Recently I have been involved in a few different discussions with other freelance designers in which I have noticed an unsettling trend: at some point in the conversation the topic turns to client horror stories. It usually starts out with some type of question about how the others would handle a particular situation that one is facing, but then it digresses to complaints about clients and the awful things they put us freelancers through.
Yes, we’ve probably all had at least one “nightmare client” experience. In fact, we may have been that experience for someone else (when was the last time you yelled at someone on the phone or chewed out a salesperson?) But witnessing the common direction of these discussions caused me to pause and think about the change of attitude and resulting practice that must occur if a freelancer with previous client malfunctions is going to move forward successfully.
Rather than doing your best to get that nightmare client’s project completed as quickly as possible and off your desk in hopes of never having to deal with them again, allow me to suggest that those clients you consider your “worst” or most difficult should be the recipients of your very best service. Here’s why:
Clients Provide Your Paycheck
This is elementary. Without clients, you don’t have a business. We all know it, but perhaps it is taken for granted or forgotten in the heat of a client’s tirade. Clients pay my bills. Clients feed my children. Clients enable my wife to make trips to Ikea on a whim.
I’m not suggesting that you should suck it up and allow yourself to be verbally abused or ridiculed by a paying client, or compromise yourself or your work for the sake of the almighty dollar. But I am encouraging you to keep this thought at the forefront of all of your communications with clients. No matter how much they may yell at you, or disagree with your recommendations, or override your experience, your clients are the foundation for the success of your business, and they should be treated and served accordingly.
Clients Are Human Beings
Really. Don’t act so surprised. Clients are people too, just like freelancers. They have good days and bad days just like us, and they also have both short tempers and times of extreme patience. They have unique personalities, deadlines, responsibilities and on and on.
It’s important to remember that you might just be the recipient of their worst simply because they are human. Rather than retaliating, try remembering that you’ve most likely had those moments yourself, and offer sympathy, patience, understanding and your very best service. You may even unwittingly encourage a transformation that removes said client from your “nightmare” category.
Clients Can Help Grow or Destroy Your Business
Your freelance business can live or die by the recommendations or complaints of your clients. With the widespread use of social media for word of mouth marketing purposes, this fact is emphasized even more.
Within a matter of minutes a happy client can sing your praises to thousands of people. Contrast that with the realization that fatal damage can be done to your reputation in the same amount of time with a simple Facebook update or a timely tweet by an upset client. But let me challenge you to refrain from being motivated by possible ramifications either way. Instead, try choosing to give your best because of your own integrity and desire to deliver a high quality product and experience for your clients.
Your Success Depends On Your Best Service
Consistency. Integrity. Quality Control. First impressions. Customer service.
These are some of the relatively immeasurable elements of your business that appear to go unseen, but are key to its success. Have you ever noticed at successful chain restaurants how the recipe tastes the same no matter what location you are eating at? Consistency in quality and service is obviously a factor in their core values. It is important to determine the core values of your freelance business and then hold to them, regardless of how a client treats you. In the end, your motivation for providing the best service you possibly can is that your business will succeed because of it. But even more important, in my opinion, is the fact that at the end of the day you can rest your head on the pillow knowing with complete certainty that you have given every single client your best.
Your clients will appreciate the integrity of your intent, whether it’s physically made known to them or not. If you impress them, they will most likely share the pleasure of their experience with their friends and associates. They will remember the human element and personal touches that you provide. And they will enjoy, rather than resent, their ability to reward you financially for a job well done.
You Can Change How You Deal With Difficult Clients
Looking at the reasons we’ve discussed, think about any that may have struck a nerve with your present or past experiences.
Have you been giving all of your clients your best service, regardless of their response or attitude?
What are some steps you can take to providing better consistency throughout your client base that will not only improve your business but will strengthen you as a person of integrity and character?
Please share your thoughts, experiences and suggestions in the comments below to help us all learn from each other.