Wednesday, November 2, 2011

How to be a good client

Ever have one of those days when you wished you could fire a client?

Many years ago, when I was working retail at a one hour photo lab (I'm really dating myself now, aren't I?), I had my first instance of wanting to kick a customer where it counts. I can't remember what the issue was, but suffice to say I was close to tears by the time he had finished loudly berating me in front of everyone else in the store, coworkers and other customers alike. My manager calmly walked up to the counter and said, "We won't charge you for your order. Now please leave and don't come back again. I won't have you speaking to my staff like that."

I was in awe. "Can my manager really do that?" I wondered to myself. He did. And the business thrived under his management. He cared about his staff and it showed in our performance.

Sorry, tangent. My point is, do you want to be that client? Because a good business person, whether a retail manager, a freelance creative, or an agency president will fire a bad client if they need to. Yes, the economy stinks. But a good business person knows that their sanity and that of their staff (and perhaps their family, in the case of the freelancer) isn't worth it.

Isn't being tough a good thing?
While you may think being difficult is the best way to get what you want, often it stalls and outright derails projects. I'm not talking about being a strong, colourful character who brings ideas to the table. I'm talking about the know-it-alls, the argumentative, the time wasters, and the "Let's yell at the administrator because I'm having a shitty day," kind of client.

In short, good clients enable the experts they have contracted to get things done. Here's how you can be a good client.

1. Commit your time to the project.
You would think that if an individual or a company is ready to pay a professional the big bucks, they would be equally willing to commit their time. Yes, delegating time to your staff is fine, that's what they get paid for, right? But in the end, if you're the business owner, it's your baby. You need to be there for the important meetings. You need to look at every item you approve. Otherwise, you run the risk of discovering something is missing, or worse yet, wrong, when it's too late.

2. Be prepared for our first meeting.
You know your business best. I need to know what your pains are, what your objectives are, and what your clients want. This way, we can all work together to eliminate those nasty pains, and see where your objectives and your client's objectives overlap. That gives us an excellent starting point. Being unprepared simply wastes time. And the adage that time is money is true for both of us.

3. Answer my questions.
I swear, I am not calling you or emailing you questions after our meeting to make your life difficult or because I'm exceedingly lonely. I want to get the job done, and get it done right. And if I keep asking you the same question in different ways? It's because you didn't answer it when I first asked it! When you refuse to answer my questions because you're busy, or because you assume I should know the answer already, it does nothing to move the project forward. And it puts me in a negative frame of mind. Remember, you're paying me to do a job!

4. Remember that sometimes, mistakes happen.
As much as I wish it wasn't the case, shit happens sometimes. I'm a perfectionist when it comes to my work, so believe me when I say it probably hurts me more than it hurts you when I make a mistake. Yes, I'll take my lumps, but there's no need to berate me, much less take it out on someone who isn't to blame, like the office manager, or my colleague if I'm away on the particular day you call. Let me know you're disappointed, but let me know how I can fix the problem and I guarantee you, I will go above and beyond to make you happy. You may even forget about the mistake that made you so angry to begin with.

5. Admit when you are wrong.
Yeah, I know, this is hard for many of us in our personal lives, much less our professional lives. A creative friend actually inspired today's post with a Facebook status about a client, a real estate agent who wanted an open house ad, and forgot to give the team an address. Kind of critical to having an open house, no? Anyway, instead of apologizing when called by the agency, the client screamed, yelled, bitched, moaned, and, get this, said the address wasn't necessary. Yes, you read that correctly. Admit you're wrong and move on.

Creatives and clients alike: any suggestions on other qualities that make for a good client?

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