Join Tom Geller for an in-depth discussion in this video Onboarding clients, part of Freelancing Fundamentals.
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Let's say a client has shown interest in your services. Congratulations! I'd like to take you from their expression of interest until your first day of working for them; a period of time called "Onboarding." I'll break the process into four parts or the four Es. They are Expectations of you, Expectations of them, Execution of the agreement, and Establishment of procedures. The first two, the expectations you should have of each other should be spelled out in the agreement.
But there are matters that go beyond the agreement to day-to-day management of the relationship. They strongly affect how well a project goes because, ultimately, its success depends a lot on what the client does. Here are some things you should require of them. First, the name of one single person who will be responsible for interacting with you, make sure you get that person's email address, and phone number. If they insist on having multiple people responsible, make them explicitly divide those contacts and areas of responsibility. Otherwise, you'll be drawn into internal battles or find that nobody answers your questions because they each expect the other person to do it.
Second, spell out the materials and input that you expect from them. A lot of my own work is interview-based. I'll study a company's technology, then I'll talk to the technologist responsible for it for half-an-hour. If that person refuses to do the interview, I can't do my work. So, the project relies on that person's involvement. Lastly, get a promise of responsiveness. It does no good to know that they'll deliver certain materials if those materials show up too close to your deadline or even after it.
The third part of the Onboarding process is signing the agreement or in legal terms, executing it. This sounds obvious, but it's amazing how often freelancers and clients will sort of ooze into work without having an explicit and written down meeting of the minds. The signed agreement cements the relationship. Finally, we come to the last part: establishment of procedures. This is what actually happens to get the job started, where the rubber meets the road so to speak. It's important to transition your relationship from one of seller and buyer to one of colleague and colleague working together toward a goal.
I find this psychologically tough, especially if it's taken a while to reach an agreement. A good way to ease this transition is to set deadlines, and schedule collaborative work right away: meetings, interviews, draft reviews, and so on. That makes it clear that the fun part has begun. It's worth mentioning that these procedures will vary a lot from one situation to another, especially depending on company size. Onboarding with big companies might involve multiple levels of bureaucracy, for example. While making such arrangements with a small company might be more straightforward.
But the basic steps remain the same regardless of size or type of company.
A bonus chapter covers common questions freelancers have when entering the field.
- What is freelancing?
- Defining your career goals
- Funding your startup
- Getting licenses, permits, and insurance
- Setting prices
- Finding work through agencies
- Getting referrals
- Working with time and project management tools
- Increasing your rates