If you work for an agency or own one, your clients are kind of like your children—you care for all of them equally, but you secretly have a favorite.
The favorite is the client who just makes your job easy, even when the project is big and complex. They trust you to do a good job, you communicate well with each other, and you both feel like you’re part of the same team. At the end of the project, you have a hard time watching them leave the agency nest because you loved working together so much 😭.
Sometimes all of that happens naturally, but usually, you’ll need to prime your client to have that kind of relationship with you. By aligning expectations early on and maintaining that alignment, you could turn a potentially difficult client into one of your favorites.
Do this as early as possible, ideally in the sales process before the client is even your client. Let them know precisely what they can expect from you, in addition to what you expect from them. For instance, we have agile teams here at AE Studio, so we train all of our clients in the agile method before working together. That way, there’s no significant confusion about our process as we move through the project.
Communicate why each person is on the team and how they’ll contribute to the project. Your client should feel like they handpicked the team themself, and not like they're being charged for project management or design when they don't think it's necessary.
Transparency is critical when it comes to budget. We’ve found talking freely about budget, and talking about it often, works. Sure, it can be an uncomfortable subject, but that’s because a lot of agencies only bring it up when they’ve overrun the client’s budget, and there’s still much to be done. Yeah—that’s pretty awkward. But if you keep costs in the conversation often, there won’t be any surprises. Talking about things in terms of hours rather than dollars can be helpful, too. Empower your client to understand the opportunity costs of random new requests and make tradeoffs with the complete picture in mind. If you don’t brush stuff like this under the rug, your client will be a lot easier to work with because they won't be skeptical that you’re ripping them off.
Assuming your intentions are good and moral, you want your client to know that you’re actually trying to optimize the hours you’re spending on their project. Asking questions like, “What do you absolutely want to accomplish by X date?” or “Do you feel like there’s anything that can be deprioritized?” while discussing budgets can help.
It goes both ways, too. Your client shouldn’t be taking advantage of your time, trying to squeeze way too much into a short period, and making it impossible for you to succeed. That’s not what your favorite client would do, and the onus is on you to prevent it!
Lead with Empathy
At the end of the day, both you and your client share the same goal—so you should try to be as empathetic towards them as possible. Try to learn and be conscious of what makes them tick, and then they’ll be more likely to do the same for you. Take note of the little things they mention, like the sports team they root for or the wiener dog they just adopted, and try to establish a rapport with them, even if only briefly at the beginning of a meeting.
When you train yourself to be a bit more thoughtful, you begin to regard your client not only as someone you’re doing work for but as an individual with a lot going on outside of this project. A little personal connection goes a long way, and again, they’ll often reciprocate the behavior, making working together easier and simply more fun.
With expectations aligned, budgets worked out, and an empathetic connection established, there’s a good chance that your client will begin working with you in a way that’s beneficial for both parties—as long as you live up to the standards you’ve created. Then hopefully, they’ll become a really favorable client to work with, which means...
- You’ll get more done—a lot more. Sometimes even double the amount of work. Here’s an example: In one case, we had a fantastic working relationship with a client—we were on the same page from the jump. We expected it would take 6 months to build the first version of their iOS app, and they were totally on board, so we got started.
We were ready to release the first version in 3 months.
Why? Not because it was super easy—in fact, it was a pretty technical project with a lot of moving parts. The real reason we cranked it out so quickly was because expectations were aligned; we just got each other. That allowed us to get into flow states in our work all the more often. We knew what we had to do and what was expected of us, and the client knew they could trust us because we put everything out on the table early on. We maintained a close relationship throughout, communicating every step of the way.
- You’ll talk about the important stuff. With expectations and a good relationship already established, you’ll have a lot more time to dig deeper and talk through things related to the actual work you’re doing, instead of smoothing over misunderstandings or less important issues.
You can mull over one-way-door decisions together—those big decisions that aren’t easily reversible—rather than the trivial, two-way-door decisions that can be changed quickly. In the example above, we felt comfortable chiming in when the client was focusing too much energy on two-way doors, and then veering them towards things that needed their attention, like choosing which data science language to use for their product. (We went with a really common one so they'd be able to find people to work on it in the future when they grow.)
- You’ll go out of your way to do more for them. Like we said at the beginning, you're going to care for all of your clients. But just like that favorite family member, you’ll unconsciously begin to go way above and beyond for favorable clients just because you like working with them. You might not even notice you’re doing it—you’re just having fun with the work and approaching it from a place of excitement.
So, to those shopping for an agency (whether it's ours or another), this post is for you too. Make sure your agency is upfront with you from the beginning and align your expectations with theirs, and you’ll reap the benefits of being the golden child.