Why Contract Management Isn’t a One Time Affair (and how to make it work for your business)
In my blogs, I often talk about the importance of contracts with new clients and what a good onboarding process looks like to ensure a good working relationship.
But what do you do with your existing clients?
Sometimes, we focus so much on our new clients that we allow existing business relationships to ‘carry on as usual’. That doesn’t mean we’re neglecting our older clients or providing them with a lesser level of support or customer service but we’ve fallen into a familiar routine that works for us.
And that’s ok. But what if we could be doing better? What if we’re missing out on potential opportunities and ways to strengthen our relationships with long-lasting clients by not paying quite as much attention as we could and should be?
In this blog, I want to share my thoughts on contract management, why it’s so important to ensure everything is going as well as it can with our existing clients and the best ways to ensure our relationships continue to be strong and successful.
Schedule an annual review with your clients
When we’re employed, it’s considered normal to have a yearly performance review to appraise our performance and compare it against expectations, recognise successes and also those weaker areas that can be worked on. That way we can improve as an individual and in our work for the company over the year ahead.
We don’t do this in the freelancing world and for good reason, we’re not employed! But that doesn’t mean we can’t take the principles of an annual performance appraisal and use them to ensure that:
- The terms of the signed contract are still being met
- Everyone is happy with the current arrangement
- Your performance is aligned with your client’s expectations
- That new opportunities aren’t being missed
Let’s take a closer look at each of these areas.
Is the contract you signed still relevant?
When you’re working long-term with a client, it’s not unusual for things to change. Perhaps you were asked to assist with diary and email management as a VA initially but since then, you’ve taken on more jobs and have grown into more of a marketing support role.
Relationships evolve but it is important to ensure that the contract still covers you and your client for the work you are doing. Sitting down together during a yearly review to discuss the tasks you’re being asked to do, remuneration, etc is important and then re-drafting the contract and signing it when updates are required.
Discussing pay increases, putting in place client boundaries and clarifying who should be paying for what (i.e. stock images, etc) can be difficult conversations to bring up. Having a set time to discuss these aspects once a year can make it easier to deal with the elephant in the room and be sure that everyone is happy with the arrangement moving forward.
Ensuring your work is meeting your client’s expectations
This can be another conversation that’s difficult to have. There is always a possibility that your client isn’t as happy with your work as you think they are. This might particularly be the case with long-lasting clients who don’t want to rock the boat.
On the flip side, you might feel that you’re doing everything you can for a client and they’re never happy! But when you ask for feedback, they’re not forthcoming about what you can actually change to improve things.
A structured annual review gives you both the chance to lay your cards on the table and be upfront about how you think things are going, where improvements can be made and to discuss together how to ensure the tasks you’re doing are meeting with your client’s expectations (and your own!)
Identify new opportunities for working with your client
Have you developed your skillset since signing your client and are they aware of the new services you have to offer? Or perhaps you work with a team of freelancers and are able to offer their services to your client on a ‘white label’ basis.
It’s only by having a catch-up with our clients and learning about their business plans, how they’re developing and what’s going on in their world that we can keep abreast of any additional support they may need and how you might be able to provide it.
What if a yearly review doesn’t work for us?
That’s ok. The point here is that you review things on a fairly regular basis to ensure everything is going as well as it can for you both. Catch-up calls every few months can achieve the same thing but I think it’s important to keep the structured, semi-formal approach of the yearly review where you can – those catch-up calls can often turn into social occasions rather than actually focusing on the conversations you really need to be having.
Getting feedback from clients can be difficult to do, so here are some more ideas for getting on top of things in your client relationships before they can become a problem.
What happens if the review doesn’t go well?
Sometimes we reach the end of the road with a client and it takes a proper sit-down and chat to reach that conclusion. And that’s ok – you’ve done nothing wrong.
Don’t be afraid to ditch clients if things aren’t working out. None of us want to have that conversation but sometimes it can be the best thing you can do, in terms of relieving stress, freeing up your time and resources for new clients and to focus on what you enjoy rather than work feeling like a chore.
I hope this blog has helped you understand a little more about contract management, why it’s important to review things regularly and some of the changes you can make to ensure a successful working relationship with your clients in the months and years ahead.