Managing Ongoing Client Relationships
as a Freelancer

See also: Pricing and Charging for Freelancers

One of the hardest things for many new freelancers to manage is ongoing client relationships. Each email or phone call can make or break a work relationship, and it is all down to you.

What do you do when the client changes the brief?
How can you say no to work?
Can you renegotiate prices part-way through a job?
When is it right to send your invoice?
And how do you chase up unpaid bills without causing offence?

This page is designed to answer some of these questions, and help you to navigate the tricky world of managing your own client relationships without offending anyone.

The Key to Good Client Relationships

There is one thing that is essential to good client relationships: first setting and then managing expectations. Our page on Contracting for Freelancers covers the first of these. This page is designed to cover how to manage expectations in ongoing client relationships.

Managing Expectations

The question of managing expectations boils down to two things:

  1. Keep communicating; and

  2. Do what you said you would, by the deadline you agree.

During an ongoing job, it is worth keeping in touch with your client on a regular basis, possibly even weekly.

Let them know about progress, send them interim versions of documents or programs, and generally keep them posted about what is happening. This will avoid:

  1. Them worrying that you are not doing the work and hassling you at inconvenient times; and

  2. You doing a lot of work that is not quite right and will need to be revised later.

Regular contact means that you will be aware immediately if anything changes, and can react to it. It also means that you are in a better position to discuss changes to deadlines if the work scope increases, and/or you suddenly have a lot more work to manage.

It is also important to deliver on your promises, whether quality, quantity or time-related.

This means sending the work, completed to the required and agreed standard, by the agreed deadline.

It also, however, means following up any promises you made to keep in touch, or to invoice monthly, or anything else.

You have an agreement, and it is essential to meet it.

For example, if you agreed that you would invoice 24 hours after you have sent the final version of the work, provided that they had not been in touch to say that they needed more work, then do so.

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Renegotiating When Something Changes

It is a simple fact of life that things change. The client wants more work, or something slightly different. They will ask you if that is possible.

This is your cue to renegotiate price and/or deadline if necessary.

It is far better to do this than to try to deliver twice as much work within the same deadline or price. All you have to do is reply to say that you can do the work, but you are afraid that it will take longer and/or cost more, and you will therefore have to discuss the price and deadline again. Put a new proposal forward, and wait for them to come back to you.

Increasing Your Prices

You may also reach the point of being in the fortunate position of having ongoing and regular clients that you have been working with for some time.

There will come a time when you want or need to increase your prices, either because of inflation, or because you have simply reached the point where you can fill your time with work that pays more. You may feel embarrassed about discussing money with a long-standing client. Don’t. They are also in business, and it has to be done.

It may be easier to negotiate prices by setting out a proposal in an email first, and suggest a phone conversation to discuss. Be clear about why you are putting up your prices, and also what you need to charge.

TOP TIP! Ditching a long-standing client for better-paid work

If you have been working for someone for a while, but you now feel that the work is not paying enough, you may want to move on.

Your first step is to consider trying to renegotiate the price.

Explain your position: that you now have more work, and you can fill your days with work that will pay more. Ask if they are prepared to pay more, and set out your new price. If they are not prepared to pay the increased rate, politely explain that you can therefore no longer afford to work for them.

Close your email by saying how nice it has been working together, and you hope that you will have a chance to do so in future. Sign off with your contact details, just in case they change their mind.

Chasing Unpaid Bills

Many people find it hard to ask for money. They do not like to invoice, and they certainly do not like to chase up unpaid bills. However, if you do not, you will not get paid. Get into the habit of invoicing either routinely, when the job is complete, or once a month for all work.

It is a good idea to include your payment terms on your invoice.

A simple statement saying ‘Payment is due within two weeks of invoice date’ gives you a deadline by which to chase up unpaid bills.

When you have a client who has not paid within the period, it is also helpful to have a standard form of words to use. For example, you might forward the invoice again and say:

I am a bit worried that I have not heard from you about my invoice, and not received payment. I am attaching it again in case it did not get through. Please let me know that you have received it safely.

I do ask for payment within 2 weeks of the invoice date, so please also let me know when you have paid, so that I can look out for the payment.”

Communication is Essential

If the key to good client relationships is setting and managing expectations, then communicating is the crucial skill.

Staying in touch, and making sure that there are no surprises on either side, is vital. Only good communication will ensure that you build and maintain good client relationships.