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Launching Long-Term Client Relationships (for Creatives)

Launching Long-Term Client Relationships (for Creatives)

Projects begin with the best intentions, yet work can quickly derail. How can expectations be communicated clearly and boundaries set with clients, while also paving the way for future work and referrals?

[Related: Believe It or Not, Your Closest Friends Probably Won’t Help You Professionally]

Project yourself as a professional.

From initial phone call to project kickoff call and communications in between, take the lead and send calendar invitations, don’t act or speak casually, and treat the relationship you’re forming as what it is: a formal business arrangement. Whether you are doing all the work solo or have a team of people, you are a business.

Manage expectations from the start.

Your client may not have worked with a creative professional before. They may have preconceived notions about how long projects take, how “easy” graphic design or website development is, or how freelancers, in general, will work and will communicate with them.

It’s your job to set the tone and provide realistic expectations on how long the steps of a project will take and what the client’s role is in keeping the project flowing. If you provide three logo design directions five days after the contract is signed, then it takes the client three weeks to reply with their feedback, then the entire project cannot be completed in “a few weeks” as the client initially requested.

Explain the process and workflow in the initial phone call and put this information on the contract so it is in writing and the client is aware of your timeline and their responsibility to keep the project on schedule. Problems will arise if there's a mismatch of expectations. Include language in the agreement document explaining how many business days each step will generally take and at what points the client will need to provide formal feedback or edits.

If it’s a larger project, once the agreement is signed, have a kickoff call and/or send a questionnaire to gather the information you need to get started. Sample questions could be: Describe your ideal client or B2B customer; what adjectives should come to mind when people think about your company; and who are your competitors?

Protect your time and headspace.

This relates to points one and two above. Be upfront with your clients about when you’re available (“Send me an email at least a day ahead of time so we can schedule a call” or “I usually do calls with clients in the evenings” or “I usually have calls with clients Mondays-Wednesdays only”). Also, let them know of any vacations you’ve got planned so they aren’t surprised later on. Some freelancers put these points in a “How I Work” document that they share with clients.

In short, you do not want clients assuming they can pick up the phone and call you anytime. That opens you up for tech support calls and little favors outside of scope.

Create a Calendly link and share with clients so they become accustomed to scheduling calls with you in advance.

[Related: A Year-Round Guide to Self-Advocacy]

Communication is key.

Keep your client aware of what you’re working on. If it’s a larger project and there are not going to be immediate deliverables, send a note once a week summarizing what you worked on (i.e., "I reviewed your competitors’ websites this week; looked at the websites you suggested we should model your new one after; and looked at your social media posts to access brand language and values. Will connect with you next week about xyz").

If it’s a multi-stage project and you think the client would benefit, invite them to monitor progress, view files, and add feedback through a project management system like 17hats or Plutio.

Post-project.

Stay in touch. Clients will inevitably need support again and you want them to keep you top-of-mind. Follow their business accounts on social media and like/engage with posts from time to time. Ask them if you can post a project synopsis or a graphic you made for the client on your own company’s website and social media.

I’ve often seen a news article relating to a client’s business or industry and forwarded the article. Start a newsletter providing something resourceful to your clients and leverage it by adding in a little piece about a recent project you’ve done for a client.

In conclusion.

Treat the client as you hope a vendor would treat you: with respect, transparency, and professionalism. This is how a long-term business relationship forms.

[Related: How I Engaged a Global Team to Launch a Product Line Without Meeting Them In-Person]

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Rachel Mehta founded Heights Marketing, a marketing agency based in New Jersey, in 2013. 


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