7 Channels to communicate with your clients and how to get the most of them

Hello first time visitor!

I have seen a lot of debates about how should you, the freelancer, communicate with your clients. Some freelancers, especially designers or techies hate being disturbed at any time and appreciate only email communication. Others, usually coming from the marketing field, will tell you that the only chance to earn real respect and negotiate good deals is to communicate face-to-face with your customers.

Being a kind of techie myself I prefer to use the email. But it would be stupid to push off some customers, just because they are not sharing the same opinion. If you want to reach more customers, be flexible on the communication channels you offer.

The 7 channels listed below are the most popular and the freelancers usually combine several of them. It’s vital for you to be reachable in at least two ways. Otherwise your customers will be afraid that they can simply lose communication with you at some moment.

1. Email

It’s the most popular, easy, free, almost instant and available for everyone. Nowadays you must have email, there is simply no way to do business without it. If you own a site with domain name dedicated to your freelance business it would be nice to use it for communication with your clients.

Using a free email service like Gmail or Yahoo is not a problem however. It is not like trying to do business with a site hosted on free server with subdomain. The free email services are good and using one will not make bad impression.

You should be able to answer emails in some reasonable timeframe. Most people expect a response in no more than 24 hours (in the business days). Some expect you to answer in less than a hour if they know it is in your day hours. In any case you should not leave emails unanswered for more than 48 hours or your customers will just choose another freelancer.

2. Project message boards

This form of communication is often used on the freelance sites. Usually they disallow other form of communication before the project is awarded to some bidder. This is done to protect these businesses from freelancers which want to use them for free and avoid paying their (usually pretty fair) fees.

However there is a good reason to keep using these message boards, even after the project is awarded to you. If the things don’t run as expected and you need the help of the freelance site’s arbitrators, the messages in the board can be used to prove your position. Copies or even screen shots from your personal email box will not do the work.

This method is useful only if you work thru freelance marketplaces (like Scriptlance.com or RentACoder.com) – otherwise use direct communication with your clients.

3. Instant messaging (IM)

Instant messengers are providing you with cool and free channel to communicate with your customers. You can chat at any time, instantly, and clarify any doubts or issues you have with the project. Most clients are very happy to know that you are accessible thru instant messenger. Some will even require that you have one, otherwise they won’t hire your services.

There are many IM systems, but most popular are YIM, AIM, MSN and ICQ. All these are free and you can get the programs from the official websites. You have to create a free account them and you are ready to use it. I can recommend you a free software which allows you to have several IM services in one program. Thus you will be available to all clients. This free tool is Miranda IM.

One thing you should be warned about is that some clients abuse the IM. They are online day and night and always want to chat with you about their project. They won’t respect your free time or other business you may have and always expect to immediately do something on their project. So think twice before giving your IM to freelance customers, or you will have to use your invisible list ;-)

4. Skype

Skype is no different by purpose than the IM systems, except that it allows you to actually speak with your customers. It is cool free telephone system available for everyone in the world. As long as your client have Skype installed, you can speak for free with them as long as you wish, or even have conference calls.

Skype allows you also to ring standard phones of people who have not installed the software. In this case the conversations are not free, but are cheaper than you would pay to your phone provider.

Giving your clients a possibility to contact you via Skype is an excellent way to gain confidence and break the ice. You may think that it’s not better than text based chatting, but hearing one’s voice has psychological advantages.

5. Phone

Nowadays phones might be considered an old method of communication. But for any serious business it’s important to be reachable thru a phone number. Not everyone wants to install Skype and some clients don’t find it “business like” enough. If you want larger businesses to hire your freelance services, provide them your phone number.

Obviously there is one issue – unlike the Skype and IM systems, which are switched on only when your PC works, the phone is available 24 hours per day. So you will have either to switch it off at the times you don’t want to be disturbed, or give your availability hours along with your phone number. Or both.

6. Snail mail

Sure, it is very ineffective way if you want just to communicate. However, the snail mail may be still useful to send documents, scans or small gifts. Providing postal address also gains a lot of confidence. It makes the buyers feel that the freelancer they hire is a real person with real address.

7. Face to face

This site is dedicated mostly to freelancers who work over the Internet and get customers all over the world. But this does not mean if you work in your local area you are not a freelancer. In fact, the live communication is the best persuasive method. You should meet your clients face to face always when you want to negotiate a new project, payment terms or time lines.

Of course, don’t overdo it, meeting with clients for every small thing is a loss of time for both of you.

Which of the above 7 channels are you using in your freelance communication?

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