Getting a Handle on Project Communications
We’ve all done it: we talked to the client, we thought it was all agreed to, we moved forward. Then we found out that what the client thought they had agreed on wasn’t what we’d heard at all. Usually these situations don’t turn out well; however, the good news is that they can usually be avoided.
Many agencies focus on the creative and technical aspects of their work, and they should. But business details matter and how professionally you communicate with your prospects and clients reflects on your agency just as much as your work product.
Now there’s an easy way to raise your agency’s communications game: Email PRO™, a set of 35 professionally designed email scripts to use from handling the initial inquiry, through the project, all the way to its completion.
Broken into three modules, each available separately, the EmailPRO™ scripts cover:
Each script covers a specific circumstance and is designed to be easily customizable to your agency’s specific needs.
The Basics of Good Communication with Prospects and Clients
One thing most prospects and clients have in common is very little time: they have to concentrate on running their business. When we communicate with them, this is the first thing to recognize. Our message must clearly get the point across, briefly and professionally. The EmailPRO™ scripts are designed to do just that.
Good writing is always concise; if a word doesn’t add to the message being conveyed, it needs to go. This is especially true when prospects and clients are bombarded with perhaps hundreds of emails daily. Your message has to cut through that clatter.
EmailPRO™ messages have been designed without any extraneous information whatsoever. Your client will receive a professionally-written communication that includes only what they need to know to respond.
Confirming Everything in Writing
From your initial discussions with prospects to important project dates and commitments, you should confirm everything in writing. Besides showing your professionalism, confirmations serve as an important reminder for a busy person.
Quite frankly, you also need to protect your agency. Whether you are requesting payment, design approval, or informing the client of a delay, putting things in writing has a way of clarifying things and it puts a legal stake into the ground (in case things get ugly later).
The EmailPRO™ scripts cover everything you’ll need to confirm from your initial discussion with the prospect, though receipt of materials, to confirmation of site support responsibilities after launch.
Using a Business-Like Tone
No one would suggest that clients cannot be friends, or that your business relationship couldn’t become a friendship later on. That isn’t an excuse for overtly informal communications; and, in many cases, such a tone doesn’t get taken seriously.
Each EmailPRO™ script has a consistently professional and business-like tone that will get you results. Whether your agency is a “one person show” or a larger business, your clients will see you as the professional that you are.
An important aspect of managing project communications is being consistent. Remind clients in advance of significant deliverables or project milestones. Acknowledge every important item that you’ve received. Always keep on the subject at hand.
From the Udemy Blog at author Kasia Mikoluk underscores that consistency of message is critical, saying:
…all business communication must have consistency of tone, voice and content. A humorous satire on one page, a serious explanation on another will alienate your readers.
If your client’s payment or approval is delayed, you should always send along a polite, but firm reminder. The client needs to know that you are paying attention to the project schedule and doing everything possible to keep it on track—including managing their commitments.
Think about it: if a few emails can make the project complete on time and to the client’s satisfaction, isn’t it worth the time to send them? The three EmailPRO™ modules contain a total of 35 consistently professional pre-written scripts covering every aspect of agency/client and agency/prospect communications.
Aligning Communication with Your Development Contract
The contract you have with the client should outline all the obligations of each party through the project. Your email communications must clearly align with your contract and, where appropriate, directly reference it.
Email PRO™ scripts feature extensive suggestions on elements that are critical to include in your contracts covering things like delays, project termination, intellectual property rights, and asserting your right to use design elements to market your agency.
(If you have questions about your agency’s contracts, we suggest seeing a legal professional. To study up on development contracts, here are some great resources gathered by our friends at Elegant Themes).
Perhaps the most common aspect of projects that you need to carefully communicate is a delay in the schedule. No delay is ever good, whether caused by the client or caused by your agency.
But beyond the notification of a delay, the most effective communication is one that contains:
1. The reason for the delay
2. The specific amount of the delay
3. Any possible paths to getting back on schedule
And—most importantly—if you are asking the client for something specific related to the delay, that you make it very clear that their action is required. We’ve included several EmailPRO™ scripts to help you professionally handle delays.
Since most agencies ask for some payments prior to project completion, ensuring you receive those payments in a timely matter can have a huge effect on the project.
They are particularly important in larger projects where there are subcontractor labor costs or you will be purchasing items of behalf of the client (like plug-ins and stock graphics). You don’t want your agency to get stuck paying them, without having received payment from your client.
Again, remember this isn’t just about getting payment; it’s about keeping the project on schedule.
At the End of the Project
A Successful Conclusion
We hope that all of our projects end on time, on budget, and with a happy client. We know that doesn’t always happen. Your communications strategy and your contract should anticipate and accommodate a variety of scenarios at the end of a project.
When the project completes normally, who will be responsible for site maintenance and updates? You’ll need to clarify that in writing. (It’s very important that sites are fully protected and up-to-date when they launch, and that they’re maintained in that condition. You want to push the client as hard as possible to get those arrangements in place before launch, whether they choose that service from your agency or not).
If you plan to use the site in your agency portfolio, do the client the courtesy of confirming that (even if it’s in your contract already—as it should be).
A Premature End to the Project
Not every project ends as it should. And it doesn’t have to be a bad situation if it’s handled professionally. Your agency’s goals have to be:
1. Get all payments due to your agency
2. Complete work that has been paid for
3. Ensure client understands the reason(s) project did not complete
4. Ensure client understands their options
While it is not always possible to keep feathers from being ruffled when a project is canceled, maintaining a businesslike tone throughout will always offer the best results.
Making Good Communication an Agency Strategy
Good communication isn’t a one-time thing or a part-time pursuit. It should be integral to your business strategy and, by including it at the end of this post, we are not suggesting that it is an afterthought.
We hope you will make full use of the EmailPRO™ scripts and make them part of an overall agency communications strategy. We welcome any comments or suggestions on the product, or stories of how you’ve made use of them.