Beyond “Strictly Business Relationships”
Many of us tend to keep our clients at an arms length; they tell us what to do, we do it, they give us monies, everyone is happy.
Personally, though, I’ve had more success and enjoy my work a lot more by moving beyond the “strictly business relationship.”
Getting to know clients on somewhat of a more personal level helps them see you as more than a voice on the phone that makes articles, graphics, websites, etc appear and can make repeat business more likely, or it could increase the likelihood that they’ll be more willing to help you in other ways later.
As an example, a few months back, an editor asked me to drop by his office to pick up some documents he wanted me to use for an article. While there, we start talking about politics and before I know it, we’re looking for an angle on the issue we’re discussing for his publication and I walk out with a second assignment I wouldn’t have gotten had we stuck to business.
It could often involve just an extra 10 minutes of small talk, but that 10 minutes can go a long way to getting referrals and repeat business.
Get to know them
You can learn a surprising amount people with that extra few minutes of small talk, but you can also get to know clients simply by doing a bit of homework. As a writer, I always study a client’s publication – what kind of articles do they editors write themselves? What positions do they take in their editorials? With other industries, it can simply be a matter of checking their website or blog if they have one. There you can learn about their hobbies, sense of humour and political inclinations, all of which can be great fodder for discussion at meetings.
Go out for coffee
If both you and the client have time, meet in a non-business setting to discuss the project. This offers a more relaxed meeting and makes off-topic conversation less awkward. Of course, in a coffee shop, it’s also important to remember business and not to spend too much time on chit-chat.
Thank you notes and holiday cards
A little note of thanks after a project can create some good will and keeps communication open after the fact as well. Sending out holiday cards is also a nice touch, it’s inexpensive, doesn’t take long and a non-pestering way of reminding people you’re still alive and available.
Being an information junkie, I’m constantly scanning newspapers, magazines, blogs and any place else I might learn something. If I happen to see something relevant to a client’s publication that they probably haven’t seen, I might shoot them a quick e-mail bringing their attention to it.
Sometimes even just checking in to see how things are doing for them can lead to more opportunities. In one case, I called up an editor of a small magazine to see what has happening over in his world and learned that he was drowning in work. After offering to help out with this situation, I had myself a few hundred dollars worth of assignments. Not bad for a five minute phone call.
This is where many freelancers tend to disagree with me and some would even call it unprofessional. I don’t create a separate business persona, the people I work with are well aware of my irreverent sense of humour, my vices, strengths and yes, weaknesses.
I’ve seen friends who do the professionalism act and they always seem to come off as horribly fake and I usually have to leave the room if they’re doing business. I don’t see the point. My clients know I’m a human being and showing it makes it easier to find common ground, plus it can often give us other points of discussion to jump off on. Besides, everyone needs a good laugh now and then.
Obviously your time is important and so is your client’s, so remember not to be a pest, but checking in briefly or an extra few minutes of conversation can go a long way.