Client Relationship Management: Advice for Small Businesses

From initial contact to proposal, managing your relationships with clients is a professional art form that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Dragan Babic’s story isn’t one of any accidental successes or sheer luck, but instead one that’s a bit more realistic and a little less biopic.

In 2007, he started his web design firm Superawesøme as a solo mission and since then it’s had its ups and downs. Now, eight years later, his company has three full-time employees and an actual office all to themselves. He says, “That big ticket hasn’t paid off yet, but I’m working on it.”

The big ticket may be coming soon enough as Superawesøme just released their first product, Funnel — a CRM for small businesses and freelancers.

It’s not only beautifully designed, but it works in a way that’s automatic and logical: potential clients contact you via a form on your website, then that contact becomes part of your “cases.” With Funnel, you track your relationship with your cases (aka clients), keep notes, and even create gorgeous proposals all in one place.

Babic said, “We’ve been using Funnel internally for over two years and it has helped our service business win new work tremendously.”

But, Babic and his team had to learn a lot about client relations to get to this point. The past decade has taught him how to handle himself in professional situations.

“It’s a skill you develop and nurture every day, and talking business soon becomes second nature, no matter how scary it seemed at first,” he explained. “People are people, whether they are your friends, or customers.”

Babic gave us some tips and insight into communication with clients and teams and how best to optimize the process.


How do you optimize communication within your team before going to the client?

Our client onboarding process is pretty standard, I think. Since I am the one who is responsible for bringing in new business, it’s natural that I am also responsible for onboarding of the customer.

I will usually handle the entire initial phase of every project, which includes making sure that the briefs are clear enough, that the scope is well communicated, and of course that the paperwork has been done and signed.

We usually kick the project off with a conference involving everyone from both sides, just so we could get to know each other. Unless I’m personally involved in the production, this is usually where I step aside and let my guys take it over.

It’s super important to me that my people have direct contact with the stakeholders, as it lessens the chances for hear-say to happen, instills responsibility, and quickens the overall communication.

What are some major “dos and don’ts” of talking to clients?

Obviously, treat them with respect as you should do with any other person. Know when to apply pressure in a conversation, when to be firm, and when to allow them to be a bit looser with whatever you need from them.

Pick your battles, and try not to come off as someone who is all business and super serious. There will come a time when you will mess something up, and you will want some wiggle room from them when that happens. And it will.

Funnel icon

It can be difficult translating ideas to and from clients. How do you manage their expectations and keep communication fluid?

This is something every design studio struggles with, initially. I know we did. Being a remote team on almost all of the work we do, communication is what makes or breaks a relationship with your customer.

We have a set of principles we’ve learned over time, that we apply these days. Here are some of them:

  1. It’s better to over communicate than to assume things are evident.
  2. I can’t emphasize how important good writing skills are in this profession. Being able to get your point across in a reasonable amount of text is an indispensable skill for a designer.
  3. Give your customers the tools they can use to help you do your work. Whether it’s a spreadsheet that will act as a backlog (something we’re doing now), or a full blown project management suite — it’s your call.
  4. If you are billing per hour/day make sure you and your team are logging your time responsibly, and that time slips have descriptions or task names.
  5. Make it a habit to send a weekly time report to the customer in order to avoid nasty surprises when it’s pay time.
  6. Never put blame on someone.
  7. If you’re about to make a big decision, sleep on it.

Funnel workflow

How do you communicate with the client enough without bothering them?

This varies from person to person, really. Some people want to be involved in the day-to-day, and some are really hands-off and value sporadic, passive communication. You kind of have to get a feel for this and adjust accordingly.

On the other hand, some people require a constantly open channel of communication to your team. We do this very cautiously and only for projects that are billed per day as sometimes customers can abuse this, which can hinder the progress of the project.

What led you to create Funnel?

Initially we just wanted to create something that would help us handle all those work inquiries that can really pile up. It was initially a very cool venture into product design, a playground where we could learn without any risk.

Then we decided to take it to market as a SaaS [product], and now things are a bit different since we’ve put a lot of time and money into it, but we’re still learning a ton as we go along.

Ultimately we want Funnel to succeed as a self-sustained business, but it’s also a chance for us to be in the driver’s seat and get to know the problems our customers are usually dealing with. This gives us a great deal of perspective in our primary line of work, which is interface design.

Funnel received the equivalent of a standing ovation on Product Hunt to the tune of 300 upvotes so far, so hopefully Babic and Superawesøme’s first journey into SaaS will not only prove successful for them, but for the people who are improving their workflows with the service.

You can try it out for yourself as a solo freelancer or small business. 

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