So, often I’ve heard vile comments in the business arena followed by the phrase – “It’s just business, don’t take it personally”. Thankfully they have not always been directed at me but it can be hard to deal with those feelings of hurt and frustration as a creative only trying to please the client!
Setting expectations at the start of a business relationship is vital to success.
You’ve been commissioned to execute and you’ve been hired for your expertise.
Learning to handle clients and personalities is part of your journey.
Before we go into this and for any of our clients reading, it’s not you, you are fab, it’s just that after 25 years working in the creative industry I’ve got a few war stories to share.
So here we go. Five tips to help you make business personal.
The best clients are the right ones.
It’s the clients who want you to be creative and trust you to ‘do your thing’ that are the ones that motivate the team the most. When a client keeps changing the brief mid-project you are set up for frustration. It’s why we do a workshop. You need to make sure that the brief has asked the right questions and that no wrong assumptions have been made.
If the best clients are the right ones, then who are the wrong ones? It’s simple. The wrong ones don’t value your input. They barter over price on everything and say things like “I should be working in this industry” and “Don’t work to a timeline” (it’s all urgent). Honestly, let them go. Work with the right clients and they will open doors to the right opportunities.
So, whatever sector your business is in, find clients that are secure in what they do and trust you to do your job.
Level up on relationship above everything else.
You are in a service industry so good service you must deliver. However, if your client relationships remain transactional then when a better offer comes along you’ll be a goner. A lot of our clients have been with us for a long time. The relationships are good and many of the team know many of our clients. It’s born out of a principle I heard ‘You’ll Never Work Alone’. I guess it’s close to the football team I support – YNWA. Never working alone then means always having someone following you. This gives the client someone to work with (who maintains the same standard as you) when you are not there. It pays to educate not micromanage your team.
Great client relationships happen when people care about each other.
Level up on getting to know one another, meet up, have food, watch a movie. Why? Because clients are people. Transactional relationships create transitional clients. They move on.
Teams work better when you serve them.
I’ve trained many people to be better creatives over the years. Likewise, I’ve learned a lot from others and, as far as I can see, the key to gaining knowledge is to apply it. People learn by doing. As leaders, we have to help our teams learn how to be better and pass the knowledge on. When I played football I knew that to be a better player I had to learn to kick with both feet. How did I do that? By learning to kick with the wrong foot. It took time. In fact, now I can actually kick harder with my non-kicking foot.
If you are committed to helping others you end up with great people. I would love to have everyone we trained on staff, but helping others facilitate them is just as good. We’ve had people leave us for a great opportunity and we remain in touch because who knows what the future holds?
Always have more questions than answers
Asking the right questions often gives you the solution to your problem. As a creative your job is to empower the clients you serve by bringing your expertise to the table. Always make sure that you are solving the right challenge though. Taking an extra 10 minutes of listening time actually refines the direction you need to head and could save you much more than 10 minutes of wasted time!
A long time ago I worked for a school who wanted a new brochure. After listening to everyone’s frustrations (no one was on the same page) I told them they didn’t need a brochure. They needed a brand. When I showed them, they said it was, in fact, exactly what they wanted. I could have designed a brochure but building them a brand changed their school. It opened up a world of opportunity. We never looked back.
Learn to check in and check up – with voice!
Emails suck. I actually hate them when it comes to instruction. I would say the best advice I give everyone is picking up the phone at the earliest opportunity. Even if you have had to send an email, follow up with a phone call. Speak to people.
So stop hiding behind a text or email. At least use a messenger app (they have emojis that help with expression – but even then a gun or devil icon could be taken the wrong way). So if you want to see how someone is doing… pick up the phone. If emails are getting misunderstood, pick up the phone, or if your struggling to get a response, pick up the phone.
I travel a lot, and phone in the car. It’s a great use of time. Making calls and catching up. It’s not selling, it’s about learning and celebrating other people’s wins. It makes two-dimensional relationships 3D. They help with Direction, Doubt and Decisions.
The first D is helping people discover their direction. A chat, bouncing a few ideas.
The second D deals with doubt, not ignoring one another, catching up, seeing if they have doubts on strategies or that they are valued. The last one is Decision, making them quickly. Get a face to face in place if need to add extra clarity, it helps you gauge whether people are in or out, is it a “not now” or a “let’s do this”?!
Summary – Dare to care.
Relationships work when you dare to care. If you don’t enjoy the client or the work then you’ve either got the wrong job or the wrong clients. These tips are not about responding to every email outside of the times you work, or working thousands of hours for free, but getting to know the people you work with. Enjoy building companies, helping one another to succeed. There is enough success out there for everyone. We need to get out of the 80’s mentality that there are winners and losers.
Can we all win? Well, when we invest more of what makes us unique rather than pretending to be someone or something else, we start building success.
So take a transactional relationship and turn it into an attractive one. Let both of you win, together.