Pillar #4: Deliver Excellent "Customer Service"

Today we're going to discuss what's probably the most under-rated and overlooked aspect of growing a super-successful solo practice.

And that's a shame. Because when you do this right, you will set yourself apart... and quickly become your clients' favorite freelancer.

It's no secret that people want to do business with those they like and trust. And that adage has never been more relevant than it is today.

Here's the deal: The Internet; social media; and websites such as Elance, oDesk and Guru.com have made finding a service provider easier than ever. As a result, the "technical" aspects of our day-to-day work are being commoditized.

At the same time, clients are placing more value on interpersonal and customer service skills. That's because they realize that they have thousands of competent freelancers available to them at any given moment.

But that's not the problem.

The problem is finding someone they can work with. Better yet, someone who's a real pleasure to do business with.

I'm not saying technical skills don't matter. But you could be the best "technician" in your field. Yet if you're rude, unreliable or just not easy to work with, your clients will soon replace you with someone else, even if the replacement is not as skilled in your profession as you are.

5 Essential Customer Service Credos

How do you develop strong customer service? Here are five customer-service credos every successful freelancer must adhere to:

These might appear to be very basic standards, but they're worthy of discussion because, surprisingly, not all freelancers adhere to them on every job. And those who do adhere to them on a consistent basis tend to land the better clients and better projects... and at higher fees!

Credo #1: Be a Joy to Work With

Freelancers who are rude, short-tempered or arrogant always seem to have a hard time finding great clients and landing high-paying projects. Ironically, they always seem to be complaining about this!

So... don't be unpleasant to work with by heaving an audible sigh when the client asks for minor revisions or changes to your work. Make it your mission to be the person who delivers excellent work on every project. And make the entire process a treat for the client!

Credo #2: Be Professional

If you call yourself a professional, you must act professionally. And this means much more than simply meeting deadlines, keeping promises and so forth. This means you take ownership of the work you engage in.

You work with a client to get a project finished. You do away with the "I've done my part; now the ball's in the client's court" attitude that so many freelancers adopt. And instead, you adopt a more positive, collaborative outlook. You accept feedback with confidence and humility, and you strive to make clients happy.

By the way, being a true professional is also about being gracious, even in difficult situations. For instance, over the last four years, I've hired a number of freelancers to help me with client projects and other side ventures. In many cases, I had a few people to choose from, so I went with the individual who seemed to be the best person for that particular job.

When I contacted the other freelancers to thank them for their interest in the project and to let them know that I hired someone else for the job, I was surprised at how many of them never responded. And a few I did get ahold of even got mad at me for not picking them!

Now... granted, I would never expect anyone to be thrilled at losing a project. But if a client takes the time to let you know what they decided to do, it's common courtesy to acknowledge their email or voice-mail message and thank them for at least considering you.

Clients often remember these things. And when another opportunity comes up, they're certainly not going to go back to those who acted unprofessionally.

Credo #3: Deliver Outstanding Work

It's absolutely critical that you put forth your best effort and deliver your best work on every project. That means not rushing to complete jobs and not trying to cram your schedule so tight with deadlines that you're always working under intense time pressure to get projects out the door. When you do that, the quality of your work will suffer, and so will your chances of securing repeat business.

In my case, I run all my work through a quality-control process that involves multiple edits over several dates. I even use an outside proofreader as a final quality step. It sounds simple, but these extra steps have made a huge difference in client satisfaction and my rate of repeat business.

Credo #4: Be Flexible

This is about realizing and accepting the fact that not all projects are going to go smoothly. You might encounter delays because someone in your client's company is unreachable for a day or two. A certain phase might get put on hold. Or the scope might change considerably midway through the project.

These things happen, so you must expect them and roll with them. Too often, the difference between average and top-earning freelancers is that the top earners always try to create win-win outcomes for themselves and their clients rather than complain and get deflated when a project doesn't go according to plan.

Credo #5: Thank Clients Frequently

As busy as they are, your clients are human beings. They appreciate sincere gestures and acts of kindness just like everyone else. Let your clients know you appreciate their business. A handwritten thank-you card sent through the mail is a high-impact and low-cost way to do just that.

You don't have to send a card out for every project, but certainly send at least one at the beginning of your first engagement. As your relationship grows, you can even go a few steps further by expressing your appreciation with a small, suitable gift such as a gift card for a favorite coffee shop, a bottle of wine, chocolates, flowers or a gift basket.

Living up to these basic customer service standards is not hard. And frankly, when you adhere to these principles alone, you're going to start seeing better and steadier clients flowing your way. It's inevitable!

OK... that's a wrap-up! Stay tuned for the next lesson because we're going to talk about how to improve your cash flow, boost your financial health and reduce the money-related stress many freelancers face at the end of the month!

Keep on rockin'...

Ed Gandia
Co-founder, International Freelancers Academy

P.S.

Did you get here via a link from a friend or through Twitter? This lesson is part four of a seven-part free mini-course on building a rock-solid freelance business. You can learn more about it and sign up here.