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We’ve all had days when we just haven’t seen eye-to-eye with a client. At which point you just want to scream at the top of your voice or run away in frustration. But while that might make you feel better for a second, it doesn’t make the problem disappear. And ultimately, you know you’re going to have to sit down calmly and find a way forward.
When you get to that point, it’s worth reflecting on how often this happens and whether you need to approach your client relationships differently. Even if you aren’t having constant issues with your clients, it’s always worth thinking of ways to improve your approach because a happy client is more fun to work with and will probably end up sending more money and work your way.
To point you in the right direction, and to celebrate
We couldn’t agree more! So read on for practical and actionable advice on keeping your clients happy and, ultimately, becoming happier in your work yourself.
1. Spell everything out
One of the biggest problems in client relationships – or indeed, any relationship – is when one party makes assumptions about the other and assumes they think in exactly the same way. In the words of American political scientist Eugene Lewis Fordsworthe, “assumption is the mother of all mistakes.” So it’s important to establish boundaries from the very start.
That means explaining to clients, in detail, how you operate. Outline the systems you have in place to ensure good communication and collaboration. And make it clear when you’re available, too. For example, calling you at 9pm on a Friday to ask for a completed piece of work by Monday morning is never going to happen!
“One of the main things is to make sure both sides are clear about what has been agreed – in writing in my case,” says
2. Keep communicating constantly
However, making things clear isn’t just about the start of a relationship. The same approach needs to be followed throughout each project.
“Good communication is vital,” emphasises freelance motion designer
“Be proactive,” adds content writer
Above all, don’t keep information close to your chest. “I have learned the hard way to give clients as much information as possible – more than you think is necessary – and make sure they’ve seen it and understand it,” says freelance graphic designer and podcast host
Nor should you make the mistake of thinking everyone will remember a conversation in the same way: in practice, people often have vastly different ideas about what has or hasn’t been agreed during a discussion. So as author-illustrator
recommends, “Always put things that are communicated on phone, Zoom, or WhatsApp voice message in writing after.”
SEO and marketing consultant
3. Be honest and upfront
Communication is not just about sharing raw information. It’s also about being honest about how things are progressing. And while the temptation is to soft-soap the client and hand-wave away any problems, that won’t do either of you any good in the long run.
Instead, “Be upfront about everything,” advises interior and architecture photographer
By doing so, you won’t just keep clients happy, but you’ll find it much easier to avoid the dreaded ‘scope creep’, says illustrator and designer
4. Manage disagreements diplomatically
Being open and honest means that, at some point, you may run into disagreements about the way the project is heading. That’s not a disaster in itself: indeed, it shows that you’re passionate about the project and committed to it succeeding. But it’s how you handle the disagreement that’s crucial.
“When you strongly disagree with the client about direction, it’s your job to try and justify your reasoning and convince them as to why your way is best,” says graphic designer
It’s also vital to be selective about how often you push back. “Pick your battles,” says graphic designer
A big part of that is listening to the client: really listening. “No matter how absurd their ideas sound, pay attention,” urges graphic designer and logo artist
5. Demonstrate a long-term commitment
Want to keep a client happy over the long term? Remember that clients are people too and like the idea of people making a long-term commitment to them, rather than just grabbing the money on each project and running away.
One way you can demonstrate a long-term commitment is by thinking ahead and anticipating their needs. For instance, it’s a good rule of thumb to email clients two months before any upcoming holidays. Then send a note a couple of weeks before your trip, saying: “Now’s your last chance to get something done before my annual leave in June”. Put your next holiday dates in your email footer, too; this allows clients to plan and shows them you’re on the ball and prioritising their needs around your schedule.
Another key way to build long-term trust with a client is to focus on the little details of daily interaction. For example: “A quick ‘thanks’ or ‘got it’ after each email lets the client know you’ve got their message,” notes motion/graphic designer
That said, if the client goes quiet on you, that’s their prerogative, so keep calm and carry on. “I’ve noticed creatives can treat client relationships like dating,” observes creative coach
One way to do so is to hold annual client reviews. It is essentially a scheduled meeting where you discuss how things are going with your client to make sure everything is on track, and everyone is happy. What are you doing well? What can you do better? Can you review rates? In short, it’s an opportunity for both sides to reset the relationship.
At the end of the day, keeping clients happy comes down to one thing: good communication. That’s partly about regular and consistent with your communication, to make the client feel they’re needed, respected and well informed. It’s also about empathy: being able to see into the mind of your client and realise what type of information they need and how they’d prefer it delivered. Do all that, do good work, and you’ll be in demand forever more.