I had an interesting discussion with trainer and coach in influential communication John Scarrott last week, which touched on the topic of client relationships, specifically whether it’s beneficial to be friends with clients, or just friendly? 

At The Usual Studio I’ve always worked from the premise that it was important to have good, honest, collaborative relationships with clients. The whole branding process works best for us when we become part of the clients team over a long period of time, rather than being parachuted in for a short-term project. But do we need to be friends with clients to achieve that? I don’t believe so, here’s why...

Getting to know clients by asking the right questions when we meet up, have calls, or a chat on social media is paramount. Being welcomed into their business, hearing issues, problems and barriers they're facing is really beneficial for both client and the project, but it needs trust in the process - not a friendship - to succeed. Being let-in helps designers understand the full picture and allows them to spot opportunities clients may have missed. A good designer should act as an interviewer and listener too. 

Reasons to keep it friendly:

  • Above all, it's a professional relationship; negotiating needs to be done, contracts to be signed, project fees to be paid. 
  • In projects there’s feedback to be given, designs to tweak, difficulties to overcome. All of these are easier done from a slight distance, without concern for hurting the feelings of a friend. 
  • Being one step away allows the designer to be frank and honest about how they see things and the best approach to achieve business goals. 
  • Friends are the people you share your whole self with - or at least a big part of it - often on Facebook. Clients don’t need to know absolutely everything about you personally, to have a functioning designer/client relationship.

Optimum client relationship to aim for:

  • One where both sides can speak freely, play with ideas and push the brief. 
  • Work together as a team, towards the same shared outcome for the project.
  • Create agreed boundaries for how and when you communicate, i.e.: 9am - 6pm Monday-Friday via Email, Basecamp or Slack. Keep to these wherever possible, lots of people don't welcome work related texts or WhatsApp messages.
  • Be able to talk with ease, from topic to topic: sharing interesting articles, weekend and holiday plans.
  • Enjoy each others company and could comfortably meet for a drink or lunch, while you discuss work.
  • There’s enough trust, that either of you would introduce the other to contacts, without a second thought.

Client relationships are just like any important relationship; they need time, care and attention to thrive. And if they do thrive, the results are evident for designers and clients alike. 

What are your best tips for collaborating and getting the most from a work partnership? Success stories, things you wished you'd done differently? I would love to hear your thoughts on Twitter @TheUsualStudio 

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Written by Charlee Sully, Brand Consultant, The Usual Studio
I work across design, ideas, strategy and content, writing about branding, design, innovation and entrepreneurship. I love sushi, tea's my cuppa of choice and BBC6 music's always on. Unlike a former housemate - I do find comedy funny. 

Twitter @TheUsualStudio