Blindingly obvious opening statement: clients are very important to your business.
Not only are they your number one source of income, but also more than half of your new business will come from existing clients and recommendations from them.
I disagree with a lot of advice about client relationship management: “phone them up all the time and ask them how they are, invite them out, go to meet them, make yourself available at all times”. That is definitely not my approach.
The most important way to build a good client relationships is to work with really great people in the first place.
1. Choose your clients
Now, this doesn’t mean “I’d like to work with Richard Branson, I’ll give him a ring”. (But, it wouldn’t hurt, would it?) I still advocate getting your clients to find you through your blog.
What I mean by “choose your clients” is to be very aware of the sort of people you want to work with first. I like to work with clients that are demanding, exacting and dynamic and I don’t want to work with people who are unclear, lazy and dishonest.
Here are a set of “red flags” to listen out for during the initial contact:
- “This won’t take you long”
- “If you do this for free / at a low price, there’s guarantee of future work”
- “Can you come and meet me to discuss this potential project?”
Relationships with the client should be based on mutual respect. If someone is happy to waste your time before they’ve even hired you, they’ll continue to do so.
It’s not a pleasant analogy but a pertinent one: nobody respects a girl who’s been with every member of the football team before she leaves school. So don’t fall over yourself trying to please every client at a reduced price. They’re not going to respect you in the morning – or at any time!
2. Choose the companies you work with
Just as important as choosing the client is choosing the companies. As a graphic designer and marketer I often work for lone entrepreneurs who are starting something up. These are great people to work for.
However, I also get work from larger organizations, for example Accenture (225,000 employees), and these organizations are definitely better for repeat business.
Large organizations are understandably more cumbersome and bureaucratic so take this into account when dealing with them. So, when dealing with large organizations, don’t apply the “red flags” of my previous point so strictly.
3. Treat everyone equally – from post room boy to CEO
This may sound contradictory as I’ve just said to favor some clients over others, but it isn’t. Even when I turn potential clients down, I always try to treat everybody with the same respect and politeness.
Every interaction you have with people – be they clients, prospects, students, suppliers, members of the public – reflects on your business. Make sure everything you say and everything you write in emails follows your core values.
4. Have a written philosophy
If you don’t know what your core values are then it might be an idea to write them down. Here’s mine:
At Rob Cubbon Ltd we aim to provide the best possible design and marketing solutions and put the client in the center of everything we do.
5. Don’t say “no”
Well, if you’re a pig farmer and a client asks you to fly them to the moon then you may wish to decline. However, some of my best work for clients has been in areas I have had little or no experience in.
People will always want to work with people they’ve already worked with. And for this reason, you will get asked to do things that you’re not sure how to do. When this happens say, “Yes!” It’s a win-win situation. The client gets the job done; you get experience. If one person asks you to do something, you can guarantee that someone else will ask you to do that task in the future.
6. Never say anything negative
When discussing projects with clients never say anything negative. If the client suggests a course of action that appears counter-intuitive to you, meet the suggestion with positivity pointing out the advantages as well as the disadvantages.
There’s two reasons for this: Firstly, people don’t like negativity and don’t want to hear words like “difficult”, “delay”, “complicated”, etc., and that negative association will rub off on you. Secondly, I am constantly amazed by how good my clients ideas are. Even if you’re the expert and they aren’t, they are coming at the job from a different angle and will see things you can’t see. And vice versa. That’s what a relationship is.
7. Approach all of your issues with a smile
As Stephen Covey says in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, be proactive.
The key to being proactive is remembering that between stimulus and response there is a space. That space represents our choice — how we will choose to respond to any given situation, person, thought or event. Imagine a pause button between stimulus and response — a button you can engage to pause and think.
From Stephen Covey’s blog.
If a situation comes along that looks “bad”, don’t approach it as such. If you approach situations whilst thinking how bad they could be, they invariably get worse.
8. Listen to the client
This shouldn’t be hidden away in eighth position even though these tips are in no particular order! Listening to the client is the most important thing you’ll ever do. It is essential that you understand what they are trying to achieve. 99% of all client dissatisfaction is caused by bad communication.
Sometimes, a client can be very good at telling you what they want the website to look like and forget to tell you what the actual purpose behind it. Work out which questions you should ask so you can deliver exactly what they want.
Constantly refer back to written communication with them. I always have in writing exactly the nature of the job and the agreed price.
9. Know their knowledge
Related to the point above, it is necessary to understand what they know and what they don’t know technically. In web design, clients have all sorts of prior technical knowledge but it is important not to assume they even know how to fire up a browser and surf the web. In order to make a website that can be easily edited by the client it is essential to understand their technical know-how.
With all the above points it is necessary to achieve a certain equilibrium between being helpful and available on one hand and not spreading yourself too thin on the other; between working with the right people on one hand and not being too fussy on the other; between being positive on one hand and realistic on the other.
Put the client in the center of everything you do. Understand what the client wants. And be 100% real about it.
I hate to see people slagging their clients off on Twitter. If you’re doing that, you’re doing it wrong!
As always, I would love to hear your comments. Do you think I’ve hit the balance right with clients? Please enter your comments below or Tweet or vote for the post using the buttons below!