Supporting Clients After a Project Ends – and Scoring More Work
We’ve all been there. You’ve launched a client’s site and now you’re silently high fiving yourself because it looks fantastic and the client is thrilled.
You met your deadline and you’ve got another project already lined up. The next day your client emails you asking for a small change to their site, which you happily do for him, no questions asked.
But then a couple of days later he asks for another change… And then another change after that and, of course, he expects all these changes for free and you’re not paid a cent for your time. How can you say no?
Your clients are your business – and your income – and you want to do everything possible to keep them happy, but their incessant emails and requests for tweaks are eating into your time. Time that you should be spending on other client work.
Supporting a client after you’ve launched their site doesn’t mean you have to put other work on hold. In this post we’ll go through some tips to help you avoid the common traps and foster strong relationships with your clients.
After all, a happy client can be your biggest evangelist.
Set Clear Expectations
It’s important to set out clear expectations when you agree to begin a client project and set them early. Keep in mind that it’s not just about meeting your client’s expectations, but ensuring the client also meets your expectations.
Set out guidelines for how you carry out project and state clearly when your work on a project ends and you hand over a site. This might be when a website is launched, or you may offer support in the weeks following. You should also state what happens after a project is over and what post-launch support you provide, if any.
If you’re submitting a quote for a project, you could even have something in your terms and conditions that states any changes or updates requested after a project has been signed off will be charged at your hourly rate.
Avoid confusion and frustration later down the track by outlining boundaries as early as possible with a new client, and before you begin any work. Clearly let your client know that any extra services you provide beyond what you have agreed will cost extra and outline your hourly or retainer fee.
Set expectations early in a relationship with a new client and be proactive about educating them, whether this is through agreements, contracts, FAQs, wikis or detailed emails and conversations.
Minimize Post-Launch Support
Don’t waste your time solving problems after a site is already live.
There will always be bugs that need ironing out and if you are continually coming up against a stockpile of bugs after launch it just means you’re spending too much time on production and not enough time on testing.
Rigorously test for bugs prior to launch, and if it continues to be a problem, change the way you work with future clients to allow for more time to test for problems. While this will increase the time it takes to sign off on a project, it will save you the headache of dealing with little site fixes that can build up and eat away at your time later.
There are many ways you can educate your clients so they are prepared after launch:
Train Your Client
Offer clients training in how to use their site before it’s launched during one-on-one workshops. This will give them the opportunity to learn how to update their site themselves and ask any niggling questions. A one-on-one setting will also provide a comfortable setting to allow some clients to ask all the questions they might be too intimidated to ask otherwise.
Provide thorough documentation, such as PDF guides or video tutorials. These could cover the basics of how to login to WordPress, how to write posts or how to update a page.
WPMU DEV has a range of continuously updated, high quality, white label video user manuals for WordPress. Integrated with the WordPress dashboard, these will guide you and your users through everything they need to know, helping you cut down on support time.
Online FAQ or Knowledge Base
If there are questions your clients tend to ask time and time again, why not add an FAQ to your site? Compile a list of questions your clients commonly have and post answers to those questions in a wiki on your site.
A Phone Number in Case of Emergency
There will always be clients who panic. For real emergencies, like a site being down, you might consider giving out your phone number, but make it very clear you charge extra for this added level of service.
For clients who aren’t technologically savvy and wouldn’t know what to do with documentation or training, let alone login to their site, you might want to offer support as part of their agreement.
It doesn’t have to be ongoing, even a 90-day support policy could help your client settle into their new site, ask you any questions and help them feel comfortable about managing their site on their own.
Put together a site information pack and send it to all of your new clients. Include any training information, documentation and details about what post-launch support you provide. If you haven’t already outlined your hourly rate for support in a quote or client agreement, you may also want to include it in this pack.
Clients want to know you won’t abandon them when their project ends.
While clients are more likely to leave you alone to get on with the job once work get underway, it’s after the project is complete and they are trying to understand how their website works when they will start asking lots of questions.
For many clients, they are more likely to want to work with you again not because of the work you did on their site, but because of the support you gave them afterwards.
This is where it gets tricky. Often, post-project support is not paid for (unless you agreed to it earlier) and clients will expect to call on your whenever they run into a problem.
This is when your phone starts ringing and your inbox starts filling up with emails.
It’s polite to answer all of their questions, respond quickly and spend as much time as you have available to post-project support, in theory. Often, clients might assume what they are asking for is simple when it’s actually quite tricky, or they might assume something is difficult when it will take you five minutes to implement.
This is where communication is important. You want your client to understand what is involved in fixing an issue so they know they are taking up your time.
If you’re finding that a client is emailing you incessantly, don’t sit on your email all day. Turn it off and only check it at set times, maybe first thing in the morning and again before you clock off for the day.
Immediately replying to client emails fuels the expectation that you are at their beck and call and you aren’t so busy you can’t deal with their problems and immediately implement their changes.
Don’t Give Away Your Time For Free
Just because your client’s site has launched, it doesn’t mean your time is now available for free.
If you have clients who constantly email you, tell them you would love to help them but you can’t devote all of your time to answering their questions thoroughly as that would be unfair to your paying clients. Tell them you would happily answer all of their questions for an hourly fee.
If you have a high maintenance client, put them onto a support retainer post-launch. That way, they can ask all the questions they want and you get paid. If they don’t want to pay for a retain, they don’t get support.
Clients can’t expect you to be available 24/7 without paying at some point. It’s like calling a doctor and expecting him/her to drop everything to put a Bandaid on your knee.
Always charge for changes. If a client emails you asking for a tweak, simply tell them, “I would love to do <insert change here> for <insert your hourly rate here>.”
You might be surprised by how many clients are happy to pay right away to get a job done. Sometimes it may seem like a client is asking for a change or tweak for free when they are not. They just don’t know how to ask for a quote.
Nurture Client Relationships
Happy clients are more likely to be return customers and give you great referrals.
Not only will having a great relationship with your client ensure your current project is a success, but it will also make it more enjoyable. It will also increase your chances of scoring further work or referrals when the project is finished.
Getting along with your client doesn’t necessarily mean talking about work all the time. Get to know their likes and dislikes, ask them about their weekend or their family. Show interest in their life as well as their work.
It doesn’t hurt to send a thank you card to a client after their site has launched. Not only will it show them you are thoughtful, but also that their business means a lot to you
You might even want to call them out of the blue a few months after launch and see how their site is doing, or even drop into your client’s office to say hello or invite them out for coffee.
Being personable takes little effort, yet leaves a lasting impression. An impression that could score you more clients.
What are you tips for supporting client? Are your clients a pleasure to deal with, or do you often run into troubles? Tell us in the comments below.
Image credits: picjumbo.