The New Entrepreneur’s Guide to Managing ClientsDeborah Oster Pannell
If you have decided to take the leap and become an entrepreneur, then no doubt you already realize that a key ingredient to your success is managing clients. The ability to be fluid in the development of your relationships with them will help you develop a stellar reputation in your field.
If you truly want to be successful, then you’ll want to be known as someone who not only has a unique product or service of value to offer but as someone who has the ability to be agile and responsive to your clients and their needs. But you can’t merely be reactive. You have to operate out of certain basic principles and be willing to take responsibility for your role when things don’t go as well as you’d like.
Here are some key things to remember:
Serve Your Clients Well
Your reputation will be based on how well you serve the needs of your clients. Customer satisfaction is key since personal referrals usually make up a significant portion of any successful entrepreneur’s client base. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s all about you, and proving how wonderful you are. You may very well be terrific at what you do, but that’s really not the point, as counterintuitive as that may seem. The point is to make sure you’ve addressed the stated needs of your clients. Treat them how you’d want to be treated. That includes paying attention when they communicate and pivoting when necessary in order to address their concerns.
Learn How to Take Criticism
It’s essential to be able to revise your thinking if the feedback you get from your clients indicates that change is necessary. You may go into a project with a certain game plan, but if your client isn’t happy with the results, this is the time to put those iteration skills to use. What’s most important in this process is learning to hear your client’s concerns without getting defensive or combative. Instead of taking criticism personally as a judgment against you, use it as an opportunity to become more aligned with your clients by increasing your understanding of their perspective. Hopefully, you will learn something new about yourself from each and every business transaction you undertake and continue to up your game accordingly.
Represent Yourself Accurately
It’s nice to be able to give your clients what they want, but you have to be realistic about what you are capable of delivering. Be clear up front about the scope of your services. As much as you want to project confidence about your skills, you don’t want to overpromise on something outside your area of expertise.
This can get tricky after you’ve already developed a relationship with a client, and they want to expand into other areas with you. I have had a couple of situations where clients have shifted the focus of what services they wanted me to perform for them. Not wanting to jeopardize the relationship (or the income), I assured them that I could deliver. When the results fell short, the client was disappointed and ended up discontinuing our work together. Although my intentions were good, I was unable to back them up with action, and that is a recipe for disaster.[Tweet “6 tips for #entrepreneurs to better #manage themselves and their #clients.”]
Manage Your Time Well
This one is the other half of the notion of representing yourself accurately and not over-promising. As much as you want to be clear about your skill set, you also have to be clear that you have the time it takes to devote to your client’s project. Coordinating your time between multiple clients can be a real challenge, especially when you’re still learning how long it takes to complete certain tasks. Also, you may walk into a job thinking it will take X amount of time, and it turns out to take three times as long.
As a rule of thumb, you should probably assume that things will always take at least twice as long as you think. You need to build in space for what a friend of mine likes to call “crap time.” This is the time it takes to deal with the unexpected crap that always seems to happen. Believe me, things going quicker than you anticipated is a great problem to have! Better you should be prepared for the worst.
Schedule each day by booking out specific blocks of time for each client project you need to work on. Make sure you are realistic, especially if you are considering taking on new clients. Ask yourself, do I have time in my schedule to accommodate their needs?
It’s tough to turn down work, especially when you’re trying to build income. If you’re not careful, you may end up overbooking yourself. When that happens, be prepared to stress out and lose sleep. If you are one of those people who thrives on pressure and deadlines, you may love that! But take it from me, the line separating healthy stress and being completely overwhelmed can become blurred.
Manage Your Client’s Expectations as You Take Care of Yourself
Achieving a balance between meeting the needs of your clients and protecting your own ability to be focused and efficient is at the heart of every entrepreneur’s challenge. Good communication is key, as is the ability to be flexible in response to changing circumstances.
In order to properly manage your client’s expectations, give yourself a bit of leeway when you commit to certain deadlines and deliverables. If things take longer than you expect, or you encounter some other unanticipated problem, let your client know. They may also have unexpected things come up that impact their timeline – we’re all human, after all, and life can be unpredictable. However, if you keep each other posted as changes occur, you can work together to solve problems where appropriate and adjust your timelines accordingly.
The ability to self-regulate is every bit as important as managing your client’s expectations. You may find yourself encountering all sorts of anxiety, fear or frustration as you push into the unknown territory of new challenges. But you will find that as your experience increases, your level of confidence will rise – you’ll soon be managing problems like a pro.
Learn to Go With the Flow
Being an entrepreneur is as exciting as it is challenging. If you’re truly embracing the role, you’ll find yourself learning something new each and every day. You will make plenty of mistakes. Indeed, many successful entrepreneurs will tell you that making mistakes is the best way to learn. Take the opportunity to find lessons wherever they present themselves. Over time, you’ll begin to enjoy the benefits of cumulative, on-the-ground experience.
When it comes to working with clients, you will soon learn that some of them just aren’t right for you. Like any relationship, sometimes there’s chemistry, and sometimes there isn’t. As you become more experienced, you’ll begin to learn how to choose your clients more carefully, but for now, be prepared for things sometimes to go awry, despite your best efforts. When that happens, embrace the failure as an opportunity to grow. Do a self-check to identify your own role in each situation, and take responsibility for all of your choices. The more you own, the more power you have to make better choices going forward. The more attention you pay to this process, the sweeter your future successes will be.