Treat Your Corporate Clients With Respect

January 417, 2010
Categories: Blog, Freelancing, Resources


Do you recognize this pattern?  “Yippee, I landed a big contract with Corporation X!” – “OMG, this is taking forever and it’s getting nowhere!” – “Phew, we’re finally done finished Corporation X’s project” –  “Woot, look how nice Corporation X looks on my portfolio.  I’ve made it!” – “It’s over a year, I wonder if Corporation X will ever call me back?”  Let’s be honest we all love to have corporate clients.  It’s nice to work on projects with big budgets instead of individuals who uses their grocery money to pay your invoice.  Not to mention that corporate designs make your portfolio instantly very appealing.  But there’s a big difference between landing a a big fish, and being a fisherman.  Seeing that I hate eating fish, I’d rather be the fisherman thank you very much.  I do many small fish projects, but maintaining my corporate clients is what puts the bread on the table.  If you’re starting out as a freelancer, designer or otherwise, I have some suggestions for adjusting your methodology and attitude, so you can make corporate work part of you daily diet (All this fish talk is grossing me out).

1. You are not that important.

In the grand scheme of things you are not important.  Designers like to keep our egos in a pretty box and show people every chance I get…I mean we get….err… they get (Freudian slip).  But you will need to check that at the door when you start working with your client.  You are just a piece of a great big puzzle.  You are a pimple on an ant in an anthill in a sandbox in the desert.  You are a cog in a wheel of a watch on the wrist of an ant in an anthill… you get the idea.  It’s not that you’re worthless and demeaning, far from it!  Your client has approached you because they need you to design one particular project.  And that one particular project is a component of a bigger project, that will be announced in a bigger event, that supports a bigger strategy that aligns with an even bigger corporate value.  So your email, though very important, is part of many important emails.  Or the design you send will not be approved in the next 10 minutes because it’s not the only thing that’s going on in the company.

2.  Hurry up and wait.  The approval process.

One of my good freelance friends received an urgent call one Monday morning to have a project done asap.  After sending the draft off in record time, he waited several days for a response.  Finally, at 4:35pm on Friday afternoon he got an email with a list of revisions marked urgent.  After a couple colorful words, his rant ended with “Working on projects would be great if they didn’t come with a client”.  He didn’t mean it, but I know how he feels.  Let me tell you what happened between Monday and Friday that my friend did not realize.  Monday morning, someone sat on his client’s head demanding this project which is why they contacted him.  His client was extremely thankful of the wonderful job the freelancer did in a timely manner.  This client sent it to his project manager who has been in panicking all day long.  The project manager then forwards his draft to the brand police, the internal web team (who is unhappy the job was outsourced), and the communications department.  The communications department questions why it’s all in Swedish (Lorum Ipsum), the internal web team responds back in spite with revisions  and the brand police starts quoting their brand bible and pointing out the ‘sins’ of the draft.  On Wednesday a meeting is called and all three teams that bring their thoughts together and starts compiling a list of the edits with the draft.  Now the communications department already forwarded the document to the legal department before this meeting so they return back a long memo with their suggestions (and I use the term ‘suggestions’ loosely).  On Thursday afternoon, the VP of his client’s department is given a progress report and is presented with the draft.  The VP adds his two cents just before he leaves for the weekend which contradicts the original list of edits, and finally, on Friday afternoon, you have your revisions.  In summary, your client had to go through a million hoops to get back to you.  And if you never did your job in a timely manner, then the rest would have never happened.  So before you get your panties in a bunch, remember rule #1!

3.  Attention to details.

I’ve worked in several corporate environments so I’ve seen the gerbil cage spin around and around several time.  The long-winded explanation I gave in rule #2 as serves another purpose.  The entire approval process can be summed up as this:  groups and teams supporting other groups and teams, who report to more groups and teams who are all accountable to groups and teams.  The trickle down effect will mean that your client will be asked a million questions and will receive a million comments about things that he will know nothing about; but luckily you do!  So be very thorough with your drafts and communications.  Leave no stone unturned.  Explain the who, what, when, where and how.  Explain your methods to your madness.  And for goodness sake, don’t submit incomplete work.  If your client has questions, be quick to respond.  Your attention to details will be a bulletproof vest for your client, and make them look good to their peers and superiors.  Ultimately they will thank you and their confidence in you will grow.

4.  Your client is very smart.

Have you ever applied to a job in a large company?  It takes a million interviews, aptitude tests and references to get past the door.  And if you don’t have an education, don’t bother applying for a position above minion.   So based on this information, when I start my relationship with a corporate client, I always assuming that they are smart individuals (because they were selected out of this grueling process).  “But, but they ask so stupid questions!!!” you say!  Yes they do.  Yes they do.  They ask stupid questions because they are not design smart.  But they are communications smart.  And they are marketing smart.  And they are corporate strategy smart.  And they are very business smart.  In fact, they are so smart  that they hired you to do this job for them!

5.  Corporations are not people (but they are run by people).

This is the great secret which helped me work successfully for corporations.  Do not expect faithfulness, thankfulness, care, consideration, loyalty, compassion, kindness, forgiveness or any of other lovey-dovey emotions from a corporation.  They are bottom-line profit orientated entity and you are trading your expertise and skill for their dollar.  Isn’t that why you freelance in the first place, to escape the ratrace?  Well that being said, there is still a human being on the other end of the telephone or responding to your emails and that human being works for the corporation.  They choose to work for the big, bad corporation nine-to-five/five-days-a-week so they can go home, and enjoy their life, raise a good family and have a glass of wine with some friends.   In fact, if it weren’t for the security and stability that the corporation provides, these very smart people would (throw caution to the wind and) freelance just like you.  They might even envy you a little.  So try to be kind.  Try to be funny.  Try to be real.  Try to be understanding.  Instead of treating your client like a corporate drone, try to bring in some light into there lives and they will be your clients forever (regardless of which corporation they work for).

So if you want to succeed in retaining your corporate clients, you should understand that there’s a corporate culture of approvals, strategies and kudos behind every project.  It’s not just good enough to do good work to get noticed.  If you prove to be a valuable asset in navigating the through the murky waters of the corporate process, you will find that you can turn a one-off project to ongoing success.

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One Response to “Treat Your Corporate Clients With Respect”

  1. Clark says:

    Great article! Having worked in both sides under many pressing situations, you provide a very balanced, honest, and true view of the client-contractor process.

    It’s unfortunate the review of the work can take longer than the work itself, but there are reasons for all that red tape. Unfortunately, much of it can be “make-work” or “make-me-look-important”, and can be due to mis-perceptions of risk built into corporate policy/procedures. But it’s all part of the “rich tapestry of life” as my previous boss put it when dealing with such processes and people.