How to best support your clients while working remotely
WORDS Maggie Harris
I started working remotely over three years ago now, and over that time, have been through the ups and downs that we all inevitably face while working remotely. But the freedoms of working remotely and running a location-independent business are a huge drawcard for most people (especially for me, as I now travel full-time), but there are also financial incentives like lower overheads is making the concept more and more attractive for us.
We all know technology is rapidly changing the way we work and statistics are showing that globally, as much as 70% of the workforce works remotely at least once per week, while 53% spend at least half their week working remotely.
Learning to navigate client relationships from a remote perspective will take some getting used to. In this article, I’ll share with you some of the most valuable tools and techniques I’ve come across for keeping clients engaged and satisfied when operating remotely.
Boundaries and the 80/20 rule
No matter what type of business you operate, you are going to encounter a myriad of different personalities in your client base. The 80/20 rule dictates that often, the clients who are worth just 20% of your revenue will take up 80% of your time. This tends to happen in any business, regardless of whether you’re off-site. However, once you’re operating remotely on a full-time basis, this can spiral out of control to the point that you find yourself working all hours of the day and night, sleep becomes a distant memory, and your quality of work starts to slip. The key to keeping your time with the ‘20%’ bunch under control is to set clear boundaries.
Without a doubt, you’ll encounter clients who will expect you to answer their calls at all times of the day and night once you’ve started working remotely, as many believe that the traditional working hours don’t apply to you, as a non-traditional business owner. Depending on the way you choose to operate, this might even be the case. But I’ve found that setting clear working hours has helped me enormously in avoiding burnout, and to keep my clients at bay & in the know.
When you’re onboarding a new client, be sure to make it clear to them what they can expect from you. Here are some of the expectations I outline to my new clients:
Meetings, whether phone or video, must be scheduled (no accepting the “I’ll just give you a quick call now to discuss” unless it’s urgent)
I will only take meetings during business hours, except where working with clients in different time zones makes this impossible
I set expectations for how many phone or video meetings I’ll offer before billing for extra time (once per week, once per fortnight, or monthly, for example)
We work together to set clear deadlines for tasks AND for client feedback on tasks
I will respond to all emails within 24 hours
I require at least a one-week lead time for tasks, unless urgent (when urgent, a rush fee applies, and is dependent on my availability)
Of course, all rules need to be flexible depending on the client and the situation. But by outlining your boundaries from the get-go, you can avoid those awkward conversations, hurt feelings, and disappointments for your client. Not to mention, avoid letting certain clients rule your life. These boundaries keep everyone happy – including you.
Speaking of meetings…
Scheduling regular catchups with your clients is one of the most effective ways to keep them engaged, and not being in the office doesn’t mean you can’t have productive, face-to-face meetings. All you need is a couple of handy tools which make digital meetings a breeze. Here are two of my favourites:
Zoom: Zoom allows you to schedule video or phone meetings, send calendar invites, and offer your client a web link to quickly and easily join the meeting from their smartphone or computer. What’s more, you can also record the meeting and send a copy to your client, your team members, or yourself for future reference. (I even know some business owners who use Zoom meetings to record client testimonials, which are then turned into great video content for their website!) It’s free to sign up and offers a range of pricing options with upgraded features.
Calendly: Calendly is a great meeting scheduling calendar app, allowing your clients to go ahead and schedule meetings with you, without the back-and-forth emails. It can be integrated with Zoom on the Premium and Pro plans (starting from $8 USD per month) too, which makes booking in your video or phone meetings that much easier. This tool is really handy for keeping those boundaries in check, as clients will only be able to book in at times you’ve chosen to be available. I find that answering a “Can we have a quick chat?” email with a “Here’s my calendar, feel free to go in and schedule one in when it suits you!” takes care of any boundary-pushing clients. It’s also great from a client perspective, as they can clearly see when you’re available, and choose a time that suits their schedule best, all without having to pick up the phone or send you an email request. Win, win!
Skype: I don’t actually use Skype for video calls at all anymore, now that Zoom has come into my life. But it has two other great features that I use regularly. As I travel full-time, I rarely use my Australian sim card – the call costs are just too high. However, Skype allows me to have a dedicated Australian landline number which my Aussie clients can call at any time (and leave a voicemail message if they like). I also have my mobile number associated with my Skype account, so for just a few cents, I can dial a number anywhere in the world and have my own mobile number show up on the recipient’s caller ID. This helps with keeping consistency with clients and saves them the confusion about which country I’m calling from (do you answer the phone when those random international numbers show up? Neither do I.) It’s more about keeping up appearances than anything else, but it’s all about peace of mind for my clients, and it works wonders.
Task and project management
Whether you’re a writer like me, a graphic designer, an accountant, or something entirely different, communicating clearly and regularly with your clients is crucial. Working remotely can make this more challenging than working on-site, but a few simple tools can make all the difference.
Fun fact: A Stanford study found that workers who work from home are, on average, 13% more productive than those who work in an office environment. That equates to almost one extra day of work per week being achieved by someone working remotely! Watch a great TEDx Talk about that here.
Trello: I love Trello and use it with almost all of my clients. This platform – which is free! – allows you to create ‘task cards’ for each task or project, tag the relevant people in the task, create handy checklists for ticking off, upload documents for editing and approval, and set deadlines and reminders. It makes keeping on top of tasks and keeping both you and your client (as well as other team members that you might have working with you) on track and accountable. It also saves you the typical back-and-forth emails and missing files that we’re all too familiar with. Everything is in one place, and everyone is in on the loop. Handy, right?
BaseCamp: This is another similar platform that some of my clients are already using within their teams. Like Trello, this platform is really designed around the needs of remote teams. It has similar features to Trello but a slightly different layout. Choose the one that appeals to you most.
Slack: This is an increasingly popular messaging platform used for remote teams, which allows you to create different channels depending on who needs to be included, or what project you’re working on, for example. It’s an easy way to share information, send updates and keep a chat line open between you and your client, as well as any other team members you’ve got working with you. (As an aside: I have now stopped using Slack, as I’ve found it can become a time-sucking distraction for any of those text-happy clients and is sometimes just another way for them to infiltrate your day! Use with caution, is my advice!)
As the trend towards working remotely increases (and it will), more of us will be working remotely. Whether that be from home in Australia, or travelling the globe as a digital nomad, the tools listed above will help you keep your business running smoothly, help you manage your time and your workload, and keep your clients engaged and happy.
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Interested in getting to know Maggie & her work better? You’ll find her here.