If your clients are on site while you’re working, be sure to occasionally let them know how the project is going. You don’t have to spend a lot of time giving them every detail, but they’re paying for your time, so treat their interest in your progress respectfully. If your clients are not on site, email your updates to them to help keep them at ease and confident in their decision of hiring you, especially if the project is running behind. Never let your client think you’ve forgotten about them.
Your Project Status Report: Essential Phrases
Keep the minutiae to a minimum; your clients are relying on your expertise, so don’t bombard them with details that don’t matter to the project in the long run that they won’t understand anyway.
On the other hand, provide enough details to demonstrate that you are mindful of the trust they’ve placed in you and your company, and that you respect their natural interest in knowing how their project is progressing. They also need to know whether you’re experiencing any problems that they need to be aware of, including any delays. If you need to convey information about a problem, there are ways to remain positive, avoid conflict, and minimize their disappointment while being truthful, which is your goal.
Here are some phrases you can use:
- “I am pleased to report that…”
- “I am optimistic about…”
- “We anticipate that…”
- “After…, we found that…”
- “To meet our goal, …”
Always make your clients sign change orders. Never accept verbal okays. Make sure you deliver copies of signed change orders and changes in the contract within 24 hours, and follow up with a courtesy email confirming the change and the delivery of the paperwork.
Many contractors have learned the hard way that when the end of the job approaches, a few clients may panic when they realize that they are about to be served with a bill for a significant expenditure, especially if their plans for paying you for your work have been altered by a recent event that occurred after they executed their contract with you. Few homeowners will share negative financial news with their contractors or service people if it means that the work or delivery has to be halted or delayed. Some people become so desperate that they’ll make 11th-hour attempts to renegotiate their contract, or they’ll begin to loudly criticize your work in a false bid to justify withholding payment, either in part or in full. (This is one reason for including an incremental payment schedule in your contract so that you receive partial payments during the project, which minimizes your financial risk and keeps your cash flow positive. This plan also requires precise management and accountability on your part, so be sure you can deliver, if you choose this route.)
Contractors almost never get all the money they’re owed if the dispute goes to mediation unless they’ve maintained a pristine paper trail and a clear record of all agreements. A paper trail of hard-copy documents (that are dated, signed and counter-signed), backed up by confirmation emails, is essential for resolving payment disputes after the job is completed.
Follow these basic rules for communicating via email. They are as legally binding as your contract, so make sure you say what you mean and mean what you say. Also, they should be as well-written as a hard-copy document. Despite email’s convenience, it should not be treated less formally than a letter.
- Make sure your subject line represents the message of the email. Never leave it blank.
- Always begin an email with the person’s name, such as “Dear Mrs. Smith.”
- Keep your email messages short and to the point. Your client will likely not read long blocks of print. If you have something lengthy to explain, an email is not necessarily the best method for communicating it. Include as much detail as you need to, but not so much that your client will wonder why you’re not asking to meet in person. Emails should be used for follow-up communication and brief notes and updates, and not as a way of avoiding in-person or more formal communication.
- Keep e-lingo, such as “LOL,” “IMHO,” and smiley faces and other emoticons reserved for your friends, not your clients.
- Don’t use all capital letters in your email. This has the effect of shouting, even if you don’t mean to.
- Be polite, and use language that denotes common courtesy, such as “please” and “thank you.”
- Be sure to proofread your email for errors before clicking the “send” button.
- Read your email message out loud to hear how it sounds. Contrary to your intent, you may come across as terse or rude.
- Make sure that your email settings provide for automatically saving a copy in your “sent” folder.
- Print out emails to keep in your client’s folder to maintain your paper trail.
TIP: Read this article on Complaint Handling and Online Reputation Defense for Contractors.
- Emotions, sarcasm and humor do not transmit very well over email. Keep your communication businesslike.
- Like a letter, when you email someone, you’re created a written record.