Clients are the lifeblood of your freelance business. Without them, you wouldn’t have a business, and you don't have who to send invoice templates to and get paid!
The ability to interpret client needs is a necessary skill for any business owner. In the freelance business, it’s particularly important as you are constantly developing proposals, pitching clients and meeting their expectations with regular work. You can’t assume client needs or you’ll be missing the mark.
Being a freelancer is similar to many other small businesses. There are many different facets of the operation, from job searches, to sales, to closing deals, to delivering on the work, and to actually getting your freelance invoices paid.
If you don’t understand the needs of potential customers, you’ll never close the sale to make them a customer. Once you have a customer, you must continue to understand and meet ongoing needs, or you won’t retain the business. You need to know how to identify client needs.
But how do you ensure you address client needs in a way that advances your business? Let’s look at five key tactics for understanding client needs and therefore meeting their expectations.
It’s vital that you know your client and their business before meeting with them, preparing a freelance proposal, or doing a sales pitch. You can do this in a variety of ways, including Internet research.
Some of the important points you will want to know include how long the company has been in business, their main products and services, their decision makers and their competitors.
You could also ask a potential client to complete a discovery document, or if you're in web design business, use a creative brief. The document can answer the most relevant questions you need answered prior to an in-person meeting. It allows you to be prepared to discuss the challenges faced by the client and what you can do to support them. It also sets a tone that you are a good listener, and you’re prepared to maximize your time with the client.
It’s also important to build rapport with your clients. You and your customers are not just about work. You’re also people too, so it doesn’t hurt to get to know your clients and build a relationship beyond work. That doesn’t mean you have to be friends; it means you can know a little bit about them as people, and share a little bit about yourself.
This seems like the most straightforward advice, but as humans, it’s often the most difficult. We are all guilty of being poor listeners at various times, for various reasons. Really listening to your client will help you understand and retain information you’re already receiving, even if it isn’t a formal meeting.
Being a good listener takes focus and work. Here are some ways you can become a better listener:
Another important aspect of listening is asking questions to identify customer needs and paraphrasing what they say. This helps with clarification and to enhance your understanding of their needs.
To do this, ask open-ended questions, rather than yes-or-no questions and, if this is a branding project, consider using a branding questionnaire to get in-depth insights in writing. One of the biggest things any client wants is to be understood.
Depending on your client, you may have to adapt your communication style. As Annette Young points out, “To build rapport and to increase ease of communication, it may pay to adapt your communication style. If your client is very direct and talks fast rather than having a conversational style, adapt your own communications and mirror their style.”
Paraphrasing is another tool to ensure you understand your client’s needs. It will also show the client that you were listening and that you understand what they were telling you.
The additional power of paraphrasing lies in the response of the client. They will either correct you or more fully explain what they were saying, or both. They will also likely provide additional information which will also support your work.
Effective paraphrasing will show your client that you actually were listening, and you understand and can meet their needs.
Whether you’re at the proposal stage or already doing work for a client, bring solutions to your customer. Don’t be afraid to propose something other than what the client had in mind. Your customer will appreciate that you are suggesting new ideas and perhaps even identifying a need they didn’t know they had.
You may have a better service in mind, and if nothing else, this again shows you’re listening and attempting to understand your client’s needs.
Just because you have a happy client at the present doesn’t mean your work understanding client needs is over. It’s important to check in regularly with customers, to ensure you’re meeting expectations, and to see if there is additional work you can provide. After all, having a loyal client base is important to any business, in any industry. This can also help you secure retainer agreements from your clients.
Here are a few examples of ways you can circle back with a client:
Even if you find yourself dealing with a difficult client, you can always search for ways to improve the relationship and improve on your work. If nothing works, there's always the option of firing the client, as a last resort.
Understanding client needs is one of the biggest challenges of any freelance business, but also one of the most important and rewarding tasks. Acquiring and maintaining a loyal client base will ensure your business remains successful.
These five tactics on how to identify client needs will serve your freelance business in every step of the process, from pitching the client to developing proposals to actually doing the work.
If you want to spend more time meeting client needs and less time on administrative tasks, Bonsai has a suite of products and resources that will support your business. Sign up for a free trial today.
A verbal contract (formally called an oral contract) refers to an agreement between two parties that's made —you guessed it— verbally.
Formal contracts, like those between an employee and an employer, are typically written down. However, some professional transactions take place based on verbally agreed terms.
Freelancers are a good example of this. Often, freelancers will take on projects having agreed on the terms and payment via the phone, or an email. Unfortunately, sometimes clients don't pull through on their agreements, and hardworking freelancers can find themselves out of pocket and wondering whether a legal battle is worth all the hassle.
