I'm new to the forums and relatively new to freelancing. From my experience so far, I'm finding the hardest part is managing leads / clients. Do you have a successful process for client management that you can share?
This has been my process (more or less) so far:
- Make first contact with a lead
- Send portfolio of items that relate to the potential project (I'm a PHP developer, so I send links to websites and sample code if requested)
- Discuss project objective with lead via phone / email
- Send a proposal by email - usually hacked from a Word template that I've used for another client
- Follow up with the lead to answer questions / confirm their interest
- Send a PDF contract for them to sign and return
- Collect deposit if agreed upon
- Begin work on project - very little communication happens during the work phase
- If it's an hourly project, jot hours down on a timesheet and send invoices (another Word template) periodically
- Send URL of work-in-progress to client for review
- Follow up with client, get signoff
- Install project on client's server
- Send final bill and wait patiently for a check
These are the issues that I'm facing:
I feel extremely disorganized. Each time I share a portfolio, I gather resources to send and it seems like I'm doing duplicate work. For proposals / contracts, editing Word documents seem kludgy at best. Communication with the client is spread across many emails (and phone calls that aren't even tracked).
Clients change their minds. It's a problem with scope as well as flip-flopping on features. Then I need to dig up an old email to "prove" to them that they originally asked for "A", not "B".
Need to drag clients through the process. I'm often waiting for feedback from a client that puts development on hold. And getting them to pay for work that is already done can be like pulling teeth.
Lack of transparency for the client. While I'm working on the project, it would be helpful if the client knew what was going on. I think part of the reason that they drag their feet is because they don't realize all the work that I put into their project.
So, any insight into whether you deal with the same issues or how you have mastered a process that works for you? Also, is there any software that will help manage the whole process? I know there are tools for certain aspects, like BaseCamp or Freshbooks, but I'm wondering if there's an overall magic bullet that takes care of everything?
What I use as a freelancer is a small Application called Billings, which lets you create customers, projects etc, for billing, then I use an online project management tool called "Collabtive", which is open source, so you can install it free on your server, this lets you handle milestones and stuff like that, you can even create a user for your customer, so he can see what's going on, and there is included instant messenger, so you can chat with your customer, if he has questions.
If you're using mac etc, there is a program called TextExpander, you can create default mails, documents and so, where it will fill in information you just provide - This is good for proposal or contracts
Taking contact with your customer is often time-consuming, also because many customers don't know much about the subject, so you really need to explain to the customer how everything works. But yeah, for me, I even have snippets in TextExpander, that contains information, what hosting, domains, databases, and stuff like that is, and a good way to explain it.
A tip, when you take contact to a customer, is to focus on one subject, if they only ask for 1 subject, the customer gets easy confused if you write about different subjects in same mail.. At least what experience I have.
That's your problem right there.
Generally, Keep the client busy and engage them early. This helps with finding issues earlier on and also if you're late with delivering. I've never had a client complain about a deadline, if there was things to do for themselves.
On a more formal side, do you also have lots of fixes to do at the end of a project? You may need to spend more time on project planning, risk analysis and daily smoke tests may help you engage the client and reduce your bug rate.
So much of our Ability to help a client Is rooted in their level of organization. So some of our best clients are those clients who Organize their work in documents That are easy to understand. Things like chat can be Very inefficient. if a client wants something big, we first insist that they spend time creating clear instructions. with out this week generally will not accept a large project.
As for billing, We simply charge per hour. Our top programmers Are always fully booked. That is 1 of the reasons Why we will only Give them a new job When the instructions provided By the customer Are very clear. Otherwise, We are wasting valuable Programming time That could be used Actually doing work.
So as you can see, We expect a lot From our customers. And that means They can expect A lot more from us.
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