“In an unpredictable world, they need to know that they can depend on you. If you can live up to their expectations, you’re building a long-term relationship.”
Wise words from a wise man, and yet I only partially agree with him.
In order to live up to your client’s expectations, you first need to know what they are.
Many clients forget to tell you, and many freelancers don’t bother to ask. They just assume they know, and get burned in the end.
Thanks to the marvels of the internet, there’s often little or no direct contact between a client and a freelancer. You know how it goes. We respond to vague job postings with a vague budget, and simply hope for the best.
If we happen to land the job, we get straight to work so we can meet the deadline. But what to do when we’re not sure what to do?
Some freelancers will turn to their colleagues, and ask them for an uninformed opinion:
“Please help. Should I pronounce this strange name in this way or that way?”
“Do I read all the footnotes or shall I leave them out?”
“What kind of tone or accent would be best for this book?”
Sorry people, but you’re barking up the wrong tree! It doesn’t matter what your Facebook friends think you should do. Your client doesn’t care what you think either.
Go to the source and ask!
The only way to consistently satisfy your customers, is to meet and exceed their expectations. You’ve got to offer exceptional value that justifies your rate. That’s how you build your business.
Now to the first part of my mentor’s advice. The part about surprises.
I happen to think that clients are human, and humans like surprises. That is, as long as they are pleasant.
The first way to surprise your client has everything to do with what we just talked about:
Unless it’s cut-and-dried, don’t just accept the job and get to work. Get in touch, and stay connected. Show some interest in the project you’re hired to do. Ask questions. Get details. Give updates. You’re not some speech-imitating computer program. You’re a real person, so show your client you care.
You’d be surprised how much goodwill you create when you communicate. Time spent getting to know your client’s preferences will save you time in the end.
So, let me ask you this. If you could work with someone who is open, flexible, and communicative, or with someone who isn’t, who would you choose?
Even the most selfless individuals have an inner need for validation. We all want to know that what we do or have done, matters.
One way to surprise your clients, is to let them know how appreciative you are that they’ve entrusted their project to you. Find something specific you can compliment a client on. Perhaps they’ve provided you with a pronunciation guide. Perhaps you’re excited about the product you’re promoting. Maybe you fell in love with the story you’re about to read.
Your client cannot read your mind. They can’t see your excitement. You’ve got to tell them!
In a society where we usually point out what’s wrong, it is time for some positive reinforcement. Compliments don’t cost a dime, and they give people wings!
A percentage of my clients has never worked with a voice-over before, or they’ve had a bad experience. By telling them about how you work, you are putting their minds at ease. You are managing their expectations. An informed client has learned what he or she is paying you for, and is less likely to complain about an invoice.
Some clients have no idea to what extent they can be involved. I always let them know they can listen in, and direct me during the recording session. Believe it or not, some customers still act surprised when they find out how much input they can have. The more involved they are, the greater the chance that they’ll be happy with the end product.
On the topic of positive reinforcement, I like to reward returning- and extra generous customers by occasionally throwing in freebies. One of my long-term translation clients recently asked me to translate two or three words. Even though I minimally charge $30 regardless of the length of the text, I told them it was on the house.
Never nickel-and-dime a client with a big budget.
Another return-client sent me a Dutch script that was translated from English. Even though they’re not paying me to proofread it, I always do. As usual, I found a few mistakes, and I suggested some changes. Free of charge. Mind you, I’m not operating a pro bono translation service. I just use my fine-toothed comb to make sure the end result won’t embarrass my client (and the person who’s reading the text).
Also think of rewarding clients who pay within ten days after invoice. Offer a percentage off the bill as an incentive. Reward clients by absorbing the fee for money transfer. Give them 20% off the next project just to say thank you for being loyal customers. It’s an investment in the relationship.
5. Add value
All of us have many talents, but clients won’t make use of them unless they know what we’re capable of. A female colleague recently surprised a client by telling him she also sang in a jazz band. The next day she was hired to record ten jingles.
Another colleague has extensive on-camera experience. After finishing a voice-over job, she told the producer she had to go to a photo shoot. That afternoon he looked at her online portfolio, and booked her for a TV commercial.
A VO-friend of mine can do many voices. One day he was recording a rather serious e-Learning script. During a break he started reading the text in some of his silly voices. The producer was standing outside, and thought some new actors had entered the studio. When he saw it was my friend, he was impressed. Two weeks later, my friend started his career in cartoons.
Some of my clients are actually surprised to learn that Dutch is my mother tongue, and that I can handle translations too. Every once in a while I translate a script, and record the same project in different languages.
No matter how talented you are, you’re not always a good fit. Surprise a client by recommending a few colleagues who could get the job done. You’ve just saved your client a ton of time, and you’re likely to make a colleague happy.
If you don’t know anyone, refer your client to your agent who does.
7. Beat the deadline
As long as quality doesn’t suffer, delight your client by sending in your work early. This will make the person you’re working with look good. And if that person looks good, you look good. Everybody wins.
8. Speak your client’s language
I mean this literally and figuratively. It’s important that you can explain what you’re doing in terms your clients can understand. Too often, I hear people use jargon, and they don’t even have a clue they’re using it.
Clients won’t always admit that they have no idea what you’re talking about. Look your client in the eye, and/or listen carefully. Are they still with you? Do they have questions? Don’t expect them to sign off on something they don’t yet understand.
If you’re dealing with a foreign client, find out how to say “thank you very much” in their language, or a simple word like “goodbye.” It doesn’t take much effort, and it’s always appreciated. Show your client that you’re not one of those people who expects the rest of the world to speak English. And -getting back to number 2- let your client know how much you appreciate the fact that they’re communicating with you in English.
9. Send a card or make a call
It’s so easy and convenient to send someone a quick email. But never underestimate the power of the personal touch.
Rather than sending a quick, obligatory thank you note, why not make a call? Why not send a card? Some colleagues have designed special cards for that purpose that includes info on how they can be reached.
I once came to a studio to record a voice-over, and I saw my own card on my producer’s cork board. I had sent that card over a year ago!
“Do these small gestures really matter?” you may ask.
The only actions that have no impact, are the ones you don’t take.
10. Stay in touch
I know quite a few colleagues who go from job to job. Once the script has been recorded, and the invoice has been paid, they forget about it. They also forget about the client who hired them. Big mistake.
You don’t need an introduction to a client you’ve once worked with. As long as they were happy with your work, there’s an increased chance that they will hire you again. That is, if you manage to stay on their radar screen.
I’m not asking you to cyberstalk customers, or to bombard them with bi-weekly newsletters they never signed up for. Find an appropriate and relevant moment to connect. The key is to keep it personal, and to keep it short.
One of the producers I’ve worked with just won an award. I called her, and congratulated on her win. Her first words:
“Paul, what a nice surprise!”
One last but very important thing.
All these different ways to surprise your clients can backfire when used as manipulative tricks.
Whatever you decide to do, it has to be genuine. It has to be sincere. Don’t even try to fake it, because you will fail.
Your intention will determine your results.
That, my friends, should come as no surprise!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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© 2014, Paul Strikwerda. All rights reserved.