The Freelancers Union Spark events often address topics specific to self-employed life, but this month’s subject centered on a practice that’s key to any successful business: creating a client pipeline with a customer relationship management (CRM) system. In the daily hustle of submitting deliverables to clients, it’s easy to lose track of the backbone of your business. When no one is paying you to sit down for a few hours each week and work on bookkeeping, site updates, or contract revisions, these tasks can quickly fall to the bottom of the never-ending to-do list. What you have to remember is the long-term impact of putting time and energy into your business. By starting with a CRM system, you can begin to develop a valuable way track your clients from initial contact to signed contract and beyond.
STEP 1: Craft a form to record your leads. Include basic information like name, contact information, lead source, and services requested.
LONG-TERM IMPACT: No matter what information you choose to include, the most important piece of data is the lead source. By identifying where your leads come from (particularly leads that become clients), you can learn which channels are best to invest your time, energy, and resources in order to gain business.
Step 2: Qualify your leads by establishing a set of basic questions to ask each potential client. For example: What’s the timeline for the project? What are the deliverables? What’s the budget? To streamline this process, consider creating a form email you can send to your leads after first contact is made. You may also want to make this step part of your CRM system – add a section to track client communication, record their answers to your questions, and prepare for following up. (Fun Fact: 90% of sales are lost when no second contact is made!)
LONG-TERM IMPACT: The answers to your individualized set of basic questions should begin to inform you if your potential client is going to be a good fit. For example: Does the timeline for this project fit into your current workload? Can the requested deliverables be completed within the given timeline? Does the budget align with your rates?
Step 3: Have your process down pat by preparing for every possible outcome. If the answers to your basic questions aren’t quite ideal, don’t rule out this potential client just yet! Know how to address some of the most common client issues before they arise. For instance, what’s your policy when a potential client requests a tight turnaround? Do you add a rush fee? What if you typically require a certain percentage of a project fee upfront, and a client requests to pay in a lump sum at completion? How do you handle clients who don’t have a clear vision for their project and want your input?
LONG-TERM IMPACT: When you have your policies in place and know how to answer tough questions from clients, you’re not only protecting yourself and your client relationships but also putting yourself one step closer to building a successful business. Addressing issues on a case-by-case basis can get murky – it’s easy for emotions to get involved and cloud your decision-making abilities. Standing firm in your businesses practices will pay off in the long run!
Step 4: It’s the moment of truth: is your lead signing a contract or taking the project elsewhere? Either way, you can add the results to your CRM system. After you score a new client, continue to track the progress of the project to completion. If your lead didn’t work out, remember that you can always gain something from a loss. Go back through the pipeline and identify where you and the lead diverged.
LONG-TERM IMPACT: Once you sign a client, it’s important to continue to track the progress of the project to completion because it will help you if you work with that client on future projects. It also gives you the opportunity to create a case study for the project that could be useful to future clients looking for similar work. Taking a little time to assess why a particular project didn’t work out is equally important. It could help you refine your process, policies, or pricing and improve your pipeline for future opportunities.
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Freelancers Union Spark events take place monthly in twenty cities around the country. Visit the Freelancers Union site to find out about a Spark event near you. Next month’s event is a freelancers tax workshop – you won’t want to miss it! If you’re in the NYC area, stop by the Manhattan Spark, and say hello! I’ll be there co-leading! For more information about Freelancers Union or Spark events, feel free to tweet me @AOCBlogGirl – I’d be happy to answer your questions.