What makes a great client?

Yesterday I had a delightful lunch with one of my favourite clients. It got me thinking about what defines a great client. What are the qualities of our dynamic, or the specific aspects of our working relationship that make it a pleasure to receive a phone call or new brief from them? It’s not about lunch dates – that’s a by product, an added benefit. The “goodness” of the relationship has been established or developed quite separately.

The most obvious thing is a client that pays on time. Or even early. What a simple pleasure this is. I always try to pay my suppliers early. Because I know that if I look after them, they will look after me. If I’m a good client, then on those times that I need to push them a bit harder or ask for additional support, that they’ll have nothing but good will for me. It’s how it works. It’s courteous and it’s logical. Why should I expect a printer to meet an insanely tight deadline, to do test prints on a dozen stocks because I want it to look just so, to battle peak hour traffic to bring me a proof because my client cannot wait till the next day… and then not pay them on time? It’s illogical.

Professional respect is a biggie. Having respect for the expertise of the people you hire or collaborate with. Essentially we hire people to do jobs we can’t do ourselves. Either because we’re too busy or we don’t want to do it or because it’s not our area of expertise. So let them do it! Give them the space to work and the same respect for their expertise that we expect in our own professions. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have an opinion on their performance or output, but it does mean that you shouldn’t micro manage them to the extent that they have no space to bring anything new to the table beyond what you’ve told them to do. If I hire an architect to design my extension and I say – “Put the kitchen on the left and lead the lounge off it and put a big window over there and I want a polished concrete floor” – they can do that and it may look good but…I’ve effectively limited the project with my available knowledge or field of reference. And an architect is going to know how to use a built space better than I am. After all that’s what they do every day. They design spaces for people to work and live in. What I do know better than anybody is how I live. I like entertaining and am always pressed for time so it’s best if my guests can hang out in the kitchen with me while I cook. I also have a lot of cookbooks and beautiful platters and I like natural light but loathe the heat of summer. I care about sustainability and nearly all of my art is in warm tones. That’s the stuff I need to be telling the architect. How I like to live and how I want my home to feel. And then let them suggest the shape my extension should take. They might just create something even better than what I could have possibly imagined.

So when you’re working with a designer, don’t tell them how to solve the problem; tell them what the problem is – and let them find a solution. Because that’s what we do. Graphic designers solve problems or questions of communication in a visual way. Informed by what we know about you, what your message is and who the target audience is. So tell us about yourself, tell us what’s unique about you or what you value, tell us what you want to say; and let us find the way to communicate all of that.

Which leads me to trust. The best relationships we have are with people we trust. In every area of life. Personal as well as professional. While trust is more truly built up over time; in a professional relationship, early trust can be established by reputation, transparency (honesty and openness) and by the way we conduct ourselves. By looking at my work, you can see the quality or style of my output and by reading my words you learn about my thinking and approach. At this point, you already know (to an extent) if I am a designer you can trust. By talking to me and asking me questions you will discover if I am a person you can trust. And I can do the same. And how wonderful if we do! If we trust each other as professionals and as people. What amazing work we can do together!

Thank you to Mary for the lunch and the inspiration.

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