What’s Your Client Relationship Like?
Client relations aren’t easy, just as personal relationships can be challenging. But are they that different? When looked at closely they actually seem pretty similar:
The Good: You’re best buds, you’re both pretty sure you can talk about anything, tell each other everything. Problems are there to be talked about, so that’s what you do, usually over a beer. You seal deals with a handshake, since friends don’t need any contracts, quotes, or other written documents.
The Bad: Money is a weird issue for you. It feels uncomfortable to charge a friend, right? So you avoid it, postpone charging till the last possible opportunity, and even then it doesn’t feel right. Smaller jobs are not worth charging for anyway, so you do some of the work as a favour for them, because that’s what friends do. Over time the work adds up, and you realise that you really could have used the money you haven’t charged but are afraid to bring it up – because that might lead to:
The Ugly: After you realise you have money problems, you want to talk about it, but your friend points out the obvious: You are friends and friends don’t charge each other money. Plus, you don’t have anything signed to prove it. You charge him anyway, since you need the money. Things get messy, and you have to go to court. You go separate ways afterwards and never call each other again.
The Good: It’s exciting, it’s new, there’s electricity. You can’t get your hands off each other and spend a lot of time together. It just clicks.
The Bad: Is there anything bad about young love? Break-ups hurt, but you’ll get over it. It’s weird to pick up your things afterwards and to ask for things you left at the other’s place, but you’ll work it out. You don’t call each other again, but you had fun and got something out of it.
The Ugly: Sometimes it gets really messy. Things are thrown at each other, and open issues are left in a drawer. You don’t talk about that money your client owes you. You just leave it at that.
The Married Couple
The Good: You’ve known each other for a long time. You trust each other, there are never any surprises. You signed a prenuptial agreement before the wedding, so you’re both on the safe side.
The Bad: To the outsider, everything seems perfect. But there are problems, and you’re afraid to talk about them because you don’t know how it will effect your relationship. You start seeing other clients on the side, trying to hide it as best as you can.
The Ugly: You start yelling at each other at meetings because you’re both so hurt and confused. It gets to the point when it’s no longer bearable, so you decide to go separate ways. You find a way to handle your kids (old projects), so that they still get to see both of you. You might not talk to each other for some months after that, but soon you become:
The Separated Couple
The Good: You both have history and kids. You worked through several projects together and raised them together. Since you still care for them, you see each other on a regular basis. You both know you can talk openly to each other, though bringing up new clients and freelancers is usually a weird topic, so you tend to avoid it.
The Bad: Your kids (i.e. your projects) usually suffer the most. You pick them up at fixed times, and drop them off again later. You talk about what you did with them, what lines of code you fixed, what improvements they made, but you don’t work on them together, as a team, so the quality decreases. It works out somehow, but you could’ve been better. Pair programming was just so much more productive.
The Ugly: Not much, really. You have nothing to hide, and you’re getting along pretty well. If everything falls apart, you just go your separate ways and find a way to handle your kids without much personal contact.
The Perfect Stranger
The Good: You know each other. You don’t always remember how you guys met, but when you meet on the street you greet each other, have a little chat and continue without much further ado. You can talk, but there’s a certain distance which isn’t necessarily bad. You tend to call each other every now and then to see what’s up. It keeps your relationship on a level required to work together efficiently and productively.
The Bad: The distance can be too far. You don’t feel close enough to criticize, or to discuss problems in a larger scale.
The Ugly: Pretty much the worst that can happen is that you never call each other again, but neither of you would really get worked up enough to intentionally avoid one another.
Did any of these ring a bell? Or do you have a totally different thing going on with your clients?
Client relations are complex beasts just like your personal relationships. You’ll always have your ups and downs with clients, but as long as you treat them with trust, respect and openness you’ll hopefully avoid the ugly side of the client relationship.