Freelance Success for 3D Artists - Article 02 - Will You Marry Me? The Basics of Maintaining Business Relationships
Will You Marry Me? The Basics of Maintaining Business Relationships
With this handshake, I thee wedAfter 23 years as a 3D artist, I have spoken to or worked for a very broad spectrum of clients (or prospective clients). Some relationships lasted only one project, while a few others have continued on for more than 15 years, and a very small handful for over 20 years. Some of those I am glad only lasted for one project. A few I wish I never worked for, and there are a few I really wish I had maintained for the long term. In my opinion, it's really not hard to foster a long term relationship, even though business relationships are a bit more complex than a simple friendship. They definitely share some of the intricacies of a marriage or significant relationship. And it's easy to take good relationships for granted and forget to give them the care they need to last a long time.
Naturally, some clients are more valuable than others, and therefore they should get more attention than others. So it is a worthwhile exercise to study each of your clients, regardless of how well you know them, and try to estimate how much they might be worth to you over the course of your career. Perhaps even consider a staff member's value if they were to move to another company (if the "old" company and "new" company both enlisted your services) as this happens quite regularly. The topic of client value is quite closely related to the "80/20 Rule" which I discuss in the coming weeks. You will be spending time and money establishing and maintaining relationships, so it's best to be smart about it, and weight those efforts more heavily toward your more valuable clients. But there are a number of basic things you should be doing as your relationships with your clients grow.
Can we be friends?Rule #1- Be social and friendly. Simple courtesies and a friendly attitude begin on day one. They don't cost a dime, and they are one of your most powerful allies in keeping customers. Of course, you should always be 'tuned in' to your customer and have some idea of what types of conversation are appropriate and which are not. But the goal is to eventually speak together on a more personal tone where you can begin to ask questions about your client's life outside of the office. And to get to this point, you may need to be the one who breaks the ice and begins to offer details of your own personal life- your family, hobbies, and experiences. Ultimately, what this allows you to do is to care about your client as a person, not just a source of income. And when they recognize your sincere interest, and I do mean sincere, you will have their respect and friendship in return.
Rule #2- Learn about your clients. Ask questions about their business and, if appropriate, about how they work with their clients. It goes without saying, these questions should be relevant in the conversation, and shouldn't be too prying. The idea is to let them know you are interested in what they do, and how they do it, and there is much for us to learn from doing so! If you can get clued into any problems they encounter in their process, you should be thinking about any ways that you might be able to help solve them.
Taking "Us" to the Next LevelRules 1 and 2 are simple things that you should do with all of your clients. Now, looking at that group of clients you deemed to be most valuable, there are some additional things you can do to continue building your relationship.
Rule #3- Spend time together. This one is becoming increasingly challenging, as we continue to evolve into the digital world, but make a point to meet with these clients face to face... in the FLESH! Crazy isn't it?? Even your clients will recognize (maybe not all clients) your willingness to meet in person is something of a sacrifice these days, and will appreciate your time (just as you do their's). These face to face encounters can obviously be for project meetings, but take your clients out for lunch or meet them at happy hour for a drink. The easy way to do this is to simply call them up and tell them you will be in their neighborhood at a specific time and invite them out. And if you're like me, and spend 99% of your time at your desk, simply PRETEND you'll be out and about. You don't need a good reason to see them. And if they have to decline your offer, simply go with the flow and try again in a few months. They will appreciate the gesture all the same. If there is too much distance between the two of you for a physical meeting, your next best option is a video call. Especially due to the current pandemic, most people are getting more comfortable with video calls, as well as simply having the capability. However, it may still be a good idea ask if your client is comfortable with the idea. Again, you're looking to strengthen the bond between the two of you, and seeing each other will help accomplish this.
Rule #4- Give a gift. If a client spent a significant amount of money with you over the course of the year, take a small chunk of that income and send a gift to them (or to their office) at the holidays, or after a nice referral. Cracker and sausage baskets aren't likely to make much of a splash, so try to be more creative and personal. Perhaps tickets to a show or ball game or a gift card to their favorite restaurant. If you happen to know their birthday (and you should, eventually) send a small gift then as well. An excellent example that comes to mind, my mortgage broker, every year since we met 16 years ago, has sent me a pair of movie tickets for my birthday. And after I got married, he began sending my wife a pair of tickets as well. And after we had kids, they started receiving gift cards for ice cream. Each year it costs him about $50 (keep in mind, he does this for his entire client base!). Per family, it's a small expense, but I'm sure it adds into the thousands every year. But, he's a really nice guy and I've sent more than a few people his way. I'm sure it has more than covered his cost. This is the easy and fun part of fostering a long-term relationship. But it's all worthless if you can't fulfill Rule #5.
till death do us part? ... nope.Rule #5- Always Deliver. Be dependable, and provide an honest service and real value for your client. Talk is cheap. If you are GREAT at rules 1-4 and establish a wonderful relationship with your client, but you can't follow through with Rule #5, then it all falls apart. This series, however, is not only about forging great relationships, it's about achieving success professionally and financially. So you must always do what you say you will do. Later, I will talk more about follow through versus failure, but the bottom line is that your client is trusting you to complete a piece of the puzzle for their client. And if they have to present that puzzle with a missing (or mangled) piece, it damages your client's reputation, and that is something they are going to have VERY little tolerance for. In summary... be cool and deliver