Helping Good Clients Become Great Ones

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If you stay in it long enough, people from your past start to resurface, which I am loving!

One of those people, with whom I recently reconnected after almost 20 years, is Leah Hoffmann who now works for Business Talent Group (BTG), a company that matches independent management consultants and experts with projects at Fortune 1000 companies. Leah is on BTG's internal team that’s dedicated to cultivating great clients; in fact, they wrote a guide to help clients get smarter about attracting, engaging, and working with independent talent.

Here are a few things they've learned that can help you build strong client relationships—and turn good clients into great ones.

It takes work to maintain a relationship—and your relationship with clients is no different. The first step? Making sure your clients know they’re in a relationship, rather than simply a party to a transactional exchange. After that, you can train them to see themselves as your collaborators, not your boss. Here’s how.

1. Help them understand your value

As Ilise once put it, your clients want the best value, not the best deal. So how do you demonstrate value? By helping clients understand how your work fits into their broader business goals and strategies. What it will help them accomplish? Will it help their business grow or make them look good to their boss? Are they hiring you to take work off their plate or because you offer an experienced eye that will help them anticipate and avoid potholes? To cultivate successful client relationships, you should not only be able to answer those questions persuasively, but to put them in your clients’ own words. Understand what success means to them and be prepared to deliver it.

2. Help them understand what you need to do your job

As an outsider, you rely on your clients for the things you need to be successful, whether it’s data for a market analysis, specs for a design or copywriting project, or just a simple wireframe review. This can be hard for clients to appreciate, especially when they’re distracted by other priorities. That’s why it’s your job not just to ask for support but to make sure clients know why you need it—and what the implications are if you don’t get it. This needn’t sound like a threat. Phrases like, “I’ve found it’s most efficient to take time at the start of a project to align on stakeholder expectations” and “It will save expensive coding hours if we can lock down our site content now” should do the trick.

3. Make sure you know what they want

It’s a big, red flag whenever clients can’t or won’t clearly communicate what they need you to do. On the other hand, things change, and if you’re not proactive about asking, you might not find out until it’s too late. Communicate early and often about what your clients need and what they’re expecting from you. Outline specific deliverables and milestones—upfront, and ideally in your SOW. By clearly communicating these goals, you’ll avoid misunderstandings and give yourself an objective way to track success and efficiency. Reconfirm those commitments throughout the project (without pestering, of course) and be clear about your ability to adjust if priorities and pacing change.

4. Help them remember the good times

Just as it can strengthen a romantic relationship to recall happy memories, it will strengthen your client relationships to commemorate joint successes. If you’re a copywriter, follow up once a project is done to see how your piece is performing. If you’re a web designer, track how your clients’ new sites are contributing to their business performance, whether it’s through increased traffic or a better conversion rate. Because you’ve already helped clients understand your value, you should know their KPIs. Monitoring them will not only help you land new clients, but remind your current clients why it was a smart move to hire you in the first place.

Very often, the folks we think of as “bad clients” are simply indifferent—or distracted, busy, and unfamiliar with the realities of being in business for yourself. This doesn’t make them bad people; it makes them human. Show them a little love, however, and you’ll be rewarded with the same.

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