When Julius Cesar was murdered by a group of Roman Senators he looked to one Senator, and good friend, Marcus Brutus and uttered the ever famous words “Et tu Brute?” (“Even you, Brutus?”). Those words have since become synonymous with trust defied and ultimate betrayal. Trust takes time to build and only a single instance to shatter it. As business owners and consultants, the difficulty of building trust can be magnified by your clients previous experiences, experiences that had nothing to do with you.
While all businesses bear the burden of building trust and creating a positive experience for their clients, consultants and freelancers have added challenge because we are the product. I know you may think that what you do is your product but it’s not, your customers will hire you, re-hire you, recommend you because of their experience with you more so than for your skills.
You are also your best differentiator. A lot of people have your skills (sorry to burst your bubble), so how you execute, the experience you create and trust you build with your clients will differentiate you more than your ability to write php, design a pretty logo or crunch numbers (or whatever you do).
Think of trust as a form of currency, it’s something that must be earned and can pay dividends for a long time. No one owes it to you and you aren’t granted trust by default, it’s going to take work.
Trust is also much easier to squander than earn.
So why don’t they trust you?
While every situation is different, it’s often because previous consultants or businesses they’ve worked with have underperformed, over-represented their abilities, or generally not created a positive experience for the client.
If you are in a project with a client and sense a lack of trust it may be that expectations are not being properly set. More on that shortly…
Lack of trust can also stem from our occasional gaffe in taking on work that we shouldn’t (aren’t really qualified, don’t have the time, …) rather than referring that work to someone else.
Clients also have trust issues because they know that they may not have the expertise to properly vet your experience and have to go on a little faith and how they feel about you. Yes, they’re insecure and they should be, it’s their money and business that depend on you doing what they are hiring you do so put them at ease…
How Do I Overcome A Lack Of Trust?
While impossible to say for every situation, there are a few rules that will help you build trust, avoid eroding it and generally create a more positive experience for your client in most situations:
1. Be brutally honest, with your [prospective] client and yourself. If the work is not in your expertise recommend them to someone (or help them find someone) who’s expertise it is. It can be hard to pass up work when you know there is a paycheck waiting but it’s not worth the nightmare at the other end and the damage it can do to your reputation. By referring them to someone good you will already be earning their trust.
2. Be generous with your knowledge. You don’t have to give away the farm before they hire you but once they do unload on them, make them feel as though they are getting, and learning, far more than they bargained for.
3. Manage Expectations. This one is harder than it sounds, especially when some clients come in with unreasonable expectations to begin with, but 9 times out of 10, if expectations aren’t met it’s because we’ve failed to manage them from the start. I recently heard John Jantsch (Duct Tape Marketing) speak to the Social Media Club of Dallas and he eloquently stated that “nothing will erode trust faster than failing to meet expectations”, and it’s all too true…
This is a big one so it deserves a few tips for managing expectations:
4. Be responsive but don’t always respond immediately. One of the biggest traps is getting caught in an email “conversation.” Rarely is anything coming across email an emergency (if it is they’ll call) and if you always respond from email immediately they’ll always expect you to and that is a communications nightmare. Rather, let them know that you check email a few times a day and stick to it so you aren’t stuck in email instead of doing your job.
5. Anticipate what your client will need. Remember, they don’t know what they don’t know, that is why they’ve hired you! You’ve done this 100+ times, they never have, so develop a process you can follow that will help ensure requirements are gathered and expectations set up front. Be patient with them and be thorough here. Quick example: when building a website I always tell the client (even before getting hired) that content is their responsibility. Sounds obvious right? But to someone that’s never built a site the content is a part of the site. Trust me, you don’t want to get to the end of a project only to find that the client thought you were writing all of their content too.
6. Do what you say you will and when. If it’s going to take you a week to do something tell them 10 days. It’s the old under-promise and over deliver premise. That might sound less than ethical but the reality is that things come up, things change, and we run into any number of bumps in the road. Give yourself time and pad it a little to be sure that no matter what happens or whose fault it is you can still meet the deadlines you agree to. (For the sake of transparency, this is the one I have the hardest time with).
While this feels like one of those “common sense” posts it’s easy to get caught in our busyness and the myriad of things we have to always do and forget the basics. Your clients want to trust you but you have to give them reason to.
How do you mange client expectations?
How do you build trust?
What do you do to create an overwhelming positive experience for your clients?
How do you repair trust when you make a mistake (we all do)?