Life is an adventure and there are no guarantees. Those who choose to make a living as a Freelance consultant add an extra layer of unpredictability and it is therefore advisable to take special precautions to manage the additional risk and aim to control all factors that can be controlled, as one works to create a profitable consulting business.
What Freelance consultants eventually learn is that many critical success factors involve communication skills, in one form or another. Presented here are communication skills must-dos that if ignored have the potential to limit the prospects of even the most ambitious Freelance consultant:
Prospects don’t understand the value
The purpose for the service is poorly communicated and prospective clients don’t understand how to use it. The ability to describe one’s service and help prospective clients to envision how and when to use it, is how business is created. Finding your sweet spot, defining your value proposition and communicating it well, are vital.
Sometimes, clients don’t know what they need, but they know that they need help. A serendipitous meeting with such an individual could mean a contract for you and perhaps the start of an ongoing business relationship. It is hugely important to be able to effectively communicate to prospects what you do, the problems you can solve or help them avoid and goals you can help them achieve. Doing this well makes you look like an expert who can be trusted. If the money and motive are there, you will be hired.
Poor follow-up or follow-through
Whether one is a Freelancer or traditionally employed, being reliable is a must. If you promise the client that something will be completed by a given date, do not disappoint. Answer calls and emails ASAP, ideally on the same day they are received and most certainly within 24 hours. Even if the client has not asked a question, anticipate what information will reinforce their confidence and confirm that you are in control and meeting expectations by checking-in and giving periodic updates. Timely communication is reassuring.
Inadequate business development
Freelance consultants are always looking for the next assignment and that may mean helping a current or past client to create that assignment. During your project work, look for additional services you might provide, while your client’s checkbook is open. Take a past client out for coffee and see if you can get back in there, deftly weaving your objective into the conversation as you talk about how they’re doing.
Reluctance to ask for referrals
Every business needs referrals and word-of-mouth endorsements from a source perceived as trustworthy are the best. The process of obtaining a referral starts with you providing excellent service that exceeds client expectations. Timing is also a factor. Asking for a referral while on the job and not while you’re presenting the final invoice, is the preferred strategy.
Making a referral for the client, either while you’re on assignment or after the fact, will make you golden and increase the chances that the favor will be repaid, if the client knows a colleague who needs your type of service. Knowledge of the client’s business relationships can help you to tease out a referral. If you know that the client is active in a particular business or professional association and there is a prospect in the group that you would like to meet and try to work with, tell the client that you would appreciate an introduction.
Poor billing practices
If you want to get paid, you must invoice. On some projects, it’s wise to tell the client when you will invoice. If you do so, follow the agreed-upon schedule. Late invoices can annoy clients and will negatively impact your cash-flow and financial management. Always describe or itemize the services delivered in your invoice. Specify how the check should be made out, include the tax identification number, the invoice due date and the address to which the check should be mailed.
Insufficient client relationship management
Freelancers need repeat business and that means nurturing relationships is a priority. Attention spans are short, so do your best to stay on client radar screens and do what can be reasonably done to keep communicating.
Send December holiday cards to all those with whom you’ve worked in the past five years. If you encounter an article that you suspect will be of interest to a former or current client, send an email with the link, along with a friendly message. If a current or past client is speaking somewhere and you can afford the time and money to attend, do so. Take notes, so that you can ask a question that will make your client look good and feel good about you.
Thanks for reading,