Common business thinking suggests that you should become friends with clients because it is good for your business. You know, like talking biz over a game of golf, taking clients fishing, or the two martini lunch.
The goal of the self employed is to find clients that like them and want to work with them. If you have a strong relationship with a client, they send their projects your way and hopefully give you all their business that is suited for you.
If your client base is nearby you can then invite a few for lunch or more formally, dinner. As an outdoor photographer you can invite them to go skiing or in my case years ago, a rafting trip. (This client was in the outdoor apparel business and did all adventure activities.)
Since much of the outdoor and nature photographers business is done long distance, it is more challenging to establish anything more than a friendship over the phone, but these are just as valuable.
Whether or not you become friends with clients and have a professionally social relationship with them depends on the business you are in. If you are a doctor or therapist, then clearly that is against the rules. But for us freelance photographers, establishing close ‘business’ relationships is a good thing.
Friends or Acquaintances?
Clients work with us because they like us. Once the client has established that you are a professional and creating the utmost professional product, deliver it on time, and at a reasonable cost, the door has been opened for you to become “their new best friend!”
They trust you!
The business relationship is easy to deal with. There is frequent and friendly contact during business hours and often includes non-business communication about, life, business, politics, sports, and outdoor activities.
The business and social relationship is more complex. It includes all of the above but also social activities as well. This could include weekend get-togethers, activities like hiking, fishing, skiing, or and an invitation to their child’s Bar Mitzvah.
But how far do you let the relationship go? Excluding romantic relationships, consider whether you want a relationship with the client at all. Is the client a “great guy” or a demanding jerk?
If you want that relationship should it be a professional business relationship or a professional business and social relationship? I have been in both types of relationships.
Pros and Cons
The good side of either type of relationship is that you get business and hopefully plenty of it. You want to be the first photographer they call.
Helping your client is the core to all successful businesses. They have a need and you fill it, but at what price?
The business relationship can be profitable while the business/social can as well, but maybe with some strings.
The challenge is that any relationship can become too cozy when you are the photographer they always contact when needing a favor or something for nothing.
This does not have to be a bad thing as long as your relationship is not abused by the client. But if every time you hear from the client they are asking for a favor then the relationship is not a true friendship.
Good clients, whether strictly business or business/social, understand that you are in business and have a bottom line. They recognize when they are making a less than ideal request and they acknowledge it. They reward you with normal business transactions such as a standard license fee sale for an image or an assignment.
I have had both with many more “just business” relationships than otherwise, but I was once asked by one client if my wife and I wanted to join them for a Caribbean cruise.
You want the client to love you and send business your way but you have to decide if you love them back and wish to spend your limited free time with them.
Steps to winning clients and making friends
- Be friendly and genuinely thrilled to hear from them. Treat every client like you want to be friends, even if you don’t.
- Clients don’t work with people they don’t like unless they have no choice, such as the photographer having a rare specialty or difficult image to find.
- Build Trust with the client by operating a professional business and be there when they need you. The friendlier the relationship the more the Trust builds.
- Be on time all the time, no matter the task. If you run into problems, the client is the first you notify.
- Work with them on their budget. If they are a great client consider special pricing just for them.
- If they are coming to your office for any sort of meeting, have snacks and drinks available. They may have skipped lunch to drop by.
Becoming friends with clients is good for the client because they know how you work and what to expect from you. You build trust and provide them the piece of mind that you will get the assignment done or find the image they need.
If you are shooting an assignment, you know you got it because they trust you. They won’t be shy about pushing you a little further and you will push yourself a little harder to deliver to them a top product. Your work then improves.
That is how you earned their business and eventual friendship in the first place.