As creative people, unless we are producing things for no financial reward, and especially those of us who work on an independent basis, attracting and winning clients and customers is effectively the most important aspect of the package of work we do (beyond the creative work itself).
Having seen responses to various questions from hundreds of you, it is obvious that problems with clients rank high on the list of frustrations for creative people. Such issues range from being paid too little and late, being under-appreciated as providers of important services and things of real cultural value, miscommunication, ignorance, being dropped at the last minute, downright abuse, being unable to find them, and lack of respect.
Poor clients can be a real source of stress for many of us (not meant in the financial sense, though some of them could be! We’re talking about those people who we provide a product or service in exchange for cash).
For the most part, the ‘clients’ we deal with who give us grief are inexperienced.
They will likely be new to hiring and working with people and immature to the needs and the system behind a functioning relationship between client and service or product provider (that’s us). Think of a poor or difficult client you worked with in the past. It’s likely they were amateurs. For those of you in the process of working out your target client, simply knowing this will already help you get more focused in who to target your services towards.
Before you think of this post as an all out rant at horrid client monsters, know that many clients work with freelancers and others with the best intentions, and for the most part are perfectly nice people. The problem will most often be found in their inexperience and unfamiliarity with working with contractors effectively.
The reason many of us end up with these kinds of people is through a combination of an absence of options, and a lack of personal standards. Let’s look briefly at having options first…
We might be new to the search for clients right at the start of a freelance career, be pressured to bring in extra income, be short on time and unclear about what it is we want and how to proceed.
We jump at the opportunity to make some money on any project and with any client when we are short on choice, desperate, overwhelmed and/or clueless about our direction and in terms of what to prioritise. In this case we often end up serving the client more than entering into an agreement that benefits us mutually.
What are more options? Simply having more potential clients to choose from, so that potentially poor clients can be dropped, with choices as backups, if they crop up in the first place. This kind of ‘weeding out’, has the benefit of forcing poorer clients to improve the way they do business as well.
Having more people approaching us more often, or within our thriving network, means that we as service-providers are in the cockpit, as opposed to falling at the feet of the first prospect to come and offer us a job. We may well be satisfied with a single client who provides us with on-going, well-paid work, year round. But the danger lies in the risk of losing that client overnight, and then being faced with a lack of options.
“Having more people approaching us more often, or within our thriving network, means that we as service-providers are in control.”
This is why it is important to maintain a healthy range of choices for you in the form of prospects, ‘warm leads’, and strong connections. This is the first component in minimising poor clients in your career.
So how to increase the options you have? After obviously working on presenting a quality product or service, this is through making people in your target market aware that you and your quality product exist. In other words, self promotion.
Now don’t fear, self promotion doesn’t have to be cringey and ‘salesy’. The form of self promotion I always advocate, what I call ‘Promo 3.0’, involves a softer, more organic form of growing real and relevant connections into a thriving network. I talk more about this in my book, which you can download here.
With the right kind of promotion, directed at the kinds of people you aspire to work with, you’ll be making ideal clients aware of you, whilst cutting out the chance of working with those you wouldn’t want to, all at the same time.
Having options on their own can be a very solid deterrent to working with poor clients, but is massively strengthened by exerting your own standards too.
Personal and Business Standards
Closely intertwined with lacking options, is not having certain standards in place that help clarify to both the client and yourself, how it is you operate as a professional. A standard that you set as a freelancer could be in not working at a weekend, only working with those who agree to sign a contract, charging for transferral of copyrights, or only working with people who agree to pay an up-front payment of 50% overall fee of the project, for example.
Having a set of standards benefits you in two ways.
Standards help guide the screening process for clients who approach you (once you have created further options, discussed previously) so that you weed out potentially poor clients. Secondly, having clear standards will demonstrate your professionalism and dedication to work (and your craft), which will have the effect of attracting the better clients anyway.
The standards, boundaries and conditions that you set will be incorporated into your interaction with prospects, as well as being displayed anywhere that people can see them when considering whether to work with you, such is within your website’s ‘About’ page and for more technical aspects, your ‘Terms and Conditions’.
Standards do not just appear as written rules, but are also felt through the way you deal with prospects, the character that you show and the attitude you possess. High character will inevitably and often attract clients with similar character maturity. Exhibiting a good attitude can have a strong effect on how others talk about and refer you.
“Standards do not just appear as written rules, but are also felt through the way you deal with prospects, the character that you show and the attitude you possess.”
If you have options, then there is no need to panic about losing a client if they don’t fit in with the standards you have set. As long as you promote yourself regularly with an understanding of your target client, keep standards reasonable and comfortable to you, and you deliver them in a professional manner, you’ll be attracting the right clients consistently.
Do add your thoughts and experiences in the comments area below.