Nurturing Client Relationships
by Taylor Slattery | December 19, 2019
In life and business, one of the hardest things to do is build a relationship. Even harder yet, is building multiple relationships simultaneously. Fortunately though, like anything else, we get better at the things we practice, and our need to eat, coupled with our need to develop working business relationships to put food on the table, provides ample opportunity for improvement. Just like in dating, new relationships are often formed on shallow pretenses. Maybe your client saw your portfolio and liked the way it looked, or maybe they heard about you through a friend who thought you might be a good match.
These can often be enough for an introduction, or a first date for the sake of the analogy, but the real compatibility test begins once a commitment has been made. By entering into a new relationship, a client has put their trust in you and it’s now up to you to deliver. Whether you meet or exceed their expectations can have a lot of bearing on the direction the relationship takes.
It’s possible that you hit it off right from the start and the partnership can blossom into something mutually beneficial, challenging you physically and emotionally, and changing you both for the better in ways you could never have imagined. But more often these things tend to take some work before they can even hope of reaching that point. Great relationships develop organically over time, but there are things we can do to help minimize friction and guide them in the right direction from the start.
Put yourself in their shoes. They’re just as nervous about this new journey as you are. Your first goal is to establish trust. Examples of previous work or references from previous clients can only take you so far. You’ll have to do everything in your power to communicate professionalism throughout the process to help put the client’s minds at ease. You don’t want them to feel like they’ve misplaced their trust in you.
You will learn a lot about each other and what to expect based on your first few initial interactions. This type of relationship may be new to one or both of you, or maybe your approach is radically different from what they’ve experienced in the past. It’s important to be completely transparent here. You want to reach a better understanding of one another. The client needs to feel like their ideas are heard. You need to establish and maintain an open line of communication. Include them in the journey, explain your thoughts & process. Show how you’re working to address their concerns and find clever ways to reference little insights gained from previous conversations. People like good listeners because it feels good to be heard, so show that you listen.
That isn’t to say that there shouldn’t be boundaries. Oversharing can also hurt their confidence in your decision-making abilities. You want to carry your weight in this relationship, so avoid asking for feedback too often, because doing so can disrupt the balance between your established roles, and you don’t want to come across as incompetent.
Being able to communicate openly is nothing without honesty. You’ve been hired for your expertise, so don’t be afraid to respectfully speak your mind when there is a difference of opinion. Doing so demonstrates your knowledge and confidence in your abilities and your client will appreciate your honesty. You both want the best results possible. Pushing for your vision shows that you care about the project at hand, but you also need to know when to back down. Ultimately, the client has the final say. Like with any relationship, compromise is key. Understanding your client’s values and thought process will help you to better serve them, but reaching this understanding will take time. With a bit of patience and diligence, you can craft a great working relationship.
Taylor is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Taylor is a graphic designer, illustrator, and Design Lead at Weirdsleep.