Whenever the end of a year comes nigh, I reflect on the past 12 months. And as think about 2013, I realize that I learned five important lessons from my clients. I hope you can learn from my experiences … and my mistakes!
Here we go.
1. Clients say they want something out-there. They don’t. Really.
I once created a couple of illustrations for an ebook. One particular chapter was about malicious software. I drew a picture of a computer program that came out of the screen and strangled the user. The client said this was too aggressive and could be considered as offensive. I had to delete the image and created a new, tame version.
This wasn’t the first time someone hired me to create something bold and creative, only to have me create something safe in the end.
Creative, bold, out-there usually translates into “create something that is already proven and safe.”
My lesson for 2013 is learning how to interpret this client language.
2. Attention is the highest compliment you can give online.
I often get emails from potential clients who thank me for replying. I want you to linger on this a moment … They are not thanking me for the work (which I haven’t done yet), but for simply acknowledging their message.
That represents the times we’re living in … a world where millions plead for attention, every acknowledgement touches a heart. It may mean: “Thanks, for treating me like I exist. Thanks for making me feel like I matter.”
How can you strengthen that bond ?
I keep in touch wayyy after the transaction has been made. Just recently I wrote to a client who hired me two years ago. He was pleasantly surprised and thanked me for the message. Judging from his writing, I could sense how much it meant to him.
I always contact people online whose work I admire. If I listen to a kick-ass podcast, or see a crazy drawing or an article that helps me, I make sure they know about it.
Will that all lead to client work eventually? Maybe, maybe not. BUt I never think it hurts to strengthen our human bonds.
3. Trust attracts clients.
The Internet has destroyed geographic boundaries, but it has built emotional ones. Since the majority of my clients live on the other side of the planet, a lot of them feel queasy when working with me for the first time.
Many of my first email exchanges with (potential) first-time clients go like this:
“Once I send you money via Paypal, how do I know you won’t run off with it?”
“Will I have to pay you if I have more questions?”
“I’ve read on your about page that you’re German. Can you accept Dollars?” (I’ve heard of this obscure currency before!)
“Will you stop contacting me once I send you the final payment?”
These questions may seem silly but they’re not — when working digitally, you’ll never see your client in real life, and giving money to a perfect stranger is an act of trust.
That’s why I focus on establishing trust immediately through testimonials on my site, a detailed explanation of the work process, and by encouraging them to ask any questions they like to establish confidence.
4. Your network is your retirement fund.
Jeez, at this point, I should emblazon that phrase on my flag and wave it around, because I’m telling this to everyone.
If you work at a bricks and mortar business, your network will be dependent on your geo location. The minute you get fired or have to move away, years of local network-building will go out the window. Sayoonara.
But your online network? It will grow and grow till you make your last breath. You can change careers and even countries, but your online network will move with you. Heck, even when I’m on planet Mars, typing away in some forgotten outpost, I’d still have access to my network from earth.
Right now, I’ve made valuable connections with peeps from around the globe, and the more and meaningful those connections become, the more work I get.
My network is my retirement fund.
5. Psychology is the number one online skill
A lot of people who want to appear “cutting edge” say coding is the most important skill online, I have to disagree.
Until you’re a hermit programmer, you need to know at least the basics of psychology to deal with your fellow meat-based walkers. You can’t code yourself into a successful client negotiations. Yet.
I know a bunch of creative folks who code the craziest websites, draw the most delicious designs, but when it comes down to client communication, especially price negotiations, they’re as dexterous as a gorilla in a porcelain factory.
“Well, my work speaks for myself,” they would say. No, YOU speak for yourself.
If you can’t communicate, get yourself a book on (client) communication ASAP and start learning about your fellow meat-packed walkers.
How do I address strangers online ?
How can I pleasantly write about pricing ?
How can I make potential clients trust me online ?
Learn everything about the power of language and which words to use, because that ability is going to put food on your table, seriously.
As long as the roboconomy hasn’t taken over, you’re still dealing with 100% organic humans. Clients are the lifeblood of every business. Innovation and good products are essential, but they don’t mean anything if you cannot communicate that value to your target audience. I’m grateful for the Internet because it has allowed me to create my own career. But I never forget that on the other side of the planet, on the other side of the screen, there’s still a human being, and s/he’s waiting for a real connection.
Original illustrations by the author.