Managing Your Offsite Relationships

Managing Your Offsite Relationships

Rob Einaudi writes for – a Ms.Money partner.

Working offsite has many obvious advantages–you don’t have to conform to a specific schedule or dress code, you don’t have to suffer through a long commute, you don’t have to wait to use the office microwave, and you don’t have to get involved in office politics. Working offsite also means that you won’t see your client face-to-face on a daily basis. Without these day-to-day interactions, you risk losing touch. As an independent professional, one of your challenges is to communicate effectively with your clients. This article gives you tips on how to avoid the problems that result from losing touch.

Get the specifics upfront

Be sure every aspect of your project agreement is crystal clear. Your project tasks should always be clearly defined. It’s important that you manage your client’s expectations throughout the project, especially on long-term projects. One key way to manage expectations is to avoid promising what you can’t deliver. Always know what is expected of you, and what standards you are expected to uphold.

Give your best estimate of the time it will take to complete a project. In fact, you really should “pad” your time estimates a bit just to give yourself some contingency. Remember Murphy’s Law: “If something can go wrong, it will go wrong.” You might as well plan for the worst. However, if you still find yourself running out of time, be sure to let your client know as early as possible.

In addition, never assume a client wants you to do something if they haven’t explicitly asked you to do it. Make sure you have the okay for everything you do. When in doubt, ask.

Checking in on a regular basis

Even when everything is going smoothly, it’s a good idea to check in occasionally with your client to let him or her know that you are, in fact, doing the job you were hired to do. Keep in mind that Monday is a good day to send e-mail. Get your client up-to-date on what you’ve been doing, and confirm your plans for the upcoming week. Keep your e-mails brief, to the point, and positive. Be sure your e-mails are professional and well written. Don’t forget to run the spell check!

You don’t want to make a nuisance of yourself, but you should talk to the people you are dealing with from time to time. Wait until you have something that isn’t easily accomplished through e-mail. Write out the key points you want to make, and then call during the mid-morning–allowing enough time for your client to be oriented, but before they have been fully drawn into the day’s work.

You should always be ready for phone calls from the client. Some clients may be perfectly happy to deal with you via e-mail. Others may want to talk on the phone from time to time, or something may come up that requires immediate attention. You should be ready for these calls. Don’t have music on when you answer the phone, don’t have a silly greeting on your answering machine and by all means, don’t answer the phone if you have food in your mouth. In other words, don’t pick up the phone unless you are ready to talk business.

Most problems that arise in an offsite relationship are the result of some sort of misunderstanding, and thus, most problems can easily be solved through effective communication. But remember: you’re not an employee–you don’t have any formal rights or any real recourse. The relationship works only as long as it’s mutually beneficial. If you’re getting a bad attitude about the work, or you aren’t being treated well, move on.

Show your face

Many times you will continue to get new work without ever meeting your clients face-to-face. But if you plan to have an extended relationship with a client, it’s a good idea to meet the people you are dealing with. Dress well and be punctual. Keep the meeting short. Let them do most of the talking. Remember that different industries have different standards of dress and different cultures. Know who and what you’re dealing with before you set foot into their office.

Promote yourself freely

If you don’t ask for more work, you probably won’t get it. If you’ve proven yourself in one area, you might need to remind your clients of your other skills and abilities. If you find that your role is changing, don’t be afraid to increase your fee.

These days, it’s common for people to change jobs frequently. Your relationship with a client will most likely be with one person at that company. Make sure you know whom to deal with if that person leaves. And be sure to keep in touch with your original contact after they leave–they might give you work at their next company.

Effective billing

Send clearly formatted invoices. Many companies have specific invoicing guidelines, so be sure you know what they expect. Be patient if the check doesn’t arrive right away–give them at least four weeks to mail the check, and then send a gentle reminder.

The ball’s in your court

Remember that it’s up to you to maintain a good offsite relationship. In most cases, the client will contact you when they need something or when there is an emergency. But don’t wait for the situation to get to that point. Be friendly, organized and proactive, and you will most likely have a long and prosperous relationship with your client.