Before I ran my own Visual Design business, I was a client. Admittedly, a horrible client. I spent years being frustrated with firms, designers, contractors, etc. because I felt they never understood what I wanted. And much to their chagrin, I had just enough design skills to be “dangerous.” When I would get frustrated, I would just do it myself with pretty devastating results: files weren’t set up correctly, vendors had to spend more time fixing what I thought was perfect, and the end result just looked amateur.
As I grew in my professional and personal development, I began to take a step back on every project. I began to ask questions of the designers, the vendors, the contractors to find out what they needed, not just want I wanted. This was a pivotal change in our production results. After each project, I started to ask the vendors from their perspective what went well, how we did as a client, and how we could be better. Leaning on people who are experts in your field, putting your pride aside, only proved to be beneficial.
Not only was I able to get the results at the excellence I was looking for, but I was also building solid relationships with outside vendors. Let me tell you, relationships are the secret to success.
I wanted to share with you 7 ways I learned to be someone’s best client. This is hopefully useful not just in design and production, but I have also used these when working with contractors working in our home, creative projects for personal use, and with anyone who is talented in areas that I am not.
In a recent article by the Global News Wire the #paytoday initiative was launched by several small business organizations. It notes that on any given day small businesses are owed $900 Billion for work that has already been completed.
This is a significant stat in our current national situation more than ever. For a number of small businesses, they extend a net 30 pay period. A lot can happen in 30 days of a small business. We are not supported by large amounts of capital. Every penny is accounted for in every section of the budget. Some vendors in trying to compete with the big companies, will front money on supplies, material, and labor because that’s “what’s expected.”
When a client pays before the net 30 for a delivered product is does more than allow a small business owner to sleep at night. It builds trust. It builds relationships. It builds customer service. When we know that a client pays us quickly for a product that has already been delivered, there’s more motivation to do whatever you can for that client because you’ve proven you’re good for it. This only leads to faster turnarounds and better results for both you (the client) and the vendor.
Although we are professionals, we’re not jedi mind readers. It’s a great practice for every client to think through their project and their objectives and results, when they need it, and how much money they have allotted for the project. Having objectives does not mean you are micromanaging. What it does is puts the ball back into the experts court to show you why they are the experts.
For instance, I recently had an idea for a massive tattoo piece I wanted and that I’ve been thinking about for years. I sat down and created a document of why I was getting the tattoo, what I was hoping to achieve, what I was sure I didn’t want it to look like, and included a few inspirational pieces and references.
You may be thinking… uh, that’s a bit much. But is it? This is something that will be on my body for a lifetime and will have significant financial implications. I know nothing about the artistry or mechanics of tattoos, so there was no way I was going into a shop and telling them, “just do this.” They (the experts) will have insight on what will look good 10 years from now, the mechanics of a good tattoo, and overall aesthetics of how it will look on my body.
I took my creative brief to three different tattoo artists that I had researched and presented my ideas to each of them. I prefaced every conversation with, “I know nothing about the mechanics of a good tattoo. I’m leaning on your experience to tell me if this will work or if it just can’t be done.” Humility in a client is priceless. Two of the artists that I took my idea to very graciously said, “This can be done, but is beyond my skill level or comfort zone.” I can’t tell you how much I appreciated their honesty. Honesty in a vendor is priceless. The third artist (the one I was hoping would pick up the project) said, “This is a great challenge and I can already see in my head how it can be done.” When I went back for my art consultation, I got a little emotional. He had taken my brief, listened to me, and delivered an amazing proof. It was better than I had imagined it could be.
Side note: We’re halfway through the tattoo. It’s not done yet (because of the pandemic, but I will post pictures when it’s finished)
I was able to communicate my objectives, my loose deadline, and what I was hoping to spend on that tattoo. He delivered.
Good designers are not design monkeys. Good design firms are not design sweatshops. They are creatives that have spent years honing their craft. They’ve experimented, researched, and done the work to know what works and why. They are strategists. They know why they are placing photos in locations. They know why they’re using the fonts they’re using. They know why they are telling the story the way they are.
