The most important thing I’ve learned since I started freelancing is this: not all value is created equal.
There’s the value you feel that you provide. Then there’s the value your client perceives that you provide. And then there’s the value that you communicate that you provide.
This last type of value is perhaps the most important, since it’s in communicating value that we get the opportunity to broaden the clients’ perceptions of what value is, and so increase our perceived value to them.
You’re not just ticking all the boxes: you’re adding items to the checklist itself, then meeting them.
We tend to think that communicating value is a complex psychological process or, at the very least, something that involves slick slide transitions and salesmanship.
But this isn’t the case. In fact, there are three automatic ways to communicate to your client the value you’re providing.
What is value?
Only by getting to know your client will you learn what’s valuable to them. For most clients, though, value contains many parts, from cost-effectiveness to long-term potential to the efficiency and smoothness of the project itself.
As you take the brief and discuss the projects with them, try to get a feel for where they feel the value of the project lies—both as an organization, and as individuals trying to meet their KPIs and build their careers.
A clear scope with the right details
Obviously a project scope needs to contain all the information you need to detail for the project. But depending on what you’re providing, that scope may not need to be as thick as your wrist.
If it does, an attached precis might serve to communicate the value more swiftly to stakeholders who don’t need to read the whole thing from cover to cover.
If, on the other hand, you’re the kind of freelancer who embarks on projects on the strength of a one-line email from a client, you might want to reconsider that approach, at least in the case of bigger projects.
Clients needs to know what they’re paying for—not just in terms of a tangible product, but also in terms of any behind-the-scenes or potential advantages you’ll build in.
Don’t assume that more is more as far as detail goes. Remember: your perceptions of value differ from those of your client. You need to gauge what aspects of the value will interest them, and which aspects they’ll naturally see as having value. Geek out on your explanation of value—get too high-level or fine-detail—and you’ll likely lose them and your opportunity to communicate any kind of value at all.
Regular progress updates about the project are an essential, natural way to communicate value, especially if you present them in person.
If your progress reports consist of single-line statements about aspects of the project, perhaps consider building in a bit more detail.
When I give clients an update, I always tell them how the project budget’s looking. If, as is often the case, we’re coming in under-budget, I make that clear. But even if we’re not, I use this opportunity to remind my clients of what we do have—how far we’ve come through the project, what assets we’ve already created—and to give them a prognosis of what’s left to do.
“We’re on budget,” I might say, “which is great because the most complex parts of the project are done. We can start rolling those out now, while I finish off the final stages, if that’ll give you a head-start on the next phase of the project.”
An itemized invoice isn’t just an opportunity to justify your bill. If you do it right, you can use an itemized invoice to:
- favorably compare time and cost estimates with actual figures
- highlight any discounts or deals you’ve given—and the value delivered for less
- show your clients where actual savings have been made through your own efficiencies
- itemize the outcomes they’re buying—not just the time you’ve charged them for
- plant the seeds in their mind for spending any budget you’ve saved them with you, perhaps on extra elements for this project, or something else entirely.
Again, you can run the risk of overloading clients with too much detail in invoices, so be careful to present the information that clearly communicates your value.
These are pretty easy ways to build the communication of value into your everyday operations. But what else do you do to show clients the value you deliver? Tell us your tactics in the comments.
Georgina has more than fifteen years' experience writing and editing for web, print and voice. With a background in marketing and a passion for words, the time Georgina spent with companies like Sausage Software and sitepoint.com cemented her lasting interest in the media, persuasion, and communications culture.