For freelance eLearning professionals and training consultants, building and nurturing relations with clients is integral to the success, growth, and sustainability of their business. Poor communication is a surefire way to damage any project or relationship.
Regular/prompt, detailed, and personalized communication.
That’s the secret to keeping clients happy and your eLearning projects on track.
This post will highlight the important tips for keeping healthy communication with your clients, without losing your sanity.
#1: Understand client expectations — Align your training to those expectations
Relationships are established the moment you communicate with the client about the project brief, their expectations and your commitment to exceed those expectations. Furthermore, you can build stronger client relationships by making sure that client expectations and the eLearning you build are in alignment.
Most of the times, it’s a commitment based on assumptions on what the client wants. Make it a habit to over-communicate. Ask detailed questions but avoid asking them all at once.
Many freelance eLearning professionals make the mistake of sending long and overwhelming questionnaires to the client and expecting that whatever the client sends back is information enough.
It never is.
Take time to discuss each section, or each component of the project with the client:
- Give them samples of what their expectation (or what is understood of it) would look like.
- Ask them to share examples of eLearning courses they liked, and follow it with questions about what they liked about them.
- You may even create sample content pieces (wireframes, an introductory screen, content layout, a short chapter with all formats of content etc.).
#2: Solve their puzzles for them — Create a development strategy
Often, you will find clients unable to “put their finger on the problem”. Clients are rarely experienced or equipped to put their finger on it, hence it's up to you (the seasoned eLearning professional) to lead them through, to gather the information, and to put together the puzzle for them — documenting all those “Eureka!” and “Exactly” moments and expectations.
Once you have reached an understanding, create a content development strategy that highlights areas where client’s participation and involvement is compulsory or essential.
Developing and sharing a strategy is also crucial to train your client’s behavior and setting reasonable timeline — to define the norms and reasonable expectations they can have from you (for instance, unreasonable deadlines and dead of the night calls and communication are out of order. Period.)
#3: Using expectations — Communicate milestones
The only way to stay on track is to realistically agree on the timeframe for your work. Start by informing your client of the timeline and break down of different content formats.
If the client insists on unrealistic timelines, explain the process and collaboration needed between different team members to complete a task. Discuss the steps in the process that will have to be cut short, and the possible impact it will have on the final results.
Bottom-line: Having clear deadlines is the key to an eLearning project's success.
#4: Handling deliverables — Communicate effort and educate
Clients make bad decisions and remarks when they do not adequately understand the effort that was put into a piece of content/deliverable. It is likely that a module with a video podcast might seem easier compared to one with an infographic and an animation.
You must communicate and educate them to differentiate between major content deliverables. Share your knowledge, and make them smarter.
This can be done by showing them, or educating them about the role of different team members, the dependencies during collaborative efforts: for instance, an animation in the podcast needs to be paced so that the voice over creates the right impact, and how the gestures of the person pointing at animated objects needs high levels of collaboration and retakes, etc.
Educating clients hammers your expertise on a subject matter you love, and reinforces authority and value — and hence the fact that they made the right choice hiring you in the first place.
#5: Keep yourself sane — Say “No” to bad ideas and decisions
It is important to involve the client in the project decisions. This, however, does not mean that you have to incorporate every idea they bring to the table.
If they come up with a bad idea, tell them.
Avoid shooting their ideas though. Discuss the idea and communicate the problem that it will cause, and give them an alternative.
Last moment changes:
At times, clients experience one of those dazzling Ah-ha! moments that commands them to make dramatic changes to the completed content. It significantly affects profit margins and wastes valuable time on project.
Communicate it to them, and let them go if they don’t understand it. You will find clients who understand the business world and work with you.
Protect yourself by creating a 'revision rules' in the contract and state costs for major revisions. Make sure you explain the details before the contract is signed.
#6: Develop prototypes — Leverage agile and rapid!
If an eLearning client doesn't know quite what they want, it can be difficult to get started. Given that many clients phase out and are unable to make up their minds with just a storyboard, you should leverage rapid prototypes of deliverables.
A great way of doing that is to rapid prototype a model for the deliverable that shows significant details of the design, content placement, and content formats to give them an idea of how the final will look like.
Prototypes should be quick, dirty, and incomplete, and hence always stuck in a cyclic loop of re-design, re-development, and review — until satisfied.
And you.... How do you keep your eLearning clients happy?