Can you be friends with your clients? I think so.
Over the years, talking heads have told us that one should keep your business and personal life carefully separated. While I’ve generally agreed with that approach, recent shifts in my client base towards more ideal clients has given me opportunities to head in a new direction.
Getting our families together
We enjoy working together so much, and appreciate each other as fun people, that it’s been natural to connect outside of work. Our families have gotten together several times for dinner and play time. I have to admit, it helped a lot that John and his wife Betsy (who is a stellar photographer) are really open and genuine people. Just reading their blogs made me feel like I knew them. Reading about their experiences made it pretty obvious that we had a lot in common.
Building solid foundations
The really amazing thing I’ve found is that as we’ve become friends in addition to business associates, our relationship has strengthened. I suppose that sounds obvious, but it has rather significant implications for the long-term success of any business. While I don’t seek to be friends with John to manipulate him, there are several tangible business outcomes as a result of our growing friendship:
- Loyalty - Because the business relationship is not based on some fleeting detail like price, I feel more comfortable than ever that John would come to me first when he needs help. I get to spend more time doing the work I love and less time building up my client base. Plus, I’m more loyal to John! I work hard to take care of his needs and have gladly learned some new tools to fit his requests.
- Profitability - I’ve found that every new client needs some level of training on how you do business and how your services can best meet their needs. By fostering long-term clients, you reduce this non-billable time and effort. Plus, when a client really values what you offer (both in terms of who you are as well as what you do), you can both arrive at a mutually agreeable rate for your services that’s almost sure to be more than what you might feel comfortable asking when doing the first project for a new customer.
- Fun - Don’t underestimate this one! I’ve had more fun the last six months working for my ideal clients that I ever have before. That’s resulted in me doing some of my best work, feeling less stress, and growing my skills tremendously. I think you’ll find that this does have a measurable financial impact. Clients can tell when you love what you do and they’ll want to be a part of it with you.
Hitting the museum
Spending time with your clients doesn’t have to involve dinner at your home (although the intimacy of that can be powerful). For our latest excursion, my wife Sara and I invited John’s family to join us for a trip to the fabulous Indianapolis Children’s museum.
A brief side note is in order…spending time with my family is the most important thing on my list when I’m away from work. So the last thing I would do is drag my wife and kids along to some boring business get-together with a client. Instead, we planned something that the family would love and invited John and his family to join us! This is important, too. While your clients will appreciate you for taking care of them, they will adore you when you do special things with their kids. But remember, this all needs to be something you do because you want to and love it, not some cheap to do list to curry favor with a client.
So we spent several hours at the museum cruising around and playing with the kids. Afterwards, we introduced John to Skyline Chili for lunch. It was a terrific day and everyone had a great time. I think we talked shop for less than 5 minutes the whole day (Which is good! No shop talk would have been fine.).
Getting several clients together
I’m looking forward to going again when John’s wife Betsy can come. Plus, it didn’t work out this time, but for our next trip, I hope that Matt Outten from Squaremouth can bring his family. Matt is my latest ideal client and has been really enthusiastic about getting our families together. He’s even been gracious enough to invite our family to come have lunch at his office each week when his family comes!
If you haven’t picked up the message yet, the critical theme is to share, share, share what you have, whether it’s a fun trip, a friendship, or knowledge. Give it away, you won’t be sorry.
Published January 20, 2010