Figure out your process or your client will do it for you

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Have you ever thought about what it’s like to work with you?

Did you know you can influence and design the steps you take with your client? Designing a process with fewer gaps and bottlenecks can give a smoother client experience.

Why you should design your process

When bad things happen during a project, it’s usually due to the process breaking down somewhere. When that happens, the client will often try to do what they can to salvage the situation by taking over.

Except, they rarely know what they are doing (because design is not their expertise), and you end up in a power struggle that can derail any project.

Sidenote: Once you finish, read how 4 freelancers built recurring revenue models that changed their business. You'll love it.

To avoid that, you need to design your process. Clearly state it to your client and stick to it.

Truthfully, even the client would prefer you be the one driving the process. When you don’t, they’re left with little choice but to do what they can to try to get stuff done—however misguided that approach might be.

“When we do not clearly spell out how we will work together, we leave a void that the client is quick to fill. Nature abhors a vacuum. If we do not drive the engagement, of course, the client will.”  – Blair Enns

Where to start

Take your time to go through every interaction you have with a client, from the first contact email until the project launches. My advice is to break it down into more manageable chunks by starting with the client intake process (also known as the onboarding process).

You'll also enjoy this episode of our new podcast...

For more about onboarding: Client onboarding: How I turn 90% of prospects into paying customers

Onboarding is the process of getting a prospect, vetting them for fit, and, if they are qualified, eventually turning them into a great client for your business.

After onboarding, there is the actual project process itself, the launch, and follow up sequence. This is used to stay in touch with your client for follow-up work, to get testimonials and referrals to keep your business healthy and thriving.

Looking at the onboarding process, you’ll want to map out what the process looks like from a bird’s eye view.

You can use something like Lucidchart to quickly work out each step or use Illustrator or Indesign to design your process map.

When you’re done it should look something like this:

ClientOnboardingProcess

Once finished, it will give you a repeatable process you can use every time a client shows up at your door—that’s the huge benefit of having a system.

You design it once and use it over and over again.

The benefits of designing your process

1. Makes you stand out

It sets you apart from other freelancers who don’t have an official process.

Yup, that’s right. Wouldn’t you rather go with the professional who seems like they’ve done it before?

“It’s the first thing an audience wants to know when someone gets up on stage: Does this person know what they are doing?” – Jerry Seinfeld

When you have a routine, it conveys that you’ve got experience doing the thing you say you can do.

One of the client’s biggest objections floating around in their head is this question, “Am I making a mistake by hiring this person?”

One way to take that objection off the table is by showing that you’ve got a routine, and have confidence in what you are doing.

So you show the prospect what the steps are by saying, “First, we’ll talk about your goals, then we’ll do this, and after that, we’ll look at this…”

Now, it looks like you know what you are doing. The client can anticipate what is coming next, and once that happens, the prospect can relax.

2. Client confidence

When clients see that you are a professional, they are more at ease and willing to pay the fees you are asking.

With that objection out of the way, it paves the way for you to ask for higher fees (and get them) because you’ve removed the objection in the client’s mind of whether or not they’ll be making a massive mistake by hiring you.

Clients are risk-averse, so anything you can do to lower that perceived risk goes a long way towards getting them to feel comfortable enough to sign and hand you a big check.

3. Saves time

Having a documented process allows you to follow steps instead of reinventing the wheel each time. It requires less of your brain power. You just follow the steps of your operating procedures each and every time.

This is a huge time saver for you.

4. More efficient

Taking a bird’s eye view at your process allows you to see where you can make improvements and become more efficient. If you become more efficient, you can take on a bigger workload and earn more money.

5. Grow your business

It allows you to outsource your work to others. It might seem crazy right now to think you might pass off the work you do to someone else (a VA for example), but if your goal is to grow your business, at some point you’ll need to bring on some help to make that happen.

Having a documented process to follow is crucial to outsourcing. If you ever want to take a vacation, you’ll have to be able to hand off the work to others while you are away and know they are following the same process.

Improving your process

Once you’ve taken a look at every step of your process, look for ways to improve. Drill down deep and find repetitive tasks that can be removed or automated.

Example 1:  Instead of using email to schedule your initial call, you could send a link to an online calendar (like Calendly or Acuity Scheduling) and have the prospect pick the time that suits them best.

SchedulingInitialCallProcess

This saves time with all the back and forth emails trying to nail down a date and time and automates at least 2-3 steps you would have otherwise done in the past.

(This might seem insignificant, but over time those extra emails and time spent sending them really add up.)

Example 2: If clients aren’t paying on time, you might sign up for something like Freshbooks and use their automatic late payment reminder emails for clients that don’t pay their invoice by the due date. (Once the invoice is overdue, Freshbooks sends a reminder email to the client—acting as your own personal accounting department).

Sometimes clients really do forget to pay or get sidetracked. But often we feel uneasy about sending an email to the client.

Well, why not automate it and have someone else send it for you?

Example 3: If you have too many low-ball clients approaching you, include a qualifying questionnaire (with a specified minimum budget amount) at the beginning of your onboarding process to weed out clients that can’t afford to work with you.

Example 4: If you notice clients routinely derail your process, create your process document and include it in your Client Welcome Kit and clearly spell out what you expect from them and how you will work together.

The point is this: the process of working with you can be designed to solve your common problems that pop up during a project and smooth the experience for your client.

Often, all it takes is setting expectations upfront and following through on your process.

So what’s the one thing you can do today?

You can start by documenting your process from a bird’s-eye view. You can keep it simple and use pencil and paper, or even a whiteboard, and start looking at ways to improve your process.

Let me know in the comments what struggles you have working with design clients and I’ll do my best to prescribe a process solution!

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About Ian Vadas

Ian Vadas is a designer and the author of Work With Clients You Love. Get the eBook to learn how to select clients that pay well, treat you with respect and allow you to do your best work.

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Comments

  1. Never considered the idea of a Welcome Kit before. How brilliant! What do you suggest including in the Welcome Kit, and how is it delivered? Snail mail, email, web page, e.g.?

    • Thanks for the comment Annie. I include a welcome note telling them my availability (office hours, etc.) and ways to contact me (phone number, email, etc.). I also tell them my holiday schedule. For example, I always close down between Christmas and New Years and also take a summer vacation for about a week so I let them know that ahead of time so they aren’t surprised when the time comes.

      I also include payment info and instructions for how to pay me, when to expect invoices and my mailing address in case they want to pay via check.

      Then I include a bit about the process, sticking to our strategy, client responsibilities, etc. and anything else that can walk them through the process or give them an eye into the future so they know what’s coming and what to expect and how to get the most out of working with me.

      Finally, I tell them what the next steps are. Usually, that involves scheduling our first call so I tell them how to do that.

      I send it via email, but you could do it whichever way you like (Snail mail, web page). I’ve certainly heard of others who’ve automated it and I’ve also heard of others sending a physical booklet with the info or a gift like chocolate. That part is really up to you and actually makes designing your process a lot of fun because you can get creative. Anything that adds to the client’s experience is always a good thing 🙂

  2. I’ve always used a simplified process that leaves out the “discovery” process that precedes every project, but I’m starting to think more about adding it into my regular routine. Great post.

  3. I was taking a break from documenting my work process and saw this super helpful article. You’re clairvoyant…thank you!

  4. Very good article Ian! Today I am going to set up the client onboarding process. Thanks for investing your time and producing the quality content

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