Getting Client Information — And Keeping It Organized
I have one client with a two-week cycle for invoices, who is always out of the office on Mondays. I have another client who pays invoices on a monthly cycle and wants copies of all projects sent to three different stakeholders.
Remembering these details about my clients are crucial for making sure they remain my clients, but I certainly have no hope of remembering all of it on my own. To make matters more complicated, getting these details in the first place can be completely complicated: how often do you have to rely on trial and error to find out when a client is actually in the office?
Learn About Your Client
Just as you need to educate a client about the way you do business, you need to educate yourself about the way your client operates if you want to keep a client for the long-term. And with your experience as a freelancer, you probably already know what kind of information you want from each client. After you’ve worked with a few different clients, you’ll know the information you need to make your own processes flow more smoothly. From there, it’s just a matter of actually getting it.
Getting more than the name and email address of your client should be a normal part of your process when working with a new client. You can make a standard questionnaire that includes questions on a client’s invoicing policies and other details that can speed up your communications, or you can take a more informal route. The important thing is to get the information you need from each client as early in the process as you can: knowing for certain when your client will be in his or her office can save you hours of trying to get in touch with them on a crucial decision or it can make your invoice go through in a matter of minutes rather than getting it turned around for something little like a missing P.O. number.
Organize Your Client Information
Assuming you’re working with more than one client at a time, you need to have some sort of system to organize all that information you collect about each client. In the earliest days of my freelancing career, I relied entirely on my email: I figured that I could just search for “client’s name + invoice” (or whatever other information I needed). It was almost amusing how quickly that system fell apart. Whenever I discussed projects over the phone, I’d have holes in my email records, and that was just the start of my problems. Learn from my mistake. Take a few extra steps to make sure that your client information is organized.
There are more than a few ways to do so, of course. Here are just a few examples of systems I’ve seen in action:
- CRM options like Highrise, Zoho CRM, or even something as fancy as Salesforce
- TiddlyWiki or another wiki that you can set up on your own computer (most of the free online options just don’t have enough security to use with sensitive client details)
- Individual files for each client, including some sort of notes page
- An address book for email with plenty of information in the ‘Notes’ field
There’s really no wrong way to track your client’s particulars, as long as your system works well with your process and you remember to capture details whether you’re talking with a client on the phone, via email or even meeting in person. There are a few factors to keep in mind as you choose a method of your own, of course.
Not only does your system have to be easy to use, but it also needs to be fairly secure. You’ll likely have all sorts of information on your clients that you’d rather not share with the world: prospective clients probably don’t need to know what you’ve charged in the past, current clients shouldn’t see the notes you’ve made on how to deal with troublemakers, and your competition does not need information on just what one of your clients needs. Whether that means using a solution like an online CRM application where you need to log in or you choose to store all of your information on your own system, you should take the question of security into account when looking at your options.
If you’ve had luck with a particular method of tracking your clients’ information, please share your experiences in the comments.