100% sure that they understood my design, until the finished product is presented and I shake my head. I also haven’t met a carpenter that isn’t 100% sure that he will produce the IKEA furniture photos that I showed him, until of course one of the drawers is missing, and he says “Madam, you don’t need the extra drawer”. Of course I don’t expect you not to convince your client of your 100% quality delivery. However, understand that you may not always fulfill your client’s full expectations. Keeping this in mind, it’s important to know when to say NO, rather than say “Yes” to everything. Your ability to say No to something you cannot do will save you the client account, your business reputation, and your client’s respect. Make sure you ask questions to understand the brief properly – clarity will help understand expectations. If there’s an aspect of a project is beyond the skill set of your team, you can ask your client if they would like to be referred to a 3rd party to handle that aspect of the work. Let them make the decision by themselves, and work with the vendor directly so that you’re not held accountable for that aspect of the work.

Admit when you make a mistake, and try to fix it.

If the work you produce doesn’t meet your clients expectations, you’ll need to regroup with your team and request for detailed feedback from the client (preferably in person). Ask as many questions to get clarity on what worked and didn’t work, offer an apology – you can also offer a discount to appease your client. Clients appreciate honesty, accountability, and empathy.

Build in a Contingency Budget

There’s nothing clients dislike more than finding out that you require more funds to complete a project after their budget has been signed off. Understand that no matter how much you plan, something will come up that is either out of the initial scope, or an item that you may have left out of your budget. Build in a contingency plan that accommodates small changes. If the client takes the project completely out of the agreed scope, then by all means request for additional budget to complete the project. Your contingency budget is for your personal errors, and any minor changes that you’re happy to provide you your client.

Include Taxes in your billing. 

Ensure that you invoices are accurate, and include applicable taxes. If you don’t tax properly, you will have to eventually pay the tax from your pocket. There are state and federal taxes that apply to businesses, and even freelancers, and it’s important that you understand these taxes, and include this in any negotiations with your client. Understand that you cannot go back to the client to complain, if you forget to include taxes in your bills – this is your responsibility, not theirs!

Don’t look forward to the End of a Project, Look forward to the beginning of a new project. 

Many people tend to focus on “wrapping up” projects, so that they can get paid and move on to the next pitch or client chase. Personally, I have imbibed a mindset of focusing on ensuring that the end of a client’s project, is the beginning of a new project with them. This means ensuring that you produce quality, and following up with them to receive feedback. Feedback is super important in business today. If your client has had a poor experience with you, it’s wise to work toward fixing it. It’s easy to think that they don’t matter, and you’ll never work with them again – this is possible. However, remember the power of influence – what they say to others. You might not work with them ever again, but you will attempt to work with people that they know, and risk the possibility that they have shared their poor experience with other companies.

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