How To Work With Clients You've Never Met Face To Face
BY Jason Fried
Handling customer relationships when business is done at a distance
Before we 37signals was a software company, it was a website design and consulting company. Companies would hire us to redesign their existing sites, or, occasionally, build them an entirely new website from scratch. We did this from 1999 until around 2005. And we did it for dozens and dozens of clients--from massive corporations such as HP, Microsoft, and Getty to very small companies.
But here’s the thing: Out of the dozens and dozens of clients we had, we only met a small handful in person. Most of our customers were based thousands of miles away. And we rarely got on a plane to say hi and shake hands. We worked remotely.
All this work resulted in millions of dollars in fees. Yet we were just a small Web design firm with a funny name based in Chicago.
What’s the secret? There isn’t a secret. But we do have some tips.
First, when pitching businesses, let the prospective client know up front that you don’t live where they live. You want to begin building trust right at the beginning. You don’t want to drop the line “Oh yeah, we won’t be able to regularly meet with you face-to-face every week ’cause we’re in Chicago and you’re in Los Angeles” right before you sign the contract.
Second, provide references before the client even asks. Show right up front that you have nothing to hide. Trust is going to be the toughest thing to build early on, so make it as easy as possible for the client to get to know your character by letting them speak with other clients--especially other clients who may be remote.
Third, show them work often. This is the best way to chip away at a client’s natural situational anxiety. Look, they’re paying you big bucks for your work, and it’s totally natural for them to begin feeling anxious the moment they send you the deposit. So show them what they’re paying for. When they see the results of your ef- forts, they’ll feel a lot better about the relationship.
Fourth, be very available. Since you can’t meet face- to-face, you better return phone calls, emails, instant messages, etc. This is basic business stuff, but it’s tenfold more important when you’re working remotely. It may be irrational but, if you’re local, the client often feels that, if worse comes to worst, they can knock on your door. They “know where you live.” But when you’re remote, they’re going to be more suspicious when phone calls go unreturned or emails keep getting “lost.” Stay on top of communications and you’ll reap the benefits.
Lastly, get the client involved and let them follow along. Make sure they feel that this is their project too. Yes, they’re hiring you for your expertise, but they have plenty of their own. Set up a space online where you can use a shared schedule, show them work in progress, ask them for feedback, listen to their suggestions, and assign them some tasks (or let them assign some to you). When they feel part of the project, their anxieties and fears will be replaced by excitement and anticipation.
Reprinted from the book Remote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. Copyright 2013 by 37Signals, LLC. Published by Crown Business, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company. For more information, go to http://37signals.com/remote/