At 2pm last Wednesday, I got a call from one of my clients. Before I could barely utter my “hello,” she launched headlong into her story – “I am so frustrated! I have this client who has been dragging her feet at every stage of our project. I’m working on a branding campaign for her company and expected to be finished nine months ago, but every time we get to a stage in the project where the ball is in her court, I have to follow-up umpteen times and push and prod just to get her to move forward. In almost every case, it takes her about two months to do something that could have been done in a week. Then, two months later when she’s finally finished with her part, she cheerily announces that she’s ready for me to start the next phase and wonders how quickly I can do it. Every time this happens I have to completely reacquaint myself with her project. All in all, I’ve spent almost twice as many hours as I budgeted. How can I get her to wrap up this project so I can move on?,” she finished.
I cannot think of one service business owner that hasn’t faced this issue at one time or another. We all started our businesses concerned about providing great customer service and a quality service delivered on time. We thought that was the key to having happy clients. But, at some point, we find out that great customer service means that we’re not allowing one client’s delays to impact another client’s project, the profitability of our business, or our own personal satisfaction. This is when we have to recognize that we are responsible for this situation. If you’ve allowed a client to run amuck dragging a project on forever, changing project parameters numerous times, delaying payment of the final bill, why shouldn’t they continue to behave this way? It’s up to you to put into place policies and procedures that communicate this to your clients and prospects from the very beginning.
One format I’ve seen used very effectively is a one-pager called “How We Work Together.” It’s a very basic document that outlines the responsibilities of both you and the client. It makes clear who is responsible for what and when so there are no questions later. It also outlines the consequences if either of you misses the target. Not only does this put the client on the straight-and-narrow, it shows them that you are willing to be held to high standards as well.
By using the How We Work Together document, you can begin setting the stage for productive client relationships from your very first contact with a new prospect. During your first meeting, give them a copy of the document and go through it with them. When I ran my web development company, mine included a rough timeline for each stage of the project and described how the responsibility shifted from me to them and back again throughout the process. It also included a description of consequences should particular stages of the project go beyond the timeline by a specified amount of time. This applied to me as well as them. People like to know what to expect. It left them feeling that I had a system I followed and could be relied upon to do what I was proposing to do. I feel confident that this is one of the reasons I got 90% of the projects I pitched.
I used the How We Work Together document again once I had received the signed contract and deposit payment. At that point, I would consult my project calendar and assign specific dates to each stage of the project included on the document and mail it out to the client. They had already seen the document once, so it wasn’t new to them. Now, they just reviewed the dates and used it as a follow-up tool.
If you are currently in a similar situation, handle it as best you can in order to preserve the client relationship and introduce the How We Work Together document at the beginning of the next project with this client. To begin to set boundaries with all of your clients and prospects, create your own How We Work Together document and utilize it in every new project for new and existing clients.
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