Being Intentional about Client Services / by Matthew Cook

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Client services can mentally, emotionally, and creatively destroy you. It’s not always easy, it can be hard, and you have to find a good way to deal with people and organizations. As much as we all wish we could make awesome stuff on the web and never have to deal with the people who are paying for it, our industry doesn’t work that way. Sure you can take a shot with your own start-up or side project, but most of us will still have to work with clients at the end of the day.

There aren’t really a ton of tools and techniques out there to help freelancers strategically pick the right clients. By the way, you should be picking clients just as much as they’re picking you. Some freelancers have more choices than others, but ultimately you should be choosing every single one. What I see happening is awesome web people don’t do a lot of thinking before they sign on with a client.

  • Why do you want to work with this client?
  • What do you want to accomplish with this client and this project?
  • What drives you toward the type of work this client offers?
  • What is the most important characteristic this client needs for this type of project?
  • Where do you want your work in general to take you?

If your first answer to each of those questions is some form of “more money”, you’re doing it wrong.

There’s a time and place to let money come first, but it shouldn’t be your universal answer. Anyone running any type of design gig should be able to effectively profile potentials and projects, set measurable strategic business goals, and be prepared for a personal post-project relationship assessment before ever accepting a client. You should be able to consider each client separately from the project they’re offering

Client qualification shouldn’t be synonymous to project qualification. Successes and failures are rarely caused by business justification, deliverables, timeframe, and money as long as you are setting up and executing your projects right. They’re caused by the people and impetuses behind each of those considerations.  Making sure your work, team, competencies, etc. fit what the client needs isn’t what I’m talking about. I’m talking about strategically steering the business of what you do; I’m talking about how to funnel your skills, interests, and inclinations into an intentional plan to take over your little corner of the world and win the hearts, trust, money, and acclaim of its inhabitants.

Many freelancers and small studios don’t consider the implications of working with who they work with. A lot of what comes forward in their thinking is simply “more”. More clients. More money. More awards. More opportunity to do and refine what I am good at. Figuring out a direction to take and exactly howto pursue it can be an arduous task. We can all solve this, and I think one piece of the solution could be client profiles.

Profiles are really cool. They’re simple, clarifying, and relatively easy to make and use as long as you have the information to make them accurately. To illustrate, consider user profiles for a website. For a negative example, think of racial profiling. See what I mean?

I haven’t figured out completely how I want to do this yet or what it will look like in order to be truly helpful and usable. Making a profile work in tandem with a playbook for approaching specific projects that come from different potential clients would be amazing. I see these profiles, even if they’re just for myself, as the first step in assembling a toolbox. Once I have the groundwork laid, I can start thinking about different areas such as contractor on-boarding for specific types of clients or projects, communication norms and peculiarities, process augmentations or no-no’s, etc.

Big picture, my hypothesis is that profiling each type of client who you want to work with (or who wants to work with you) will help you clarify how you’re accomplishing your goals, and what steps to take along the way.