Business is Personal

April
5
2010

In today’s global market, where obstacles to how and where we do business are shrinking all the time, a business relationship is really not that different than a friendship.¬† Both need to be built on trust, and both friends and clients should feel that they can depend on you.

Especially in the case of a freelancer, becoming friendly with a prospective client may be the best way to differentiate yourself from the corporate beasts that seek only to post numbers and turn prospects into profit. While I’m resolute that “business is personal”, however, the key to maintaining a thriving business is understanding and imposing proper boundaries.

Consider these two examples:

A friend who became a client

I’ve experienced this scenario thrice.¬† Certainly I was thrilled to be able to help friends who needed services that I provide.

In starting the process though, certain parameters were made very clear, even beyond pricing.

My home is where the vast majority of my code and design work is done, but it’s also my haven of peace. I prefer not to conduct business there if possible, so I arrange for client meetings to occur at their places of business, or at some neutral location.¬† All invoices are delivered by mail (e and snail) from my business addresses, and anytime there is ever even a hint that I would be expected to do something for nothing “because we’re pals”, I quash the idea right away.

One of my friends still insists on forwarding email jokes to my business email address.¬† I have yet to respond to a single one.¬† When he asks if I got his email, I simply explain that I use that address for business only, and that he probably shouldn’t expect any response to those messages.

Chatting about our lives, tastes, and sharing who we are still occurs, and should, but I believe when conversing with a client you need to make a very conscious effort to keep every word positive on your end.  Being positive when chatting with people is good advice anyway, but all the more important when representing your brand.  All your clients, even your friends, should get to feel your passion for what you do and sense how happy you seem when doing it. The last things you should discuss with any client are personal difficulties, or business woes, unless they relate to your client and serve to set them more at ease.

A client who became a friend

Consistency is key, and everything about how to deal with friends becoming clients should remain the same in this scenario.¬† The major difference here is that without the friendship tag already being placed on the relationship, you don’t have to necessarily be so adamant when establishing boundaries.¬† Most of them will already exist.

Here, it’s important to re-establish boundaries, rather than create them.¬† What I mean is that you’ll need to climatize this new client to the way that you work as a freelancer.

Depending on how you’ve set up your operation, you may have to clearly convey that just because your business phone is the mobile phone on your hip, a call at 11pm on Sunday is not an acceptable time to ring you with a question. It’s a good idea to create specific avenues of communication, and identify for your clients which to use and when to use them. Set up a contact form that goes to email, for example, for nagging little questions that are not emergencies.

You’ll need to explain the symbiotic nature of your working relationship.¬† Getting to know everything you can about your client, their product or service, their market, the “feel” they wish to convey, their personal tastes, then molding their expectations, are all key in providing them with stellar work.

Encourage an open dialogue, and assure them that no matter how trivial it may seem, that it is vital they share every detail they can about the project. It’s a good idea to help the client understand that the two of you are beginning a long-term relationship too. Conceivably, as you work together more and more, your understanding of their business or organization will deepen, and the work you’ll produce for them will only get better.

Toughen yourself up too. Every client will come to you with preconceived notions about what you do. They will also have their own personal tastes, and of course, opinions. The reality is that damn near all of the work delivered will come directly from you. There’s just no way around it…that’s pretty personal. You can’t afford to take every criticism personally. Keep in mind, that opinions are like assholes…everyone has one, and everyone thinks everyone else’s stinks.

Allowing clients to get to know you on a personal level can also set them at ease. Most of us would tell our friends anything, but here, exercise a healthy dose of caution. Your client doesn’t need to know everything about you, especially if you love writing code in ladies underwear…keep that to yourself for the love of Pete. You’ll know if you’ve shared too much just by how the conversation grinds to a halt.

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