I recently wrote a Coach’s Corner column for AIIP about how to manage difficult clients and, as I was writing it, I realized that I have had very few difficult clients over the last 25+ years in business. What’s my secret? I’m certainly not perfect, but here are the approaches that have helped me attract and keep so many clients I respect, admire and look forward to working with.
I market myself authentically. I speak and write frequently, and I’m known for having an informal, accessible approach. I make sure people see how much I enjoy what I’m doing and that I might be someone they would enjoy working with. I want to attract clients who enjoy what they’re doing and who like working with people who also enjoy what they’re doing. And if my style rubs a prospective client the wrong way, I assume that we probably wouldn’t have been a good fit.
I approach each project with curiosity. One of the benefits of regularly working on bonsai research projects is knowing that no two projects are the same. My initial phone calls with clients are always open-ended, and we’re often both surprised at how the scope or focus of the project changes after our conversation. Part of my value is being a sounding board and talking through what my client’s desired outcome is and how I can best help facilitate that outcome. I’m not looking for opportunities to up-sell; I’m looking for ways I can contribute the most.
I check my ego at the door. My clients bring me into a project because they need to get something done, or understand a market better, or provide better value to their clients. They’re only going to be happy if, at the end of our engagement, they were able to accomplish whatever it was they set out to do. If that means I need to rework my deliverable, or refocus my approach, or (sometimes) put in some unbillable time to make sure my client is happy, I’ll do it. Happy clients mean repeat business and referrals to other great clients.
I use flat-fee pricing. I want my clients to feel like they aren’t taking a big risk when they engage me, and I want them to know that I’m confident in my ability to meet their needs. In my experience, agreeing on a flat fee for the project serves as a promise to my clients that I’ll hold up my end of the agreement. Of course, I make sure I build in a little wiggle room in the budget; this helps me feel generous with my time if it takes a few back-and-forths for my client to feel happy with the final deliverable.
TL;DR version: I look at every engagement from my client’s point of view, and try to discern what they are most concerned about and how I can make the biggest contribution. Doing whatever it takes to keep a (reasonable) client delighted means I look forward to every engagement I’m on.