Automate the Communications Flow to Your Clients
Many clients just don’t feel comfortable if they aren’t constantly in touch with you. Of course, there are also the clients who assign you a project and then drop off the face of the planet until the deadline.
I’ve found, though, it’s better to assume that you’re working with the type of client who wants the most from you, particularly when it comes to communication. That way you can actually build a workflow that requires you to put very little effort into keeping your clients up to date.
Sending out status emails, asking for specific information you need from a clients, reminding stakeholders for deadlines — all of these can be time-consuming tasks, as well as incredibly repetitive. You probably have similar questions during each of the similar projects you work on. So why not automate at least some of the communications flow to your clients?
Track When You’re Contacting Your Clients
In order to create a system that doesn’t require quite as much human intervention, you need to be aware of what your existing process is and what common issues your system needs to address.
When you’re analyzing your communications, look for steps you take over and over again.
Most freelancers have at least a rudimentary communications system in place, even if it’s just a mental checklist of items to send out to the client. But it’s hard to improve on such systems until you’ve got an idea of what’s going on.
The easy option is to collect data and then analyze it. You might consider just adding a tag to email chains so that you can go back and find them again when you’re ready to look at a whole bunch of email in one go. You’ll need to work a little harder to collect data about phone conversations and in-person meetings — such communications are far harder to automate, but there are opportunities if you know what patterns you already tend to follow.
When you’re analyzing your communications, look for steps you take over and over again. If you get the same questions from clients, create a FAQ for your freelance business. If you’re sending out the same reminders, make a note at what point in each project you need to send those reminders. Look for repetition.
Your Automation Options
There are a lot of variables in your options for automating communications, depending on what sort of communications you prefer (such as telephone versus email), your email service provider and so on. But while the specific tools may change with those variables, some of the tasks that make sense to eliminate don’t.
- Writing repetitive emails: There are a thousand different ways to write templates for your emails, so that you can just fill in a few blanks and send out a message, rather than reinventing the wheel every day. At the most basic level, you can just copy and paste templates from a document.
- Sending out repetitive emails: You can schedule pre-written emails to go out at set times, letting you get away from having to check back. Some tools will even let you send out conditional emails, based on whether you’ve gotten a response to a certain email.
- Setting agendas for meetings: If you always need to go over the same information in certain meetings with your clients, set standard agendas. You can always add more to a given schedule, after all.
- Answering frequently asked questions: Create a FAQ or guide for your freelance business and make it available to your clients. They won’t always read it, but you can refer them back to the document, rather than answering questions over and over again.
Consider What Tools You’re Comfortable With
We each have different levels of comfort, especially when it comes to reducing the time we actually spend corresponding with clients. Personally, I want the opportunity to customize every message that goes out and I insist on reading every message going in each direction. That means that I need to be able to trigger the automated parts of my communication flow by hand, rather than letting a computer decide when to move forward on each step.
There are plenty of tools out there that can make every step of communications fairly automatic, including automatically responding to emails based on the keywords in the message your system just received. You have to decide for yourself how far you’re willing to go.
You also need to rigorously test any system before you let it interact with real live clients — some automated tools work better than others, and some just aren’t as awesome as they advertise. But it’s your reputation on the line, not those tools’, so make sure you get it right.