We all know relationships to be complicated. Whether we learned it after our first boyfriend or girlfriend, or have learned it along the way dating. Or even just relating with your immediate and extended family, or a close group of friends. One of the most important aspects of relationships is debatebly, communication. Without the parties of the relationship communicating (in one form or another), there really isn’t that much of a relationship.
This chapter in the book is titled “Establishing New Client Relationships”, which is a very important part of any business. I believe that business relationships can be approached very similarly to how we approach relationships in our life on a personal or romantic level. To start off with this monster of a topic, that can be super broad and confusing, I want to point back to some key elements of creating a relationship that we are all already familiar with, to then proceed and examine how good business relationships with new clients are formed, and can be maintained.
As you can see above, there are many different key elements in a good relationship. All of it comes back to communication, and building trust (as you see, in the center of the diagram.) You need to have competence, knowledge, integrity, strategy, management, reliability, performance, and development. All of these aspects can be applied to new client relationships, or non-business relationships, and are equally vital in either realm. Being good at creating and maintaining business relationships should help you along the way with personal relationships, and vise versa.
I have been working with clients since I was 12 years old, when I started doing freelancing work for people’s websites. Since then, I have learned a lot about client relationships. My dad was a business owner, so I grew up around a business that strived to have good relationships with clients, so I have had a good solid background with new client relationships, and how important they are.
First of all, trust. Without gaining trust of clients, you can’t really expect much to come from the relationship (from either side.) You need to be able to trust them, and likewise, they need to be able to trust you. Your credibility and integrity (another of the elements) go a long way to back up that you can be trusted in your field.
You obviously need a good strong base of knowledge to come at a project in your field. How can you be expected to code an e-commerce website for a client if you don’t know the first thing about e-commerce or, even worse, anything about programming itself.
Especially in the world that we live in today, where not much can be trusted, integrity is super important. If people know that you are a person of integrity, they will be able to trust what you say. It will help you maintain great relationships with clients, so that they don’t have to worry about whether you have a good character or morals behind you. Whether they can trust what you say because of your past track-record.
You need to have some sort of strategy for where to cultivate those new client relationships from, and then how to keep them pruned and in-shape. You need even a basic game plan or flow-chart of how to handle client relationships from finding them, to finishing their project, and following up to find more work or references from them.
It really doesn’t matter if you have integrity or strategy if you can’t manage your time or resources. People will be able to tell quickly if you can be trusted to stay within your timelines, which could be equated to your poor management skills, such as with your time management. This is a huge area for improvement in a lot of geeks lives. It’s something I’ve had lots of issues with in the freelancing field growing up, and something I still am trying to improve on, providing more accurate time-tables and sticking to them once I have them set.
Reliability goes hand in hand with Management. Once you start to do better with some areas within Management, you will show yourself to be more reliable. If you have issues with reliability to your clients, you might want to look at the previous element (Management) for some ideas.
It doesn’t really matter if you have mastered your management skills if you don’t perform well. You need to be able to perform to get the job done, and complete the circular flow of the relational elements (picture above.)
This relational element could go in a lot of different directions. I look at development, and think of you developing your skills and expertise to better serve your clients. The better you develop your skills, the better service you will be able to provide to those clients.
You obviously need to be competent with what you are doing. Nothing is more annoying than seeing a programmer wannabe (see image below) who doesn’t know what he is talking about, but tries to work with clients.
In conclusion, each aspect of a new relationship is important. They are like a mouse trap, remove a single piece and it no longer is a mousetrap, and loses its purpose. You can’t just focus on improving your skills, or reliability, you need to make sure you are working on improving in each and every aspect to grow your new client relationships.
For further reading, I would highly suggest referring to an article from Entrepreneur.com, titled “5 Tips for Building Strong Relationships with Clients, written by Allen Duet. He has 5 great tips that walk through building relationships with clients, and how to make them stronger.
Matthew P. Kerle