Building trust with a client involves much more than being able to send a nicely worded email. Here are a few tips for laying the foundation for a long-lasting partnership.
Communicate: It should come as no surprise that any good project manager should also have solid communication skills, but being a great project manager goes beyond just being quick to hit the reply button on an email. Try to set recurring meetings with stakeholders that you work closely with to ensure that they are in the know as projects progress. While I firmly believe overcommunicating is key, there is also a delicate balance to strike between keeping them informed and flooding their inbox.
Do your best to have your facts straight, do the digging you need to do on your side to prevent asking small questions, and always think one step ahead so you’re prepared for any queries they may have. I’d also recommend creating a status report so that they can refer to it on their own time.
Be human: Now that you’ve set your recurring meetings and you’ve got your status report perfected, relax! Depending on what industries you work with, it’s very likely that your clients spend their days in meetings where they need to be very buttoned up. Don’t be afraid to ask them how their weekend was or about their dog looming in the back of your Zoom meeting. You want to be one of the first people that comes to mind when they’re in a pinch and need an assist getting a project out the door, not a vendor they always forget they can lean on. While it’s important to remember the line between client and friend, being affable and amicable can help you form an authentic connection. This person should be your ally in the project process!
Create a contingency plan: Part of building a successful and trusting relationship is making sure the client knows that if things go awry, you’ve got it covered. Before delivering “bad news” to your client, meet with your internal team and see what support they may be able to offer. Can things be done in parallel? Can other projects be shifted around should this need to be made into a priority? Once you have your answers, then meet with your client and calmly explain the situation and your plan of action to make it right so that you are still hitting your final deadline.
Don’t forget—the client wants to see the success of this project even more than you do. If that means working together to get to the finish line, then that’s what having any allyship is all about! If needed, have them check on their internal resources and create meeting blocks to go over edits live so that your project isn’t sitting on the corner of someone’s desk for ages.
Stay composed, create a plan, and put it into action.
Ensure fiscal alignment: It’s rare to come across a company with unlimited dollars to spend, and for many, it takes multiple months to get their budget approved. If you’ve been tasked with keeping track of project costs, you may consider creating a budget report for your clients. You can include line items such as the cost quote, amount already billed, and the anticipated dollar amount left to spend. If your company works from a retainer, keep track of the deductions and always reach out when you feel like the amount left is getting slim. Nobody likes a surprise bill, and having to stop midway through a project due to insufficient funds is a bad look for both you and your client.
Ultimately, the project manager–client relationship is one of mutual trust and growth. Building that partnership can benefit both parties for many projects to come.