Dating Your Clients

by Jin, 09-16-08 // 5 comments

A Few years ago during a long drive to the beach, I heard a piece on NPR that totally caught me off guard. It was an interview Terry Gross, the host of Fresh Air had with Micheal Patrick King, the creator of Sex and the City. What he said about relationships had so much truth in it, I still think about it whenever friends ask me for relationship advice.

MPK: Whenever you fall in love with someone for the first time, or you start dating, you get to delay the reality of who you are for about six months I think. And then the real stuff starts to come out[...]

TG: I’m going to stop you right there. That’s very perceptive, what you just said: “when you’re falling in love with someone you can delay the reality of who you really are.”

MPK: There’s that philosophy, that the real person doesn’t show up until six months in, up till that for five months, you’re just projecting who you think they are on them.

TG: And the other thing is what you can do what Richard Price calls the “wonder of me.” For those first few weeks, few months where you tell them great stories about yourself as for the first time.

MPK: Yeah, “the Best of You” from your best CD of How You Talk About Yourself on a date. The other thing is also very effective is the first couple dates You perform Your one-man show , which is You are so interesting, at them. Which makes the delay You really don’t know who… all You know is You’re falling in love with You. when You’re talking to somebody else, because they’re telling You how interesting You are.

This brief segment gave me a reality check. It took me back to my own past relationships. Almost all started the way King described. While I did not pretend I was someone I was not per se, I definitely put on my best side at the start of a new relationship. I was more outgoing, more patient and funnier. I even ironed my shirts.

Meeting someone new is exciting and scary. You don’t know what the other person is like. So the easiest way to give a good initial impression is to be better than you normally are. This is a common behavior. However, how much you set yourself up at the beginning will ultimately make or break the relationship because eventually you’ll get back to your comfortable norm. This is when the other person either loves you for who you are, or leaves you because “you’ve changed.”

The reason I bring this up is not because I’m craving for chick flicks. I only knew of Sex and the City because the wife forced me to watch it with her.

Really.

Over the years as a web designer, I have given and received a lot of advice on building a good relationship with clients. Much of which focused on the project execution and delivery. As far as clients go, sometimes it seems if a project went smoothly, then mission accomplished. Recently I started to reflect on my encounters with my past clients. To my unknowing surprise, what was said in the interview I quoted applies to dealing with clients professionally too. Sorry, this is the part where you realize the title of this article is somewhat intentionally misleading.

Unlike a romantic relationship, business clients are a a lot less forgiving. You’re not likely to get a second or a third chance if you mess up. How you present and market yourself when you first work with clients, is the way they expect you to be down the road. They expect you to be no less, only more. So before you promise a new client that you can deliver five mock-ups for every project, design their flyers pro-bono, learn programming if needed, or be on-call during after-hours for support, ask yourself: can you really? Chances are you can, initially, because you’re eager to win them over. But keep in mind, if you set yourself up too high in order to sell yourself as a “super designer,” you will get burned out eventually.

What clients want, like any relationship, is someone who is consistent. Consistency is the key. It builds trust and generates referrals.

The old cliché is sound because it’s true: “just be who you are.” If you’re a good designer, clients will see that, and appreciate your talent and skill. Don’t create a facade of who you think your client wants you to be, just be.

5 comments

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Dmitry 09-16-08

Definitely. If you plan on a longer term relationship with the client, then consistency is the most important thing. People want to be able to rely on their staff and contractors, and consistent delivery will alleviate risk and uncertainty.

Jeremy 09-16-08

I really did start dating my client. We’re still married nearly 14 years (and 5 kids) later. . .

Jin 09-16-08

@Dmitry, yep. Sometimes reliability trumps even skill set. This is also why when interviewing, the employer/client often looks for personality traits as well.

@Jeremy, ha! That’s one way to lock down a long term contract :)

Bryan Chain 09-16-08

WTB MORE TAO PLEASE!

Fanny-Min Becker 09-26-08

No contract (yet), but I have been with my client for quite some years now ;-)