If you've taken on any sort of client work, you will understand that effective client care and customer service require a huge amount of effort. Before I started my business, I really had no idea what it entailed, and I fumbled a lot as I learned how to lead clients through my process. It has taken some time, but I've finally arranged a system that works pretty well. It’s far from perfect and I'm constantly looking for ways to make things better, but I wanted to share with you my top tools to keep positive client communications.
Firstly, I should mention that my main goal with client care listening. It’s the most valuable tool to develop when it comes to working with clients and over time I've learned I can make any client happy if I just shut up and listen. Yes, it’s important to have smart questions and to explain your process. But you need to really focus on goals and content and the only way to learn this is by listening. Awhile back I wrote a post about leading discovery meetings, so check it out if you are looking for more tips on this. I can’t stress enough how important it is to prepare for these meetings so you can truly focus on your client and their needs.
In an attempt to systematize my client processes, I've found that keeping a collection of email templates is super handy. The typical path a client will travel when working with me is generally the same. One example of this is when a new client reaches out, they usually want to know a bit more about my services and set up a meeting to discuss their project.
Enter email template number one - a well written paragraph explaining my service, the value of explainer animation videos and how previous clients have used the final video to reach their audience. I also stress the value we place on discovering the client's story and uncovering the main goal of the video. It’s a great time to mention process in this email and I always link to my process page. I will customize this email template by answering any of their questions and then suggesting a couple dates/times for our first meeting.
This is just one example of an email template. But my collection includes templates for sending contracts and invoices, status updates and meeting follow ups. As soon as you find yourself writing the same email more than once, it’s time to make a template! But remember, a template doesn't mean that the email becomes less personal. Always take the time to do some research on the client and if you find anything unique or interesting about their product or idea, tell them you are excited about the potential to work with them because of this. Be genuine and honest. Oh, and remember to spell their name correctly in the greeting.
Part of our process is writing a script, which is the foundation of every explainer animation we create. We place a huge value on this part of the process and stress the importance of involvement to each of our clients. Since we go back and forth with revisions and edits, we've found that Google docs is the best method to share and track feedback on the scripts. It’s usually easiest for all client since just about everyone has a gmail account or, at the very least, familiar with google apps.
When sharing a document with clients, you can limit the access they have to the document which is super helpful. For example, we always allow clients to make comments and suggestions, but would never give them access to fully edit the script. The purpose for this is to preserve the original work provided by our writer and it will make his work much easier if he can see comments and suggestions rather than having to scramble around to sort out original script and client additions.
Earlier this year, a brilliant tool called “Wipster” was introduced to me through the animation community grapevine. It’s probably one of the best feedback tools I could imagine for gathering feedback from video. The process is so easy: simply upload a video, share it with your client and let them leave comments - right on the timeline. Just like this:
Also, the tool is totally free if you upload less than 15 minutes per month; so, if you are in the business of short animations, this is perfect for final animation reviews. You can upgrade to a paid monthly membership if you need more space or you can gain more space through referrals, similar to the dropbox model.
I have had nothing but great results from using Wipster. However, it might be helpful to mention that some professionals in the community have complained that giving clients the freedom to comment and critique this easily has caused problems. The main issue being excessive and pointless revision requests.
Of course I don’t know the exact situation these animators and videographers are in with their clients and we all know clients come in all forms. But one way to avoid this situation might be to outline feedback parameters to the client. Before you hand over the link to the video, be sure to include some expectations for the revisions. Ask the client to review the areas of the video that will be helpful for you (such as pacing and flow of video, communication of overall story), and ask them to avoid commenting on unhelpful items (such as color, logo size or composition). Be specific and guide them through the revision process. Most clients don’t have a clue how to give feedback, so it’s our job as professionals to make this as clear, easy and enjoyable as possible. Don’t make them guess - this will only cause frustration on both sides.
As a freelancer, there is no getting around the dreaded money stuff. I hate accounting and I'm not shy to admit that I've been terrible at it from the start. Of course I have no choice but to put on the accounting hat every few days but since the beginning of my venture, I've been on the lookout for ways to make this less painful.
Enter Wave accounting, which I was introduced to a year ago. It has seriously changed my perspective on accounting, invoicing and money management in general. Not only is Wave the simplest accounting app for small business, it’s also completely free until you grow your business to the point where you need payroll. The app connects to your bank accounts and will automatically populate all your transactions. So, when it comes time to sort out your taxes, you can skip the tedious task of entering each expense manually.
I'm also loving the dashboard which visually displays my monthly revenue and expenses in pretty graphs, rather than some number chart that makes my brain hurt to decipher. For us creative folks, customized infographs give Wave massive brownie points.
But, back to the focus on clients, I love the invoicing feature in Wave. It’s really simple to add your clients to the roster and you can customize a beautiful invoice design that lines up with your brand. Upload your logo, customize the font and color, enter all the invoice info and send it directly to your client from the app. When your client has paid up, you can connect that transaction to your invoice; and when your client is a bit tardy with payments, Wave will tell you by marking the invoice “overdue”.
The big takeaway here is that Wave will give you that extra edge to boost your professionalism. When it comes to accounting, your clients will respect you even more if they perceive you as savvy with your finances. Sending out professional invoices and staying on top of your finances are the details that promote your services as professional and trustworthy. Thankfully Wave has figured out how to make this as simple as possible and it’s almost got me to the point where I don’t totally hate dealing with my accounting...almost.
Well that’s it folks, I hope this blog series on tools has been helpful for you as you sort out your daily systems. I love sharing what I learn as I make my way along this bumpy road of building a creative animation business. But, I’d love to hear more from you about what it is you are struggling with or other ideas you have about creativity, business or animation. Go ahead and leave a comment below or send me an email. I will be sure to respond to you!