Working on the web is great, but you miss out on some great business-building opportunities if you’re far removed from the majority of your clients. Business lunches and dinners are a fantastic tool for greasing the wheels of profitable partnerships, but if you’re in Taipei and your client is in Reno, it can be a little hard to coordinate. What web workers should not do, and what we too often do, is just shrug our shoulders and leave it at that.
Even across great distances, we can still schmooze and butter up with the best of ‘em. The key is good CRM, which applies regardless of distance. Here are some examples of how you might go about bridging that geographic gap to form a solid client-contractor bond.
A Little Friendship Goes a Long Way
It’s hard to gauge the degree of formality a client expects from you, especially if you only correspond via email or other digital means. If possible, however, and if you aren’t getting any red flags, you should try to let yourself be a little more human in correspondence with at least one of your client’s staff. This might mean exchanging emails beyond the professional minimum, or connecting on Twitter or Facebook, or whatever you think might result in a more chummy relationship.
It’s a far cry from a wild night out on the town, but it will still go a long way toward making your professional connections more than just an email address you send correspondence and work product to. Make sure you’re not overstepping any boundaries here, though, or you’ll end up doing more damage than good.
Dinner’s On Me, Even If I’m Not There
Just because you aren’t physically able to take clients to dinner doesn’t mean you can’t do that remotely, too. Try to find out your client’s taste when it comes to food and restaurant choices, and then, if possible, get gift certificates to send them on special occasions. While gift certificates may not always be available, especially for independent restaurants, contact the restaurant directly, and I’m sure most of the time you’ll be able to work something out.
The key to success with this kind of gifting is making sure it’s timed appropriately. Just giving a client dinner for no apparent reason could actually backfire and arouse suspicion that something isn’t going well with the project. If you’re familiar enough with your client to know personal details like anniversaries and birthdays, than that’s the time to choose to do something like this, but if not, stick to major project successes.
I’ve actually only been on the receiving end of this, but it worked a treat. In passing, I mentioned on Twitter my dismay that Apple Jacks (the cereal) wasn’t available for purchase in Canada. Within the week, I’d received two boxes of the coveted breakfast item in the mail. A colleague had spotted the mention and quickly rushed to my aid, at his own expense, expecting nothing in return.
This small act of kindness did more to solidify my good feelings toward him than probably a year’s worth of email or Twitter correspondence could have. This kind of opportunity may not just fall in your lap like my Apple Jacks comment, but if you keep your eyes and ears open when dealing with your client, a similar situation might arise in which you’re in a unique position to scratch a quirky itch in a fun way. Best of all, in most cases this kind of relationship-building won’t cost you nearly as much as dinner or other gifts, and it comes with a significantly higher rater of return compared to other methods, in my opinion.
It may not be quite the same as traditional face-to-face business outings, but there’s a lot of relationship-building you can do as a remote worker, too. It helps keep clients happy, yes, but it also helps you put a human face on your contacts and professional associates, which is far more valuable in the long run.
Photo courtesy Rifu Senka on Flickr