My company is one of many businesses one might call an outside “contractor”, meaning that some people hire me and my staff for single projects or sometimes for all of their public relations needs. Here are some things that I feel are important to keep a service business, like mine (or yours) in business.
1. Above all providing a service means that someone has paid you to do something and you are supposed to deliver it. On paper there may be a signed contract between you and your client that lists the things you are going to do. So the first rule of thumb is to finish the job. This may seem obvious to some, but I recently had my house painted, ahem, half-painted and the painters pretty much abandoned my house and my disheveled yard, without completing the job. Their “mailbox” is full and I don’t know if I will ever see them again.
2. Keeping in touch is another golden rule. Of course you are doing the work you said you would do, but clients also like it when you check in with them, letting them know how things are going, if you need something from them, etc. Don’t wait for your client to call you. If you haven’t been in touch in a while, it’s a good idea to drop a quick email or call for just a brief update.
3. Managing expectations is one of the hardest things to do. As public relations professionals we all know that a lot of the work we do does not result in a story on the front page of a national newspaper. Personally I think it is important to be upfront with your clients so that they know that you are going to attempt to get the brass ring, but that there are never any guarantees. Sometimes you may even have to turn down business if what your client wants is something you really don’t think you can deliver. It’s better to do that than bang your head against a wall and live in fear of what you knew all along was never going to happen. Don’t be negative, just pepper your enthusiasm with some reality so you don’t paint yourself into a corner (ah yes, painting, as mentioned above)
4. Be responsive and practice good customer service principles. You might be surprised by the number of people who ignore their clients. I’ve been told by businesses I’ve hired that they think responding to some emails is a waste of time…well, yes I can see that as an argument if I am sending them notices about the same thing a hundred times, but when a client asks a question, he/she does require an answer. If you feel that there are too many questions coming your way and that you can’t answer all of them, then you need to think about #3 and have a conversation with your client about what you can respond to and when.
5. Give your clients a status update and most of all let them know if something you agreed to do isn’t working. In public relations sometimes an initial strategy might not take off the way we planned. Or another opportunity presents itself and we want to jump on it. Remember that as a contractor you are ultimately being paid for your time, so if your time is being spent unwisely it is up to you to let the client know. Based on your recommendation, your client should let you know whether or not you should continue with a course of action you think isn’t working. Certainly don’t miss out on a prime booking because you have to wait for an answer, but if we are talking hours spent, let the client partake in the decision making since he/she is signing your check.
I’m sure you all could provide many other suggestions for working as an “outside contractor” but these are some of my primary rules of thumb. Do I always do all of them perfectly? No, I hit my bumps just like everyone else, but I do know that these things are important based on my own experiences (see above painter mishap).