Trust is an important component of any relationship. When it comes to freelance work, trust can encourage a client to want to work with you again.
My software firm has billed over 30,000 hours in the last 12 years. In that time span, I’ve had to learn how to earn and maintain the trust of our clients in order to keep them coming back.
I’m certainly not a business expert. I’ve made some horrific mistakes and have had my fair share of struggles. I write this article in the hopes of sharing some of my experiences with you.
Why Returning Clients Are Good
Maintaining your existing clients is great for many reasons.
Having already worked together, you now know more about each other, which helps in any sort of cooperative situation. You have a better understanding of what they’re looking for when it comes to project deliverables, you know what times they’ll likely be available or when they might be out of the office, and so on.
And, if you’ve decided to continue working with a client, chances are good that it’s because you enjoy working with them.
In addition, working with the same client enables you to bypass many one-time tasks (such as initial training and education on your project management system and development processes), thus saving you time and resources.
A long-term client relationship often starts with trust. A client will most likely want to continue working with you if they believe in your capability to deliver the product they need.
Tips for Building Trust with Your Clients
Now that we’ve discussed some of the benefits of keeping your existing clients, what follows are some of my tips for building trust with them. These tips have worked for me in the past, and I hope they work for you too.
Let Your Clients See Your Kitchen
When was the last time you’ve seen a restaurant’s kitchen? We can all guess why it’s not common practice to let restaurant patrons see the backend of a restaurant. What if there’s food on the floor, or a cook forgot to wear a hat or hairnet?
But imagine walking into a kitchen and seeing that it was spotless. You would most likely trust the quality of their food, right?
Being maximally transparent also keeps you on your toes, operating at the highest-quality capacity possible at all times, knowing that your customers can walk in at any time.
If you have an office, invite them over during work hours.
Screen-share with your clients. Show off your development tools and new hardware (if they’re interested).
You can use a project management system like Basecamp that lets clients view the tasks and milestones related to their projects.
Be as transparent as you possibly can with your operations. It builds trust with clients by showing them that you’re upfront about the work you do and that you take pride in your behind-the-scenes production process.
Show That You Care About Their Expenses
Establish a relationship where your clients see that you’re being a custodian of their expenses. Show them that you care about spending too much of their money.
Even if you stand to lose a bit of billable hours yourself, be vocal about something you think isn’t worth the development costs. If they request a feature that you know won’t move them forward with their goal, or might even be detrimental to it, tell them why and also recommend better options (even if the option is to scrap the feature).
Sacrificing billable hours for the benefit of your client’s project will go a long way to building trust. This will not only lead to a better product that you can proudly display in your company’s portfolio, but also says a lot about how much you care about the client’s success, which is a compelling reason to continue working with you.
Learn About Their Business
You want your clients to view your work relationship like a partnership. By knowing as much as possible about their business, you stand a better chance of creating a better product for them.
The more you know about their business, the more they’ll feel that you’re a part of it, and the more likely they’ll be encouraged to continue working with you.
You can ask them to walk you through a typical day in their office.
Ask them if there are any particular pain points that they think you can solve.
If possible, try out their company’s products or services to see how they work and to experience how it is being their customer.
Being knowledgeable about your client’s business will give them confidence in the products you build for them.
Substitute "I" for "We"
Another way to make your client feel that you’re part of their business is by using "We" instead of "I". It’s a simple substitution of a pronoun that displays your vested interest in their project.
- "Well, we could try that and see what happens."
- "If I recall, we wanted that call-to-action on the top right of the layout."
- "How many unique visitors did we get on the first week?"
Be Honest At All Times
If you play games, you’ll get caught.
For example: Don’t pad hours when you feel you’re working extra efficiently, and take away hours when you feel you aren’t at the top of your game. Be accurate when tracking your billable hours. You can use software like Billings, FreshBooks or EnterYourHours (Full disclosure: I’m a founder of EnterYourHours) to track your time (as well as invoice your clients) as accurately as possible.
A client will see genuine honesty. They’ll also see if there’s something fishy going on.
What Are Your Tips for Building Trust?
If you have tips on building trust with your clients, please share them in the comments.