From the July 2000 issue of Startups

Your clients often have a voracious appetite and demanding nature. An out-of-control client whose expectations haven't been properly managed can eat you out of business. While the nature of doing good business is to accept that the client is always right, you can avoid problems before they begin. How can you keep expectations at a reasonable level? Here are some tips to review before you go out and get your first client.

  • The primary rule of client care is to establish what your role is and what you expect the client's role to be. Then outline, in writing, what each of your responsibilities are going to be. In the initial proposals and subsequent contracts, make sure you make a list of your deliverables and attach a timeline.
  • Have your client sign off on the written descriptions of roles and responsibilities, lists of deliverables and timelines. Save all documents, especially signed ones, in a safe place for future reference.
  • Use e-mail to your advantage. When I first started my business, I obsessively e-mailed each client after every single conversation, repeating what was just said. Not only did this give me needed documentation, but it also worked as a preventive measure against trivial miscommunications.
  • If you wear all the company hats- manager, bookkeeper, office manager- aside time each day or week to evaluate the progress of your clients' accounts. When possible, assign an account manager to the account- who is not bogged down or distracted by anything other than the continuous care of the client.
  • Think of your relationship with your client as long-term, not temporary. I looked at each client as a reflection of my own business ethic. I would only work with those people I liked and whose products I could get behind. I wanted my clients and their Web sites to be successful because it meant more exposure and credit for my company.

Aliza Sherman is an entrepreneur and author of Cybergrrl: A Woman's Guide to the World Wide Web (Ballantine Books, $12, 800-726-0600). She is currently working on her next book and new company.

The Irate Client

At some point, there's bound to be a misunderstanding or two with your client. Do not despair! Careful documentation along the way allows for a quick resolution if you mutually review the paper trail (hard copy or electronic).

Sometimes your client may become angry because of something you have or have not done. If the issue is your fault, such as a failure to deliver according to the timeline you both have established and signed off on, then own up to the mistake and figure out how to make amends. Often, if the fault is your own, the remedy will come out of your profits.

If the fault lies in the client's camp, then politely reconstruct the situation with your files and documents and offer solutions for solving the problem. In this case, get your client to agree to pay any additional charges that you will incur as you take the necessary steps to make things right. And get it all in writing.

New And Improved

Despite the ups and downs of having a client, don't resist getting another. Go for it! The best way to get clients is through positive word-of-mouth. The better you care for the ones you have, the more likely they will spread the word to others. Easily 75 percent of my clients came by other clients' referrals.

Be smart about getting that new client, says Gerri Detweiler, a former financial education consultant and co-founder of MoneyForMail.com, a permission-based marketing engine. "The harder you work, the more difficult the work will be. Look for clients who respect your judgment and credentials and who trust you'll do a good job."

How do you get in the right frame of mind to keep clients happy? Look at them as a crucial element of your business. If they go, you go. That's business!

OK, now that you've got clients...how do you know when to get rid of 'em? Turn to "Sell"/*create link to article titled "Sell"*/.