Here at Collabor8te, we’re often sitting quietly in our beautiful workspace, listening to a bit of music, working hard and getting things done. Conversation occasionally breaks out during the work day, and isn’t that one of the reasons most of us like working here rather than at home? The challenges we face running our businesses are a common theme…
Enter, Aidan Brown.
Aidan Brown is one of Collabor8te’s original members. He is a fixture at desk nine, and he’s always got a friendly hello. Aidan has had a long career in sales and marketing, and he prides himself on being able to help business people meet challenges through creative problem solving.
Chances are, you’ll recognise some of the challenges that inspired Aidan when he put together his workshop. As small business owners, many of us want to take on ALL customers, and then we find ourselves frustrated that some take up a disproportionate amount of time and/or energy. It can feel like a one-way street, unrewarding both financially and emotionally.
Learning to identify the characteristics of your best customers can save time and give you the confidence to focus your efforts on finding more of the right people or businesses to work with. Our discussion around this topic led to a summary of characteristics that the group categorised as traits of good and bad clients.
Three common themes emerged most strongly in the discussion of client issues:
1. 1. Workload versus compensation
2. 2. Clarity, understanding and decisiveness
3. 3. A working relationship that isn’t working
Workload and compensation are fundamental issues. In business, products or services are exchanged for money. When the money is undependable, the business relationship is unstable. There can be other financial issues as well. For example, time vampires demand a level of communication that isn’t justified by the level of compensation, and bargain hunters chip away at your bottom line.
Next, there are the clients who either don’t know what they want, can’t communicate it clearly or can’t commit to it. In some cases, they don’t understand their own requirements well enough to delegate them effectively. This can cause all kinds of problems, including misunderstandings, unrealistic expectations and stalled, unfinished or poor quality projects. These situations often lead to compensation issues, as well. Sometimes this type of client can be managed; they can be educated and advised. However, this takes extra, ongoing effort. It’s a shame, because an indecisive client can be enthusiastic, engaging and likeable. You just need to know when to say, “It’s not worth it.”
Finally, there are the bad relationships. These are clients you wish you could serve with divorce papers based on irreconcilable differences. They’re hard to connect with, humourless, or toxic. You feel little rapport, and there may be a fundamental mismatch of values. This type of client simply does not contribute to a pleasant and rewarding business relationship.
A good client relationship means timely transactions. They hold up their side of the deal by paying on time, and so do you: you hand in deliverables on time. Exceptions are acknowledged and explained. Anything less can potentially damage the relationship. It might seem too obvious to state, but it’s amazing how many business relationships break down at this basic level: trust.
Beyond that, what is a good client? A relationship with a good client has three fundamental strengths:
1. 1. Mutual respect
2. 2. Good communication and shared competence
3. 3. A sense of fun, fellowship and connection
Like a personal relationship, a business relationship thrives on mutual respect. A good client values your contribution and shows it not only by providing repeat business, but by creating new opportunities. They respect you enough to provide honest feedback, but for the most part, they like your work and give you a fair amount of freedom. You, in turn, respect them and their business and keep their interests in the front of your mind. That mutual respect helps to create a successful, symbiotic relationship.
The other necessary ingredients are good communication and shared competence. A good client knows what they want and can express their needs clearly. You understand what they want and can meet those needs. Sometimes, things don’t start out at the perfect balance point. You work things out together, and you find that balance; you can do it because you’re able to communicate well.
The very best clients take it to the next level. You enjoy working with them and feel a connection that goes beyond money. You get along, and more than that, you support each other. These are clients who believe in you, believe in your business and want you to succeed. They’re advocates, and maybe they’re even raving fans.
Turning Good Clients into More Good Clients
Your best clients are the ones who recommend you without reservations. They help generate leads, and those leads are likely to turn into good customers themselves. A good customer provides regular business, but they can also call your attention to new possibilities and new directions for your business. However, this seldom happens by accident. Good business relationships need to be developed and nurtured, and that’s another workshop and at least one more post!