Find your ideal clients then take amazing care of them

I have had the pleasure of working as an independent consultant for almost a year now, having left a job with The Grabill Cabinet Company as Marketing and IT Director. Helping clients with web-based app development and supporting marketing agencies with their site build-outs has been a great experience. In addition to my other business endeavors, the last year has reinforced one of the key lessons learned:

Ideal clients

Whenever possible, find your ideal clients and take amazing care of them. For me, I have two clients who fit that category. They are ideal clients in every sense of the term:

  • I do my very best work when working with them
  • Their personality and corporate culture match mine
  • Each of us leaves meetings feeling excited and energized
  • We value what each of us brings to the relationship
  • Both of our organizations are better off together than apart
  • All our interactions feel effortless, built on a lot of trust
  • We can be really honest with one another!

It’s not a new idea, and certainly not something I came up with. A number of authors and sharp businesspeople understand that we do our best work when partnering with clients (and fellow employees) who are a good fit. Michael Port calls it the “Velvet Rope Policy” in Book Yourself Solid. 37Signals puts it this way, “These clients are hard to find, so when we get them we treat them well.”

Treat them like royalty

The critical thing is to take the best care of these clients once you find them. They are difficult to discover and deserve your best. These clients will draw out your best and will refer you to others more often.

When the rubber meets the road, I bend over backwards for my ideal clients and delight in every moment. When an emergency came up that required a last-minute trip 4 hours into Michigan, I was glad to go. When adding a bit of extra work to a project scope delivers a significantly better product, I do it at no charge. I take every opportunity to thank them for their business, both verbally, in writing, and my doing something special for them. As an example, my wife and I had a tremendously enjoyable evening out at a very nice restaurant with a client and his wife. Because these clients are such a good fit, one doesn’t have to maintain a sterile separation between work and family. At the end of the day, my ideal clients love doing business with me, and I feel the same about them.

Create a gracious exit for the rest

Look at the people you do work for. Which ones energize and excite you? Care for them and find more like them. And, the clients who constantly frustrate and drain you of your creativity? Take care of them, too. But look for opportunities to find someone else who they might be ideal for, then let them go.

That’s not just talk. Just today, I began that process with a client, looking out for what was best for them, even though it meant I would get less work from them. With the challenging environment we all find ourselves in, that’s harder than ever to do. It can be painful, but in the long run, very worthwhile.

Published October 15, 2009

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