Client relationships: too close for comfort?
When working closely with clients it’s inevitable that some client relationships will venture from professional into friend territory. But how close is too close?
A certain level of intimacy with clients can be a good thing. It builds trust, and that – along with the quality of work – is often what makes them return. But if you are going to become chums with clients, you need to know your boundaries. Here are a few pointers on client relationships:
Be clear from the start
While answering one quick question for a friend client is fine, repeated requests for unpaid help are just plain cheeky. Be firm and clear with your clients from the start so there’s no confusion.
If a pal client approaches me for my professional help I’ll most likely charge them for it. Offering freebies devalues your services and makes it difficult to ever charge again in the future.
If you’re going to offer mates rates to close clients, set a figure (a percentage works well) and stick to it. But remember, you don’t always have to offer them. If times are tough and you can’t afford to drop your price, even for a bestie, that’s absolutely fine. Just tell your client. Honesty is an important part of any relationship.
"Offering freebies devalues your services, and makes it difficult to ever charge again in the future."
Return the favour
Just like any other relationship, if the love is only coming one way things generally won’t work out. Doing favours for chum clients is fine, but they should give something in return.
Try to think of clever, inexpensive ways to show your client love. This can be anything from sending them a post-job pack of branded jelly beans to adding their site link to your website or promoting them via social media.
While a little phone banter is fine, try to keep anything work-related 100-per-cent professional. Don’t drop your processes or standards just because you’re on friendly terms with a client.
I rarely ‘friend’ clients because for me that’s a step too far. (In the four years I’ve been running my business I’ve allowed only three clients into my inner sanctum.)
Is it possible to be friends with clients? Absolutely. But just like any other friendship, it takes work to keep client relationships healthy. And if money is exchanging hands, then staying on your best business behaviour is vital.
Have you befriended any clients? How do you make client relationships work? Have you had any great or terrible experiences with your client chums?