How contractors can build good relationships with their clients
The common thread that never changes in the hundreds of IT contractor recruiters who I’ve trained over the years is me installing in them the importance of building strong client and candidate relationships, writes Matt Collingwood, managing director of IT recruitment agency VIQU.
Many recruiters will initially tell me a strong client relationship is about knowing the client socially, supporting the same football team, and generally getting on. Well, I would describe that as more of a ‘friendship.’
How contractors can build good relations with their clients, professionally
Just like their recruiters, IT contractors need to look beyond these ‘social’ elements, as you are closing yourself off to a lot of people who you don’t share similar values and commonalities with. This could negatively impact your current contract or future projects.
A good contractor-client relationship can come in many shapes and sizes. For me, the core elements of a good and ongoing professional relationship are:
- strong communication;
- clear expectations;
- effective collaboration;
- all leading to -- mutual success.
And while friendship should certainly not be the goal, it can be a welcome addition.
Imagine the possibility of good business relationships with everyone you work with, instead of just a minority. This is actually a realistic prospect for all IT contractors, if you are willing to acknowledge the key components and take the necessary steps towards establishing good working relationships with your clients.
Why are good contractor-client relationships important?
Building good contractor-client relationships will continue to be important throughout your freelance career. However, I’d say that it’s especially important when you’re at the beginning of your contracting journey.
In addition to making your current project more straightforward, successful and rewarding, you will leave a lasting impression that could transpire into contract renewals, fantastic references and even future opportunities.
Building good contract-client relationships
The Four Cs of Trust -
Trust is the key component to any successful working relationship. Being your authentic self will help you establish a positive relationship with your client as they will be more inclined to trust you.
Building trust will help your clients feel comfortable around you and believe that you are offering a genuine service and have their organisation’s best interests at heart.
- Competency – The best contractors demonstrate that they are competent and can add value to their clients. This starts at the interview stage. You should be able to discuss real-life examples of your work and be able to supply a ‘brag folder’ of client references and letters of recommendation.
The ability to understand your client’s goals and objectives and to tailor your expertise against them is key. I’ve seen things unravel when a contractor without the correct level of competencies has blagged their way onto a project, only for it to fail on their watch. This is reputational suicide for contractors. You will come across as completely untrustworthy. You must understand what outcomes the client is seeking and what success for them looks like.
- Caring – Andy is my freelance gardener and I’ve consistently employed him for 15+ years at each of the three houses I’ve lived in over that period.
When Andy describes working on each of his client’s gardens, he says, “I treat each one as if it were my own.” Andy genuinely cares about his trade and the work he does.
Too often, I see contractors who just don’t care. They are happy to shoot down a recruiter reaching out or do a half-assed job on an assignment because they know they can secure another opportunity.
Andy certainly isn’t cheap. He takes pride in his work and each year he charges me an inflationary increase, which I am happy to pay. The main reason I’ve used Andy for 15 years and have never looked for a cheaper alternative, is because of the way he cares. It makes me trust him.
Contractors taking Andy’s approach to delivering assignments for their clients will establish business relationships built on peace-of-mind that the work is being done to the highest standard. This will often result in long-term, repeat business.
- Communication – I cannot stress enough how key effective communication is for contractors. Not only in building solid contractor-client relationships, but for the overall success of your current assignment or project.
There is absolutely no point doing the leg work to integrate yourself into your client’s team, if you’re not able to communicate effectively with them.
When you have an interaction with your client, transparency and honesty are key. It shows that you are trustworthy and care about the assignment.
Later on in this article, I talk more about how regular communication with your client will go a long way in showing how valuable you are and will drive home to the client that they should want to have a good working relationship with you.
- Consistent Values – Clients trust contractors who possess similar values to their own. Contractors who are honest, respectful, dependable, and open-minded are easier to build working relationship with.
What are your values as a contractor? If you only care about maximising your day rate, you are missing out on vital relationship building which could positively impact your back pocket in the long-term.
Just like mistaking ‘relationships’ for ‘friendships, many contractors avoid ‘networking’ because they are operating under the belief that it’s ‘socialising’. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Networking is a core component in building solid relationships. I recently wrote an article for Contractor UK, where I discussed reactive and proactive networking processes contractors can follow.
Whether you send your updated CV to recruiters after every project, use LinkedIn to your advantage; introduce clients to useful contacts and/or take your project-lead for a coffee, networking is about processes and consistency. Network with your clients and you will build good relationships that can be nurtured and developed to benefit you in the years to come.
I would like to stress the importance of not only networking with your existing peers, but continuing to focus on networking post-assignment. Doing so will keep your contractor- client relationships active -- and could result in future opportunities and/or referrals.
Maximise your perceived value
We have established why you want a relationship with the client. But think about why the client would want to have a good relationship with you!
Your value. The client will be invested in having a relationship with you because they see the value you bring to their business.
I’ve written about this many times, but it continues to be a vital component of contracting. Clients are not mind-readers. Fly your flag and show them your value. Make yourself indispensable!
Remember, the best contractors document weekly what they have done; the value they’ve added, and where their time and expertise have made a difference. They send this at the same time they submit their timesheet or invoice. Clients then have peace-of-mind that their decision to secure their services was the right decision. These are contractors who are invited back -- on their terms – again, and again.