If you want to tell someone exactly what you want and that’s all they do, there are designers (and tattoo artists) that will do exactly that. But you as a client miss out on the chance to see your idea go to the next level and be better than you imagined.
I cannot stress this enough. People, all people, at their core want to feel valued, seen, and appreciated. By building relationships, not only do I know that I will get better work from a vendor, but also someone I can call when I’m up against a wall. More than once in my previous employment, we had a few “emergencies” that needed a quick turnaround. I was laboring over contacting my vendors because I knew the stress this could cause their business to make it happen. To my surprise, they were more than willing to help us out, because we were a good client. If there’s nothing else you take away from this it’s this: there is significant value in treating people as humans, finding out what motivates them, and treating them with respect. This has saved me on many occasions.
In our society, sometimes it feels rude to tell someone that their work isn’t what you expected. Obviously, there is a right way to do it, so you’re not being a jerk, and that’s where clear objectives come in. If you have established your objectives and it’s agreed upon by both parties, you as the client will have something to reference and a talking point to call back to. Then, it’s not about the designer’s work, it’s about not meeting the objectives. This makes it far less personal. Remember, creatives and vendors are people, too. They put their heart and soul into designs and labor over what’s best for you. For the most part, people are not going to do a poor job just to make a buck. If they do, they won’t be in business very long. Customer Service is key for every sector. A happy client is the best client.
Even in my current role as we work with some outside vendors, I’ve had to have the hard conversations about how a product didn’t meet our expectations or objectives. I am often impressed by the response. In fact, one of our companies sent me a follow up email thanking them for the thoughtful, yet hard conversation and it led to better quality control within their company. I find that honest communication yields the best results. Remember, there’s a reason why it’s better to work with people not just click buttons on the internet. By developing relationships, you actually help companies be better and do better, not just for you, but for their future clients.
Vendors, designers, video production friends are all working on multiple projects simultaneously. More than likely, you’ve been tasked with a project with that vendor and that’s your one project with them. Make sure that you are communicating clearly and in a timely manner.
If for some reason, there was a dropped ball somewhere along the way, follow up with the vendor and take responsibility for any miscommunication you may have had. When I was a client, more than once, I needed to call a vendor and apologize for a key piece of information that I didn’t communicate. This was almost always met with grace and understanding, and I even offered to cover the cost for my mistake. By owning my mistake, the frustration was placed right where it should be, with me.
They will remember that the next time you work with them.
Small businesses don’t have massive marketing budgets. They thrive and survive on reviews and examples. There is no greater joy than seeing our work “in the wild.” In fact, it validates the time and effort we put in to making a great product for you. Take a picture, post it on your social media and tag them. Leave a review on their page. Send them a thank you card. (Snail mail is delightful.) Again, this is a chance to further the development of a relationship, not just a transaction. So many of our projects get passed off and we wonder (even if we send follow up emails) if they’re happy and did we meet their objectives? By seeing our work in action builds motivation and excitement for their next project.
When you set out to find your next expert to work with, I hope you will keep these in mind. Great clients are a joy for us to partner with in their projects.
Are you a vendor? What are things that you think make a great client? Are you a consumer? What are things that you look for in a vendor?
If you’re looking for strategic visuals for your innovative company, we would love to do a free consult with you. Set up an appointment today and let’s chat about your project and the possibilities!
It’s crazy to think that two years ago, we started out on this little adventure called 7Roots Creative. Having worked together, some of us for almost 10 years, we had some ideas, some dreams, and thoughts of what we could accomplish. For a baby start up with only one client, we’ve had the opportunity to serve over 50 clients in just about every sector. We’ve learned a lot. You have to. We push ourselves. You have to. We know we need to keep learning, doing, and taking our skills to the next level.
