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The many types of client relationships

Second time's a charm? Can you rekindle the flame? Is it possible to bury the hatchet and once again work with an old client that you parted ways with? Will history repeat itself?

We were recently approached by a previous client of ours that we parted ways with a few years back. Out of respect I won't to get into too much detail, although we tried to make the relationship work for several years, it just wasn’t the right fit for us. We went our separate ways knowing that we did a great job for the client and that the brand is a well known fixture in the market partially in thanks to our handy work. As a growing business it can be hard to say no but it's important to pick your battles and focus.

Where did things go wrong?

Hard to say, after spending several years massaging the relationship and following procedures and approval processes it was like our final product was an alien that showed up on the front door step when it came time to present. Seriously, where was I, where were you during our countless meetings? Games. Games we didn't have time for anymore. Like any relationship the reality is sometimes, you're just not compatible.

There are a number of reasons a project goes awry and relationships become one sided. Here are the majority of reasons these relationships fail:

Power Position

If you’re young and green, or maybe you’re just a soft seller, you’ll more than likely be put in place by the client. And be managed by the client rather than you managing the direction. In this position you’ll often hear things like “I’ll know what I like when I see it” the only way to combat this is to stay firm, provided you’ve done your research and confirm your direction is valid. Make sure to account for the hours spent on the countless revisions. If you roll over once, you're more likely to do it again and again. Now you’ve set this expectation for the client, you only have yourself to blame.

The Hand Holder

Say good bye to your budget! In this scenario you may have quoted and estimated for the time it would take you to provide the services to the client, but did not account for the fact that they need a lot of face time and explanation of the process. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and in fact this scenario can turn into a meaningful relationship, as these clients tend to appreciate the process, and are interested in everything you have to say. Good for you for being interesting! After all you’re a creative professional, you better be damn well interesting! Make sure you accommodate your budget for an excess of meetings. Whether you deem them necessary or not, sometimes it’s just not up to you. Every client is unique and the hand holding ones may take more time, but they tend to be the most satisfied.

Different Planets

If this is the case you probably should not of taken on this client in the first place. B.S. detection and your ability to character judge evolves over time and even then we can all get sold a lemon when the prospect of a happy client and decent budget are at hand. We all go into relationships with the best of intentions. However in this case (and all cases for that mater) make sure you have an iron clad contract, and that you uphold your end of the bargain. Chances are there will be scope creep, times lines will be extended and in the end a mediocre project is delivered that you will probably never use in your portfolio. Doesn't help you in the least and the paycheck will be bitter sweet.

Friend Zone

It's not a bad place to be, people love to work with people they like, however when money is involved, things can turn in an instance when our lively hood is jeopardized. These relationships are good in the beginning but can deteriorate fast if you’re not walking the walk. Just because you’re in a friendly relationship doesn't mean that you can be loose with your timelines or lessen your time investigating options. This is the best case scenario to make a lasting long term relationship where everyone wins. You feel tied to the client and the client shows admiration and the utmost confidence in your ability. What more could you want? Push yourself hard in these instances and make sure you go above and beyond. Still, make sure you have your contracts in order and that your deliverable(s) and payments are always on schedule.

Strictly Business

A client coming to you for your expertise and professionalism is the most ideal scenario. Mutual respect can go a long way. When partnering with a company, dedication and commitment are in place and you are focused on a task at hand. You are running a business and made a promise to deliver results in the best interest of everyone involved. The client hired you to work on their project and expects certain things from it. Compromising a relationship by getting too friendly or butting heads can lead to hurt feelings when there is a lot of personal attachment. It's just business. Learn when to step up and step down based on the personality of your client. If a friendship can be formed, great but that's not the end goal of a successful project. Making everyone happy is nearly impossible, but you can try damn hard to do it.

A Long Hard Look in the Mirror

Before you go down any road with a potential client, make sure you’ve had some good time to feel them out. Listen to your intuition and ensure you account for any red flags that could potentially knock the project off track. Above all, take the time to look at own personality and how you manage your business. Here are some major things to look out for:

  • Make sure project expectations are outlined and accounted for
  • Make sure you have a legally binding contract
  • Make sure that you’re the right company lead to mesh with this new client
  • Establish a preferred method of communication (Phone, Email, In person)

Once bitten, twice shy? Stay tuned and we'll let you let you know if we got back together.

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Paul Phillips
Written By

Paul Phillips

Co-founder, Partner and Creative Director at Jackson Wynne

@tack_paul
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