Many in the B2B space are in a professional services industry. Bookkeepers, lawyers, marketing consultants, and, yes, virtual assistants provide their professional expertise to organizations.
While they may operate in different fields, what all professional service providers share is a need to manage relationships with clients. This can be tricky. If you’re a professional services provider, you’ve likely experienced some of the common hurdles like a rocky onboarding, misalignment in values or expectations, or the dreaded scope creep.
The bad news is that you’re only one half of the equation and can’t control other people’s behaviors. But the great news is that there are proactive steps you can take to cut these common issues off at the pass.
Let’s take a closer look at what you can do at each stage of the customer journey to ensure you and your clients are in sync and ultimately happy with your working relationship.
1. Identify Your Dream Client
Building a happy client relationship starts with finding the right clients. Just like in any relationship, some pairings aren’t meant to be. If you want to find the right clients, you have to clarify what you’re looking for.
Start by honing in on your ideal client. Get specific. A CPA’s ideal client isn’t “every business that needs to file taxes.” That casts too wide a net and leaves you open to attracting organizations that won’t jibe with what you do.
To get a sense of who you should be targeting, take a look at your current clients. Who is super happy with your work? Who keeps coming back to you time and again? And, better yet, who refers you to their friends?
Just as importantly, with whom do you most enjoy working?
When you ask yourself these questions, you’ll likely see some similarities arise. Perhaps you realize that the customers you work best with are solopreneurs. Sure, you have some bigger organizations and franchisees in the mix, but perhaps your favorite and happiest clients are those sole proprietors and one-person LLCs.
2. Build the Right Marketing Strategy for Your Audience
Once you’ve settled on which types of clients you want to attract, ensure you have a marketing strategy that attracts those ideal clients. This means marketing on the social media platforms where your ideal clients tend to hang out, creating content in the formats they like to consume, and crafting messaging that is clear about what you do and do not offer.
When your marketing strategy positions your business as the perfect one to solve your ideal client’s problems, you help those less-than-ideal clients weed themselves out.
3. Discovery Calls Are Your Friend
Between marketing and countersigning the contract, it’s essential to make contact with your prospects. A discovery call is a bit like a job interview; it’s a way for you and your prospect to get to know each other and ensure there’s a mutual fit.
Discovery calls are an opportunity for you to lay out what you do and do not do as part of your standard service. It allows both sides to share needs, concerns, and expectations before going any further down the line.
If it seems like a good fit, that’s awesome! Onto the next step. If not, it’s better to find out now before you make it “official.” If you get on the discovery call and either party decides it’s just not meant to be, no harm, no foul.
4. Always Use a Legal Contract
Hopefully, this is a no-brainer in the digital age, but we still hear stories of people doing professional services work without a contract. That should be a “do not pass go, do not collect $200” situation in modern business.
Some people are hesitant to create contracts because they worry it’s adversarial or too formal. Not so! Contracts protect both parties, and a well-crafted agreement is mutually beneficial, not threatening or scary.
A contract ensures that you are paid on time and treated with respect. You can include provisions that stipulate you won’t be available for “emergencies” over the weekend. Or you can set the ability to collect interest on bills that go ignored.
Likewise, contracts protect your client should you (heavens forbid!) under-deliver on your promises, ghost them before completing your project, or share confidential information with a competitor.
5. Create an Onboarding Process
Congratulations, you’ve both signed on the dotted line and are ready to start a beautiful client/provider relationship. Your partnership should begin with a straightforward, repeatable onboarding process. This is how you introduce clients to your way of working and set expectations on both sides.
At Don’t Panic Management, our onboarding process involves a detailed client questionnaire. We ask for things like your Myers Briggs personality type as well as brass tacks questions, like preferred means of communication and working hours.
From there, we set up an onboarding call between the assistant, the client, and our Chief Client Officer. The call is a chance for everyone to chat, get to know each other, and talk about the first steps to getting the relationship off the ground.
We also encourage clients to create SOPs for recurring tasks, so our assistants have a crystal-clear understanding of each client’s processes.
The Don’t Panic leadership team is copied in on all communications for the first 30 days to ensure there are no snafus and to step in should any issues arise.
This extra hand-holding at the start of the relationship keeps everyone comfortable, well-cared-for, and happy. It builds a solid foundation for a long-lasting, harmonious relationship.
6. Nip Concerns in the Bud
Once your relationship is up and running, ongoing open communication is the name of the game. If concerns start to creep up, say something!
Maybe a client is pushing the boundaries of the scope established in your contract. Or perhaps they’re slipping into a habit of last-minute asks. Whatever it is, if it’s something that makes the relationship difficult for you to manage, speak up.
The key is to make this non-confrontational. Remember, it’s likely the client is not pushing boundaries out of malice. People are busy, they forget the contract’s specifics, and they may not fully understand what you can and cannot do as part of your services.
Kindly and professionally discussing the issue with them early on is critical. The longer you let boundaries go unenforced, the harder it is to rein things in later.
If you set the boundary respectfully, it will make for a happier, healthier work relationship in the end. You’ll be able to deliver your top-notch service without any resentments over unaired grievances.
Creating a harmonious relationship between yourself and your clients takes some work and forethought, but it is worth the effort! When you set expectations from both sides and take the time to work together to establish boundaries and healthy communication patterns, you can build a thriving professional services firm filled with happy clients you love.
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Amanda began her career as an actor and now uses that experience to inform her work as a content creator. Years of analyzing text and building characters mean that adapting to a client's voice, tone, and unique needs comes as second nature. When she's not behind the keyboard blogging, podcasting, or social media managing for clients, you can still find her onstage hosting live corporate events. A proud graduate of Barnard College, Columbia University, Amanda lives in New York City.
Work superpower: Finding the perfect synonym in Power Thesaurus.
Favorite cheese: Brie
Go-to karaoke song: Man! I Feel Like a Woman!
Beverage of choice: Blackberry Spindrift.
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