Encouraging healthy client relationships

by Celina Lucas

One of the main reasons people give for starting up their own business is a desire (some might call it a teeth-gritting obsession) never to work for anyone else again. If you’ve had the boss from Hell, or perhaps just the boss from Purgatory, you’ll know the pleasure of realising that never again will you have to kowtow to someone higher up the food chain. Is this the case though? When you run a small business, there are people whose tune you may have to dance to. These people are called your clients.

When you’re just starting out in business, it can be tempting to grab every piece of work that comes your way. You’re so grateful to have any clients at all, you may not realise for a while just how much of a pain they can be to work for. Unfortunately, if your cash flow relies heavily on a client who’s also a bit of a pain, it can be almost impossible to extract yourself from the working relationship. 

Fortunately, there are very few nightmare clients out there and if you are unfortunate enough to run up against one, I suggest you wave goodbye to them with all possible speed. These are the ones who don’t pay you, who scream abuse down the phone at you, who badmouth you to other people. There is no way you’re going to be able to establish a healthy working relationship with these sort of people, so don’t bother trying. If this is the kind of client you seem to be attracting, I suggest you severe your working contract with them, brush up on your client due diligence and set firmer boundaries from the start.

However, whilst these nightmare clients are thankfully few and far between, there are many others who fall into the ‘bit of a pain’ category. These client relationships can be salvaged and made better for both of you, simply by implementing a few ground rules:

Set boundaries early

By this, I mean be firm about your working hours, what you’re prepared to do, the turnaround time expected of you; present your business practice and stick to it. It’s much easier to be firm with someone you don’t know particularly well than it is to try and retrospectively establish a shorter working day, for example.

Work on establishing excellent, clear communication channels

When you’re given a brief, get it in writing and clarify every area of potential misunderstanding. If it looks as though things are going a little awry, be sure to discuss it thoroughly with your client before the proverbial hits the fan. Repeat yourself if you have to, just so long as everyone is clear.

Keep good records and cover yourself

For example, if you’re leaving a voicemail, leave a time and date when you do. I tend to send an email as well as leaving a phone message. For something crucially important, send it by registered post or courier.

If a client is making your working life a misery, don’t hesitate to ‘let them go’. You don’t have to be impolite – in fact, you should be the opposite – but don’t keep on working for someone who makes your heart sink every time you see their number come up on your phone.

Never forget that you started your own business to embrace the freedom that self-employment can bring. Don’t fall back into the trap of thinking you have to please not one, but many demanding bosses. You’ll find that once you start to attract clients who are a joy to work for, more and more will come your way. 

owns Office Alchemy, a virtual assistance business providing administrative, secretarial and creative support to a variety of small businesses. Contact Office Alchemy for a free, no-obligation consultation through the form on their website at www.officealchemy.co.uk
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