If you're a freelance entrepreneur, then I'm sure at some point you've had some slight anxiety about maintaining a steady flow of clients. Your initial interaction with a potential client could make or break your future business relationship. But just as it's important for you to make a good impression when asked about your work, it's also important to have a client that impresses you as well. Asking the proper questions BEFORE you begin to work with them can save you time, money, and unnecessary stress.
Freelancing can be considered the new "starving artist syndrome". While you may be excited about the possibility of an increase in income, you have to also take into consideration how the business relationship will evolve. It's important to find out whether or not you are a true match, and how you can grow together. One of the most important factors in canvassing for new clients is establishing their niche market. As a service consultant, you may be fully aware of what that niche consists of, however, many business owners have yet to figure out their niche market. An open and honest conversation with a potential client can help discover their niche and determine whether its one in which you see yourself servicing. Be sure that the client's image and branding do not conflict with your own company values. If you discover a conflict early on, go ahead and respectfully sever ties. It is never worth it to sacrifice financial gain over the longevity of your business.
Find out their plan for growth. Each business has its own ideals and unique values. A growing business may include sister companies with plans for short or long term growth. It's important to discuss these goals with your client and determine whether or not you will be a part of their plan for growth. Discussing factors such as budgets, employee expansion, and potential travel are important when figuring out the structure of your working relationship. When discussing any plans for growth, finances, and trade secrets, it is important to build a rapport that includes transparency and trust. A confidentiality agreement between both parties is also a good way to add an extra layer of comfort and security between the client and the service provider.
Another rule of thumb when getting to know a new client is that it is safe to assume that it is NEVER safe to assume. Let me clarify that. One would think that a meeting request to a marketing agency from Starbucks would entail providing marketing services for the coffee giant right? Not so true. Perhaps Starbucks is looking to acquire the marketing company in order to maintain in-house marketing services. Or perhaps they are reaching out because they've found out that the company has committed Trademark infringement. The only way to be sure you know what the client wants is to ask. Ask specific questions about the nature of their contact, as well as the nature of your potential working relationship. Be sure that you are clear of what is expected from both parties, and always follow up with written and/or verbal confirmation of your tasks at hand.
A freelancer's worst nightmare is beginning a client relationship with their dream client only to find out that they are actually going to be taking direction from the client's mean ol' Aunt Ruth, or that the company is being sold to another party. Having your client complete a questionnaire with questions that include management and employee relationships is key to avoiding the unnecessary stress of communication and task execution.
Developing a successful client relationship is much like working on a personal relationship. It takes patience, clarity, and perseverance. But if you follow these steps before establishing the relationship, things may go even better than expected.
Have you ever experienced a matchmaking nightmare? What are your tips for finding the perfect business match?