I still remember working with the first client who didn’t see eye to eye with me on what the final design we were working on would look like. I wasn’t freelancing — it was a studio job, and I didn’t have much choice in working with them. All I could recall was vowing to “train” my clients moving forward to spare myself the frustration.
A few failed attempts later, and I learned that clients aren’t puppies. You can’t train them like one.
Ultimately, I had to go in the opposite direction to get the response and outcome that I wanted. Since then, it’s made working with clients much more enjoyable and successful.
What’s the secret?
We’ve got to be on the same page before the project starts. Clients that are great to work with appreciate when you trust them. It helps them open their trust back to you. Even better, establishing a common goal is a great way to keep things focused on a singular prize. It ends up being a better relationship and allows you to avoid feeling the need to train someone in the art of working with you.
It’s always important to include them in your process and guide them through each step. It’s frustrating to stand on the sidelines and watch the game unfold without doing anything. If you’re doing your work without keeping your client up to date, its easy for them to feel frustrated. If a client feels frustrated, it opens an avenue up to finding and developing ideas on their own.
While you’re guiding and working with your client, make sure you’re actually listening to their input. This is a small trick that can help maintain your expertise to them. The classic story typically involves a client who excitedly shows you an idea. The idea isn’t very good and it may impact the project negatively. By talking through the idea and getting to the bottom of it, you might help them understand why it doesn’t fit their needs. You both may realize it fits better elsewhere or in a different project altogether. On the flip side, it may open up a concern they have but were unable to articulate well.
By taking this approach, you don’t have to go through the trouble of training your client. The goal here is to work with them like a partnership instead of one versus the other.
This route ends up making things easier on you, especially if a new idea or shift in direction comes up. Your client may be more responsive to your idea or be more agreeable to altering the project’s course.
I’ll be honest, it took a little bit of practice for me to get the hang of. But as I started to get my feet underneath me, it made a world of difference. And to be honest, it’s made it a more enjoyable experience for me when I’m working with others.
So next time you find yourself in this spot, give it a try. The worst that happens is it doesn’t work. But I think you might be surprised by the results.