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Clients, more often than not, get a bad rap. We court them by extolling our value, our sincere interest in their business and offering free advice to gain their trust. The relationship blossoms and a professional partnership is born. It’s very exciting in the beginning. Big wins are accomplished, productivity is visible and easily measured. Weeks, months and even years go by, and the constant requests become burdensome. We start to resent the seemingly insatiable emails requesting more. Communication limps along and eventually stops entirely. The crescendo usually erupts in a demand email from the client or is strung out over years, never to be finalized, while each side blurs the actual series of events, which strengthens each others position of being right.
Ugh. It’s a mess.
Have you ever had a client relationship like this?
How does this happen?
Client relationships start to degrade when one of three things happen,
- The client wants us to do more for less. Simply put, it’s a resource issue. Smaller companies and solopreneurs can’t afford the back and forth, while at the same time lowering their hourly rate or investment of time. Eventually, the client projects become fewer and the reduced budget of the client, is not affordable.
- The projects aren’t as challenging anymore. Bigger, more complex projects = more fun and more money. When projects get mundane, routine and predictable, it’s not that creative. More importantly, those projects are a lot less money. Creatives and developers are expensive and most companies need higher priced projects to stay in business.
- The client starts to treat us as an employee. It’s not malicious. Or premeditated. Most of the time, it kind of just, happens. We tell our clients we are part of the team and we get along with others, so they treat us as such. Working on a new project can be very intimate. You spend a lot of time with one another, getting to know them and their business. It gets personal, they like you. That’s what you wanted. Then as the project slows down, you back off and they get clingy. They get demanding and need help now.
Create the relationship you want
It’s our fault. In every client relationship, we have the opportunity to set the tone of that relationship. When a client relationship fails, we probably screwed up somewhere along the way. Here are a few ideas that you can use to keep that client relationship going for a long time or a short time.
- Decide on the type of work that you like to do. If you are a person or company that likes to work on just one project at a time and your monthly expenses are substantial, doing hourly work probably isn’t going to work for you. Working on large projects has it’s advantages, but it takes a lot of capital to sustain the business during and in between jobs. Also, scheduling work so that a new project starts, right when the previous one ends, isn’t that practical. What does work, is a mixture of short term and long term projects, but that takes more organization. Figure out the type of work that you would like to do and then set boundaries. Communicate those rules to your client, so that your client isn’t expecting you to address all of their needs.
- It all comes down to money. You have to get paid. How you structure getting paid is up to you. If Net 30 terms is too long, then you have to think of something else. Possibly a retainer. Figure out the best terms that work for you or your organization and implement those. How much you get paid and when is completely up to you.
- Prepare for the hand off. You can’t just walk away. As with any project you are responsible for the work that you were paid to do. It’s not forever, I would set a 30 day grace period, but what you don’t want to do is hand off a project to a client and not provide any sort of a support option. This doesn’t mean that support option is you or your business, but you need a plan. My suggestion is to partner with people or another business that does maintenance and small projects. Typically these organizations might have multiple people experienced with the types of projects that you do. In addition, you want to explain to the client what they should expect. For example, there might be tiers of different types of support with different costs and time restrictions. Make sure you set the client up for success, before you move on.
Thank your clients
Just as much as we help our clients, they truly help us. We get to keep doing what we do best and if you are independent or a company, they literally keep us in business. Remember, you are or were a small business too. So, when you have a moment, thank your clients. Tell them how much their business means to you. Explain to them how their success, is your success. And then when you’re done, say, “Oh one more thing. Is there anything I can do for you today?”