All this time that I’ve been a freelancer, I always blindly accepted real-time customer support as a fact of freelancing life. I just have to be accessible to clients whenever they have any questions, want clarifications, or need an explanation about the things I’m doing. Even if I’m not the one who’s always handling customer support, someone’s time is wasted by answering the same questions and explaining the same things over and over. And that is never a good thing.
But if something is repetitive, then it can be automated. How can we make our clients better informed so that they don’t ask us the same questions repeatedly? I believe that the following 5 documents can help:
Client tutorial reports. I got this idea from Yuwanda Black’s post at Copyblogger. As an SEO copywriter, she works with many clients who are unfamiliar with her field. This is common among web workers. Designers may be approached by clients who haven’t figured out their branding yet, and PPC (pay-per-click) consultants might have clients who haven’t chosen a target market.
So what should be in your client tutorial?
- Prerequisites. What do they need to know, prepare, and have before they can start a project with you? Why do they need these things? If they don’t have these prerequisites, list some handy resources that will help get them started.
- A glossary of jargon. Although you should avoid using too much jargon during initial communication, those terms will eventually come up. Give your clients an easy reference in case they encounter these terms that they don’t understand.
- A short “crash course” on your field. This may include paragraphs on why hiring a professional is important, how good design/copywriting/whatever service you provide will improve their business, and any background information that can help them understand what you’ll be doing.
FAQ document. FAQs or “Frequently Asked Questions” are usually found in websites of a company or small business. I rarely find links to FAQ pages in a solo freelancer’s website.
For the uninitiated, FAQs are pages where you respond to anticipated or predicted questions from clients or website visitors. They are presented in a simple question and answer format.
This document, when introduced well, will lessen the time you spend answering repetitive questions such as “What methods can I use to pay you?” or “Are there other services you provide that aren’t listed on your website?” Note the most common questions that your previous and current clients have raised. These will give you a good idea of what questions you should include in your FAQ page or document. You also have the option to serve this in the same file as your client tutorial.
Layperson’s translation of legalese. While some of your clients can easily afford lawyers, there will always be those who cannot. It’s entirely possible that some clients actually just skim through your contracts without reading them, leaving them unaware of the details of your arrangement. If you don’t think it’s possible or if you believe all the fault lies with your client, just remember how many times you signed up for an online app without reading the lengthy Terms and Conditions.
What might work is an accompanying document that translates each paragraph or item from the contract into plain English. I don’t just do this with clients, I provide a similar document to my contractors as well.
Just remember to add a notice at the end stating that your layperson’s version is not meant to be a replacement for the contract itself.
Annual update. After all, a lot can happen in a year. You may have received an award, got another certificate, or were featured in a major magazine. You shouldn’t hide these things, especially not from your clients, who would probably love to know that they’re working with someone as accomplished as you are. Just make sure that you mention these accomplishments in a way that shows how these will benefit them. If you’re the overachieving type, you can do this 2 to 3 times a year, just make sure that your tone is personal and that you don’t come off as a spammer.
Case studies. Unlike the 4 documents mentioned above, case studies are better if they’re publicly accessible rather than sent to clients privately or on a need-to-know basis. They are meant to convince potential clients that your methods work. They are marketing tools rather than ways to facilitate better communication and understanding between you and your clients.
Darrell Etherington recently wrote an informative post about case studies, which is a must-read for any freelancer who is interested in creating them.
These 5 documents might require many of your non-billable hours if you want to produce them. You can create them incrementally over time, so that you won’t be too overwhelmed. Of course, you can always outsource or delegate to others.
Even with all the initial work involved, I think these documents would be worth it. If you have any experience with creating these documents, please share it with us in the comments. How have they worked for you? What are the other advantages of having these documents?
Photo by Sophie