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How to survive in the freelance market – Part 5

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Quality control and maintaining satisfied clientsThis is the fifth of a six part series of articles from two ELT professionals who have successfully done just that: Mike Hogan and Bethany Cagnol. Here, they share advice on how to develop long-lasting relationships with your clients.

In the four previous articles, we discussed conducting market research, reflecting on your strengths and weaknesses as a business owner, how you can market your services to your clients and how much to charge. In this part five we will discuss what goes into maintaining satisfied clients. The exhilaration you feel when you sign with a new client is great indeed. Your business is now officially growing and it’s time to celebrate. But the honeymoon should be quick because you’ll have to jump into quality-control-mode right from the start.

In a 2013 webinar, James Schofield listed the three most common ways to annoy the training manager of a company.

  • Lack of professionalism
  • Lack of appearance
  • Lack of time keeping

These three elements are crucial in order to build and maintain relationships, and make sure your clients are satisfied with your services. From day one of the training, show up on time (or a bit early just in case), prepared, and looking like a true professional.

Communicating with HR

Don’t hesitate to frequently report to HR on how it’s going. Stop by their office or send an email and say, “Today went great. We covered these topics …” If you do stop by, and it’s been a long day, be sure you check yourself in a mirror before knocking on the door. Freshen up first, and don’t let your appearance give them reason to worry about the quality of the lessons.

If there’s ever an issue in or with your training, you need to take care of it immediately. For example, your clients want to get the best Return possible On their Investment (ROI), and they’re not getting that if your participants are either absent or not focused. It’s good business practice to inform the company when these or other factors that may affect their ROI happen; they will genuinely appreciate that you understand the importance of this. Transparency is key to building trust and relationships, and your honesty is an extra plus the client may or may not have gotten with a previous service provider.

Quality Control Methods

Questionnaires, handed out at the end of the training, are the most common form of quality control. Standardised corporate feedback forms are generally the same for any type of training delivered within the company, e.g. IT training. You could ask if you can adapt these to include specific questions about the course content, the materials and the methodology used. Most of the time, HR will agree to this, but if they are unable to, you could ask if you could also create your own, personal feedback form.

Secondly, ask the training manager if you can hand out the questionnaire half way through the training instead of at the end. This will help catch any issues that might develop into dissatisfaction before they get out of hand and affect your chances of signing on with that client in the future.

Thirdly, don’t hesitate to show HR the results of the questionnaire. Don’t hide from positive and negative feedback, and explain how you will modify the training to better meet the needs of their employees next time.

And finally, keep copies of the questionnaires because they can be an excellent source of praise for your company to put on your website (with the client’s permission, of course). Of course, in addition to the formal feedback and quality control of questionnaires, you should also always be carrying out informal verbal feedback by just talking to people. Ask them how they’re getting on and if you can be doing anything more/less/differently to be helping them reach their goals, and adapt accordingly.

Tough situations

Satisfaction can come at a price. Some clients may ask for things that are in contradiction with your company policy. One common example is a client insisting on having native-speaker-only trainers while your company uses a more inclusive approach. In such cases, you could sit down with the client to explain the benefits of both types of trainers and suggest a trial period with a non-native speaker. Another example is with issues surrounding downward price pressure. In the previous article, we warned against clients trying to set the price far below the local market value. In the end, you will waste an enormous amount of time on admin and/or commuting and it will have a negative effect on the quality of training you offer if you accept such contracts. Sometimes it’s best to maintain your own sense of integrity and know when to decline such training requests.

Be Referral-Focused

Depending on the country in which you live, obtaining new clients often depends on the referrals of others. Therefore, the more you concentrate on the needs, goals and satisfaction of your clients, the more likely they will refer you both internally and to other companies.

Bearing these factors in mind will help you lay the foundations for solid and long-lasting relationship with your clients.

Reference:
Schofield, J. 2013. What are the issues training managers face. February 27th webinar. Cambridge English Teacher.

 

This article first appeared in the March 2014 edition of the Teaching Adults Newsletter – a round-up of news, interviews and resources specifically for teachers of adults. If you teach adults, subscribe to the Teaching Adults Newsletter now.

 

© Mike Hogan and Bethany Cagnol, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the authors with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Author: Oxford University Press ELT

The official global blog for Oxford University Press English Language Teaching. Bringing teachers and other ELT professionals top quality resources, tools, hints and tips, news, ideas, insights and discussions to help further their ELT career. Follow Oxford ELT on Twitter. Find Oxford ELT on Google+.

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