I used to work for my father's business when I was in high school: he provided staffing services to different companies in the area. And although my dad taught me plenty about business during those years, one lesson has carried over into everything I do.
It happened one afternoon when he came back from a sales call, absolutely excited. He'd just "stolen" a huge client away from the competition. This client had been debating whether to renew his contract with my dad's competitor. He had even asked that company if they were able to do anything for him, considering the amount of business and loyalty he had given them over the years.
What did the competitor's sales rep do? He showed up with a box of donuts - not fresh out of the oven, but rather the sort that you might pick up in a gas station. Beyond that, there was nothing he was willing to do for the client.
The client didn't immediately call up anyone else, but word went around. My dad scheduled a meeting him. And in that meeting, he endeavored to show great respect for the prospect. He talked about the research he'd done into their company and where he could help them. He also described how he treated his loyal clients.
It didn't take fancy gifts or a major price discount to win over the prospect. It just took respect.
A Freelancer's Respect
As freelancers, just because we're not in the staffing business doesn't mean that we shouldn't show our clients respect and sincere appreciation. I've heard plenty of stories - from the designer who talks openly about her "Clients from Hell" to freelancers who flat out miss deadlines because something more fun came up at the last minute... or they just weren't in the mood to work on the project.
The fact is that respect is an important component of your reputation as a freelancer - no matter how good your creative skills are and how polished a final project you submit. If a client feels disrespected, he'll move on to a freelancer who will make him feel good after every conversation. He'll choose someone who isn't just reliable but is pleasant to work with. And if the work isn't quite as good - well, good enough will do.
There's no universal way to show respect - no secret handshake or perfect method. But if you start from the idea that you value your clients and that they have a choice when it comes to who they work with, you'll be way ahead of many of your competitors. Follow through on what you promise and treat your clients as you wish to be treated. You'll be headed in the right direction.
Show Respect, to Clients and to Yourself
It's important to note that showing respect isn't the same as being a doormat. You have to show your client that you take yourself as seriously as you take them. It's not disrespectful tell a client "no," especially when you take the time to explain why.
Mutual respect makes for a much better client-freelancer relationship overall. And it all starts by showing your clients respect from the get-go and establishing yourself as someone worth respecting in return. My dad did it by making sure he understood the client's needs. I do it by making sure my client feels comfortable with the way I work and by remaining professional in all my interactions and communications with them.
Sure, there are prospective clients out there who won't respect you in return. Don't work with them. And if you're in the middle of a project when you realize this, finish out that project and let them find someone else for future work.
Build on Your Respect
As a respected (and respectful) freelancer, opportunities start flowing your way. When clients enjoy working with you, they're much more willing to refer their friends and connections to you. You're able to get much better testimonials. You get repeat business and long-term contracts.
Respect isn't a cure-all for every problem you'll encounter. But it can have a huge impact on your client relationships and your freelance income.
Think about your clients in terms of why you value them. Keep that value in mind every time you interact or communicate with them - and especially in difficult situations. That kind of mindset will translate into smarter decisions, improved relationships and repeat business.