Here are just a few of the things we’ve learned over the last two years:
When we first started this adventure, a seasoned businessman told me, “Never start a business with your friends.” To be honest, that never sat well with me. I mean, I get it on one level, but these people were more than just my friends. We were a team that became friends. We had been on the front lines together. Everyone was hired on at our previous employer as individuals and we became a cohesive unit. I remember when we were losing our jobs and I went to all of them and asked if they were interested in going on an adventure with me, they all said, “Yes.” I tried to convince all of them that this was not going to be easy. In fact, it would unpredictable, hard work, and at times maybe the worst. They had more faith in what we were about to do that I probably did. I knew we had professionals that had been working on crafting their skills and talent. I knew they worked hard. They knew what we could accomplish.
One of the best things about starting with people I knew, deeply knew, is that I could trust them. I could trust them to have the company’s best interest in mind. I could trust them to not bail at the first sign of trouble. I could trust them to get creative and figure out solutions. We were able to hit the ground running because we had already worked for years in earning each other’s trust. And that trust extends well beyond the company – it extends to their character, their desires to push the envelope, and their care and concern for each other.
I’ve been involved in new businesses before and I know that we all worked hard to make it happen. People will ask me how I’m doing, and I realized about a year ago that I wasn’t sleeping. I would lay awake at night concerned about meeting payroll, finding new clients, all the things. And then a dear mentor of mine said to me, “Fires will always be waiting to be put out. Put out the ones you can, sleep, and then get at it the next morning.” Don’t get me wrong. I still worry (it’s a natural state for me), but she was right, there’s going to be a new fire the next morning. Might as well be rested so you can be clear headed on how best to fight it. I used to buy in to the adage that sleep was for the weak. I’ve learned that a good night’s sleep is actually my dearest friend.
Sometimes people look at an owner of a company and assume that they must be the expert at what their company does. Here’s the truth: I am not. I am surrounded by a team of people who are far more talented, creative, and smarter than me… on purpose. If 7Roots was left up to just me, it would be called “The Stump.” This team brings in skills and perspectives I will never have. Each of us approach challenges differently and the results of bringing those perspectives and approaches is how we achieve the best outcomes. When I’m with a client, the first thing that goes through my mind is, “So and so can do that,” or “We actually have someone on our team who’s passionate about that.” Our company has seen growth and quality because of our team. And for that, I am deeply grateful.
It is a true gift that I can bring a new project to the team and it’s regularly met with, “I can do that.” One of the best things about having been a full-service marketing team with a limited budget, is that we have figured out how to be multifaceted, efficient, and have a high standard of excellence. We have yet to encounter a client or a challenge that we said, “we can’t do that.” In fact, our new challenge to ourselves is to say, “What do we WANT to be doing?” When you have skills in almost every area, it’s easy to take on projects that aren’t always in your wheelhouse because you know how you can get it done. It’s a discipline that we’re still learning about choosing the right projects for us.
I think everyone, especially anyone in a small business can agree. In all of my plans, a world-wide pandemic was not in mine. Virtual calls are great. Being able to have a couple of projects that we can work on from home is great. However, I am deeply missing our time together, our shoot days, our trench work, our same room collaboration. This pandemic has impacted us financially and we’re doing everything we can to come out on top. But it has also impacted us relationally. I miss my team and can’t wait to be in the same room again. I can’t wait to celebrate two years of this adventure together.
One of the best things in being a new start-up, is connecting with other companies who are using their brand, product, or service to not just benefit themselves, but to do good in their corner of the world. Every client that we’ve had the privilege of working with this past two years has some arm, or even their whole company is dedicated to making the world a better place. I was concerned when we started our company that having worked in the non-profit sector for so long, that we would lose touch with companies who are driven by principle. That has turned out to just be silly. I am so thankful for the companies that have invited us in to partner with them. We are honored to be a small part of the worlds you are changing.
Have you started a business? What are the things that you learned in your first couple of years? I wouldn’t trade the 7Roots experience for the world. Here’s to 2 more and then 2 more after that and so on.