Gathering information from clients can be one of the most painful parts of business.
Given you’re here and reading this, I’ll guess that you’re already familiar with relentlessly chasing clients, even just for a few pieces of info.
Sometimes the client has already paid you, so it’s frustrating when they won’t send the info you need to complete the work. The real problem is that time wasted following up and sorting through emails burns profit.
Most industries deal with this problem in some form – we’ve heard from digital agencies, web designers, mortgage brokers, bookkeepers, financial planners, event planners, immigration services, universities and many more.
Lets dig into a few ways you can streamline this process to avoid those huge email trails and wasting all your time.
Before starting work with clients, let them know that it will be their responsibility to provide whatever information you need. That way they know it is coming, and it won’t be a big surprise when there is suddenly all this “work” they need to do.
Sometimes it makes sense to have a clause in your contract that protects you from delays associated with collecting information. For example, you could “archive” their project if you don’t receive what you need in 7 days. For some examples, check out this post.
Plan out the info you need
A great first step is to create a complete list of everything you need from clients.
It can be info, content, documents, files or anything.
Think of it as a “master list” that contains almost everything you would ever ask for, even from different clients. When the time comes to gather info, you can duplicate it and delete the parts that you don’t need. That’s much easier than building it up from scratch.
Create bite-size chunks
When you need a lot of information, it’s overwhelming for clients when you dump it all on them in one go.
Break it down into small pieces and the process will be much easier for them. Easy things tend to get done faster.
When you planned out the full list from the previous step, you may have already broken it down – but take another look and see if you can break your list down further. For example, instead of “upload your identity documents”, you can ask for a specific ID, then a recent bill, then a photocopy of a card. Let your clients focus on one thing at a time.
For each piece of information, add an explanation of what you expect from the client. Spell out exactly what you need and maybe even why you need it. This helps your client get it right the first time so you don’t have to answer tons of questions later.
If you do get questions – feed those back into future requests so you don’t get them next time.
For example, if you need photocopies of something, you could describe any requirements of the size, orientation, clarity and colour.
If you need your clients to so a series of steps, include them. If it’s complex to describe in words, use a short video to show them exactly what they need to do. A tool like Loom makes this super easy.
A great example of this is if a client needs to grant you access to an online system – show them in video and require them to check a box when they are done.
Choose a system
The way you collect information makes all the difference. Let’s dig into the different systems which you can use to set up your process.
Email (not recommended)
Sending out a big list by email can end up wasting hours on hours.
Replying inline to each question is problematic even for technical people. It’s worse if your clients are not tech savvy. You can end up with an email trail that is near impossible to dig out all the relevant info, strip out random characters and collate it into a useable format.
Then there are attachments. Some PDFs are large enough to get emails completely blocked. This can wind up in arguments with clients saying they have sent something that you didn’t receive.
You can use MS Word or Google Docs to create documents that your clients fill out. In both of these tools, there are endless ways to lay out your request.
One is to create tables for your client to fill in cells. Or you can lay all the info out with simple headings. Instructions can be added below headings, but it can become difficult to see where instructions end and the client’s info begins.
Due to their open-ended nature, documents can get a little messy. Clients can type in whatever they want, wherever they want. Sometimes they will highlight messages and use other strange formatting which you have to decipher and clean up.
If you go with documents, you will also need an external system to receive files and attachments. Dropbox or Google Drive can handle this.
Carving out a piece of time to have you and your client together in one room can help you get a majority of information in one hit.
It requires your client to be organised enough to have everything ready before you get there – else you just wasted your time. Send over a list beforehand to help alleviate this.
Survey & forms tools
Forms are a great option for small amounts of data that can be provided in one sitting.
Most allow you to structure out all the pieces of information you need along with instructions. They are easy to follow and allow file uploads.
The downside is that forms almost always require everything to be “submitted” as one. If you have more than a few items, clients often abandon the form to do something else and lose what they have already done.
Content Snare merges the best of forms and documents, and adds automatic follow up emails.
WIth a unique link, clients login to provide information and upload files. It’s saved on the go and is immediately accessible to you. If they have to come back later, they continue where they left.
If they forget to come back, Content Snare sends them reminder emails on a schedule that you customise.
Finally, clients are locked into providing the right information using conditions on fields. For example, you can specify that a client is only allowed to provide:
- Minimum and maximum text length
- Image dimensions and size
- Correct email addresses
In short, Content Snare was purpose built for improving the process of gathering information from clients.