Six tips for improving your client relationships.

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1. Be glad your client doesn’t know everything

There’s a famous quote, “The greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.” When dealing with clients you might consider clueless, you can be frustrated by their lack of knowledge or you can appreciate the fact that if your clients knew more, you might not have nearly as much work.

2. Communicate clearly, communicate often

Clients often complain about poor communication, and while some clients desire more communication because they’re uncomfortable or anxious, the reality is that service providers frequently do drop the ball in keeping clients informed.

While communication is a nuanced subject and each client relationship is different, erring on the side of overcommunicating is usually better than erring on the side of undercommunicating. Remember: client experience matters. The most successful service providers aren’t just delivering top-notch work product, they’re delivering a superb client experience — something that typically requires clear, consistent communication.

3. Be clear about what you need

The old adage “A closed mouth doesn’t get fed” is particularly relevant when it comes to managing clients. Not sure about scope and need a more detailed specification, for instance? Don’t be shy or lazy: ask for it!

Unfortunately, many service providers shoot themselves in the foot by not asking for what they need up front and instead scrambling every time they need something they don’t have, an obviously more stressful approach that can sour perception of the relationship.

4. Establish up front what you do and don’t do

While clients may dream of finding jack-of-all-trades service providers who can handle all of their needs, chances are you don’t do everything. Some nightmare clients are nightmare clients because they don’t quite understand this.

The distinction between a web designer and a web developer, for instance, may be obvious if you’re a designer or developer, but it may not be to your clients. Because of this, it’s important to establish up front what is it you do and don’t do, and maintain boundaries as necessary to prevent the type of role creep that can be the cause of much frustration.

5. Balance money with sanity

In some, your worst clients may also be your best clients. Example: one of your clients might be a big company that’s disorganized, hard to communicate with and expects you to fill in the blanks, but pays well and doesn’t mind paying more to have you “deal with it.”

If you don’t feel that the money, however, adequately compensates for the lack of organization, poor communication and “you figure it out” approach, you’ll need to consider whether you can really afford to maintain the relationship without a change in the rules of engagement.

6. Don’t be afraid to break up

Why are stories of nightmare clients so common? One reason is that when push comes to shove, many service providers, despite their angst, are unwilling to turn their nightmare clients into nightmare former clients.

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