How many times have you read articles upon articles on how to streamline your business more effectively, how to get more clients, juggle multiple projects, deliver quality or keep your sanity at the office? Many times, right? There are so many things we need to tick off that list before we can call ourselves professional.
For me, it is all down to two simple things.
Two things that I have incorporated in my book of good business practices since the very beginning of my freelance career and which make my clients come back to me again and again for more work. You would think that any business which takes itself seriously would have incorporated these two simple techniques in their everyday dealings with clients but you would be surprised. I am astounded, almost on a daily basis, to find out how many freelancers ignore these two simple steps.
Acknowledging receipt of an email
In today’s connected world there is absolutely no reason not to acknowledge receipt of an email. Please note that I am not referring to unsolicited emails or any other type of unwanted communication. I am specifically referring to emails from current or prospective clients with regards to a current or prospective project.
And I repeat, in today’s connected world, there is absolutely no reason as to why you would not acknowledge a client’s, outsourcer’s or collaborator’s e-mail communication, at least during business hours. Not having time to reply to an email is not good enough reason simply because if you had time to read the email in the first place, you also had time to hit reply with the words “Received”. It takes five seconds.
I understand that there will be times when replying to an email immediately will simply not be possible, e.g you are driving and cannot stop to reply to an email. That still doesn’t justify not replying to an email. You still have the option to reply two hours later or five hours later or even much later on that same evening. If your business depends on the amount of emails you get from prospective leads/clients, etc. forgetting to reply to an email is not an excuse but rather a chance to realise that you need an effective filing system put in place. You should be checking emails all the time and have by now devised a way to highlight emails that need answering right away as opposed to those you can answer a few hours later. That way you cannot miss anything. Endeavour to reply within 24 hours at the latest. Go over 48 hours and you risk coming across as sloppy, unprofessional and unreliable. Not to mention you can anger people too. If you are in the pub, reply from your iPhone/Android/smartphone; if you don’t have one, then you are simply not taking your business seriously.
Let’s take a moment to see how acknowledging receipt of an email can help your business by going back to the first paragraph of this article.
- Getting more clients. It is a non-brainer. If you don’t reply promptly or acknowledge receipt of an email with the intention to reply, your prospective client will go elsewhere.
- Juggling multiple projects. Again communication is key which is why you need to communicate with your client promptly, especially if you come across a problem along the way, eg. if more time is needed to finish one project or if one project needs prioritising over another.
- Delivering quality. This is closely tied with point b and refers back to the importance of smooth communication between you and the client. And it all starts with acknowledging one another’s email.
- Keeping your sanity. This is the most important of all. In this online world that we live in, where most of the work we provide can be done online, with little face-to-face contact involved, you want to make sure that you and your client are on the same page. Did he or did he not receive what I sent him this morning? Is she or is she not happy with my work? Am I going to get paid?
Finally, I will concede the fact that sometimes it really is very difficult to reply to an email because a) you are in a conference or in training and no mobile phones are allowed, b) you are in a plane, c) you are off sick or on holidays or have just come back from holidays and have hundreds of emails that need answering. For all the above reasons, there is simple technique no. 2.
The Out of Office message
First, I will start by saying that if you really want to be successful at what you are doing, you can never truly be Out of Office. I am never completely out of reach from my clients, not even when I am on holidays. While I will most probably not take any work while I am away, I will still make myself available to communicate my availability, negotiate a different deadline or simply answer a question a client may have.
On the subject of Out of Office messages though, I am truly amazed to see how many freelancers fail to use this tool for the purpose it was created, Out of Office messages. While the majority of freelance entrepreneurs use it after hours, during the weekend or on holiday, that is not the only time you should be using it. No one is stopping you from using it for a couple of hours only, while you are away giving that presentation and can’t check your emails for example. Out of Office messages allow you to choose the dates and the clients you want your message sent to, so there is really no excuse not to reply. You should also be able to set your message up from your mobile phone if for some reason you cannot get to your computer. Alternatively, you should ask your partner, if you work at home, or the colleague who is normally sitting next to you to do it for you. You can use Out of Office messages for just about everything. I have used them before to communicate a temporary power outage, a faulty internet connection or the fact that I am going through a very large list of e-mails at the moment and can’t reply instantly.
Anything to make my clients’ life easier. Do you agree?