Friday, January 24, 2014

Yes, I am READY!

How to deal with clients who won't listen

When you work in the creative industries, you're often hired by firms to provide your skills and expertise. You are there to offer professional consultancy and steer your clients in the right direction. But what if they're not listening to your advice? What if they're fighting you on every suggestion you make?
It's very common to find clients who won't listen. They are a dangerous breed because they originally hired you to achieve an objective but because they're not allowing you to do your job, you can't help them. This not only damages your job satisfaction - it could also damage your reputation, because you just know - at some point - the client will turn around and blame you for failing.
So how do you deal with these toxic clients, achieve their goals and protect your reputation? Here are my top tips…

Get it in writing

When you first put together a proposal for a new client, outlining how you're going to help - make it extremely clear that certain things need to happen if you're going to achieve their objectives. It might be that you need significant budget to develop a website that will do its job. It might be that you work in PR and need serious budget for competitions or advertising. Whatever you need, write it down so you can always refer back to your proposal in future.

Create a status report

To keep track of progress, create a spreadsheet 'status report' outlining all the jobs on your list and where you're up to with each one. Send an updated copy of this report to your client every week, outlining the things you need from them in order to proceed. By keeping a record of ongoing work you'll be able to demonstrate that you are adding value but their input is needed in order for you to do your job.

Have regular meetings

Nothing beats face-to-face communication to keep your clients on track, so organise regular meetings to ensure you're achieving their goals. If there are any issues, obstacles or hold ups, you can raise them during these meetings and aim to tackle them accordingly. Don't be afraid to be bold and point out any reasons why you're not able to do your job. Refer back to your original proposal and remind the client that you needed certain things to happen in order to meet your targets. Keep reminding clients that they need to follow your advice if they're going to be a success.

Listen and consult

Sometimes the customer just wants support and reassurance, so always be humble and listen to what they are saying if they're fighting you on a certain point. Remember, you're a consultant and you're there to guide clients in the right direction, even if you disagree with what they're saying. But when clients fight you, always explain why you disagree. For example, if you're a web developer and you've requested a £1,000 budget to spend on hiring a web designer and they ignore you by hiring someone they already know for £250 (who happens to be god awful at web design) then you can gently suggest that quality web design is hugely important and that you don't think it will work as well. They still might not listen, but at least you can refer back to that conversation (preferably written down in email) at a later date when the client comes back to you and wonders why their website isn't attracting customers. Always cover your tracks and never allow a client to turn blame around on you.

And if they still won't listen?

Let's face it! Some clients always know best. They fight you at every decision. They don't listen to your advice. They try to do everything 'on the cheap'. As a result, you can't achieve their goals. Even worse, the only person they blame in the end is you. In which case, it's sometimes best to walk away before you give them the chance to point the finger, or worse - damage your reputation. If you've tried everything you can to help and it's just not working - inform your client that you can no longer work for them… but ensure you do this diplomatically. Explain that you feel they're not ready for your services, that you want to save them money and that you care. Say how you'll always be there to help, then walk away. Don't leave them in the lurch - do an official 'handover' and keep things professional. Nine times out of 10 they will come back with their tail between their legs, at which point you'll be 'too busy' to help.