Communication in the new age comes with tons of benefits. More and more people are able to work from home, international businesses can thrive with little to no travel, and small businesses are more easily able to compete with larger corporations.
However, in a world with everything at our fingertips, I’ve been noticing a bit of a trend. In my field, I get one of two types of clients. There’s the one that hires me, gives me no direction, and then when they receive my ideas, simply say ‘I don’t like it’, OR, on the other side, I get the ghost. You know the client, the one you’ve been working with for a few months with no issues who suddenly won’t answer your emails or texts. Now, I don’t know about you, but ghosting is one of the many reasons I stay off Tinder, and in no way do I want it happening in my professional life.
What can you do to become better at communicating?
So, what do you do to have strong communication?
You don’t want to be pushy, but you also need to speak up when you’re being treated unfairly. Your client hired you to provide a product or service, and for the most part, it’s up to you to provide it. Frustrating as it is, you’ve become a partner with this person for the duration of the project, and unless you want to lose the job, you’re going to have to put in the effort to fix it.
Sounds fun, right
The best defense is a good plan
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to manage these ‘communication breakdowns’, but then it struck me, isn’t the best defense a good offense? So, in order to figure out how to fix this, I took a look at the 3 major areas that breakdowns occur; expectations, communication (literally), and deliverables.
There’s the saying under promise and over deliver. At Sassy Lasses we strive to maintain this principle, and it is a good one. However, it’s also important to be clear not just about the client’s expectations, but yours as well. Even though you’re the one providing the product or service, you’re also a business owner and need to set the correct expectations to ensure you don’t get walked all over or left in the dust by a ghosting client.
As a business owner, making sure that you and the client have clear straightforward communication and expectations will make all the difference. Something you can do to ensure proper communication is to have a well laid out agreement.
Sometimes it can seem a little tough to set those expectations, especially if you’re providing a service or product that isn’t necessarily tangible. But there is a solution, it’s called a questionnaire, and although it may seem like extra work at first, it pays off huge in the long run.
It may take some trial and error to create the one that works for you, but as a designer, I rely heavily on client feedback, and if I don’t have proper information from the start, the design is only my interpretation. For some, this is perfect, but most people want say in their logo or website, but may not know how to ask for it.
So, if you provide each of your clients with a simple worksheet, asking questions based on the service or product you’re providing, you gain a much better idea of their expectations, AND can also be honest right away if something they want isn’t what you do, or isn’t going to work.
By creating your own questionnaire you can use your skills to ask the right questions and hone in what the client actually wants, allowing you to jump into the project with confidence, and leaving less room for 1000 iterations later. (Most of the time)
Pick up the phone
The second tool that can help alleviate these communication breakdowns, is, well, effective communication. We live in a world of instant messaging and emails, and although it can be easier and (seemingly) more time efficient to rely on these types of communication, there’s a lot to be said for actually picking up the phone.
It’s scary, I know, but when you’re trying to communicate with a client through email, there are so many things that can be misread or misunderstood. From the tone of the email to the way in which they interpret it, you and your client could be talking for hours before realizing you have no idea what the other is on about.
Talking on the phone, however, allows you to hear inflection – it allows you to have an actual conversation, where you can ask and answer questions in real time – leading to solutions way faster, and with less stress.
The thing about actually talking is that you can ask every question you have, answer the client’s questions, and most importantly, you build rapport with the client. This means the client sees you as an ACTUAL person, making it much harder for them to treat you unfairly, and much more likely that you’re on the same page.
Speaking of being on the same page, having a clear set of deliverables from the beginning ensures that both you and your client know what’s up, and when its due. Obviously, things happen, and timelines can get pushed out, but having a set deliverable date for each part of the project helps keep you both accountable. It shows the client that you can deliver on your promises, and most importantly, it keeps the project moving.
There’s nothing worse than a stagnant project, but it happens to the best of us. The important thing to remember is that this is a partnership, and that’s why it’s necessary to set up a schedule that you both agree to from the start. That way, if it comes down to it, you know that you have a leg to stand on, and can ask the client to step up or step out
Building relationships, building a reputation
At the end of the day, you were hired to provide a product or service, and by using these tools, you are enabling your client to become a part of the project with you, which leads to better relationships, and happier clients. Plus, when you learn to properly manage communication breakdowns, you will be able to easily identify when, and if a client is worth continuing to work for, because you can rest assured knowing that you have fulfilled your side of the deal.
I’m not promising that these tools will fix everything, but they are a great start. And remember, even when you have the best of intentions, some relationships just aren’t meant to continue, and that’s okay, there’s plenty of other fish in the sea.