The main differences between written and oral contracts are that the former is signed and documented, whereas the latter is solely attributed to verbal communication.
Verbal contracts are a bit of a gray area for most people unfamiliar with contract law —which is most of us, right?— due to the fact that there's no physical evidence to support the claims made by the implemented parties.
For any contract (written or verbal) to be binding, there are four major elements which need to be in place. The crucial elements of a contract are as follows:
Therefore, an oral agreement has legal validity if all of these elements are present. However, verbal contracts can be difficult to enforce in a court of law. In the next section, we take a look at how oral agreements hold up in court.
Most business professionals are wary of entering into contracts orally because they can difficult to enforce in the face of the law.
If an oral contract is brought in front of a court of law, there is increased risk of one party (or both!) lying about the initial terms of the agreement. This is problematic for the court, as there's no unbiased way to conclude the case; often, this will result in the case being disregarded. Moreover, it can be difficult to outline contract defects if it's not in writing.
That being said, there are plenty of situations where enforceable contracts do not need to be written or spoken, they're simply implied. For instance, when you buy milk from a store, you give something in exchange for something else and enter into an implied contract, in this case - money is exchanged for goods.
There are some types of contracts which must be in writing.
The Statute of Frauds is a legal statute which states that certain kinds of contracts must be executed in writing and signed by the parties involved. The Statute of Frauds has been adopted in almost all U.S states, and requires a written contract for the following purposes:
Typically, a court of law won't enforce an oral agreement in any of these circumstances under the statute. Instead, a written document is required to make the contract enforceable.
Contract law is generally doesn't favor contracts agreed upon verbally. A verbal agreement is difficult to prove, and can be used by those intent on committing fraud. For that reason, it's always best to put any agreements in writing and ensure all parties have fully understood and consented to signing.
Verbal agreements can be proven with actions in the absence of physical documentation. Any oral promise to provide the sale of goods or perform a service that you agreed to counts as a valid contract. So, when facing a court of law, what evidence can you provide to enforce a verbal agreement?
Unfortunately, without solid proof, it may be difficult to convince a court of the legality of an oral contract. Without witnesses to testify to the oral agreement taking place or other forms of evidence, oral contracts won't stand up in court. Instead, it becomes a matter of "he-said-she-said" - which legal professionals definitely don't have time for!
If you were to enter into a verbal contract, it's recommended to follow up with an email or a letter confirming the offer, the terms of the agreement , and payment conditions. The more you can document the elements of a contract, the better your chances of legally enforcing a oral contract.
Another option is to make a recording of the conversation where the agreement is verbalized. This can be used to support your claims in the absence of a written agreement. However, it's always best to gain the permission of the other involved parties before hitting record.
Fundamentally, most verbal agreements are legally valid as long as they meet all the requirements for a contract. However, if you were to go to court over one party not fulfilling the terms of the contract, proving that the interaction took place can be extremely taxing.
So, ultimately, the question is: written or verbal agreements?
Any good lawyer, contract law firm, or legal professional would advise you to make sure you formalize any professional agreement with a written agreement. Written contracts provide a secure testament to the conditions that were agreed and signed by the two parties involved. If it comes to it, a physical contract is much easier to eviden in legal circumstances.
Freelancers, in particular, should be aware of the extra security that digital contracts may provide. Many people choose to stick to executing contracts verbally because they're not sure how to write a contract, or they think writing out the contract terms is too complicated or requires expensive legal advice. However, this is no longer the case.
Today, we have a world of resources available at our fingertips. The internet is a treasure trove of invaluable information, platforms, and software that simplifies our lives. Creating, signing, and sending contracts has never been easier. What's more, you don't have to rely on a hiring a lawyer to explain all that legal jargon anymore.
There are plenty of tools available online for freelancers to use for guidance when drafting digital contracts. Tools like Bonsai provide a range of customizable, vetted contract templates for all kinds of freelance professionals. No matter what industry you're operating in, Bonsai has a professional template to offer.
A written contract makes the agreement much easier to prove the terms of the agreement in case something were to go awry. The two parties involved can rest assured that they're legal rights are protected, and the terms of the contract are sufficiently documented. Plus, it provides both parties with peace of mind to focus on the tasks at hand.
Bonsai's product suite for freelancers allows users to make contracts from scratch, or using professional templates, and sign them using an online signature maker.
With Bonsai, you can streamline and automate all of the boring back-office tasks that come with being a freelancer. From creating proposals that clients can't say no to, to sealing the deal with a professional contract - Bonsai will revolutionize the way you do business as a freelancer.
Why not secure your business today and sign up for a free trial?