It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, no doubt you’d like to have great clients. Wouldn’t we all? Which isn’t to say that any of my clients are not good clients – they are. In fact, most are great clients.
So what does it take to be a great client?
Before I address that, let me say that people I know have been known to fire clients.
Excuse me? Fire a client? Why would you do that?
A friend of mine ran a small business doing voiceovers. At one point several years ago one of his clients happened to be nearly half of his business, so he felt obligated to keep working with them because they brought in a significant amount of money. But the downside of that was that the client also brought the most headaches: late payments, lack of communication, downright verbal abuse at times.
Which made it hard to continue to do good work for them. One day he fired his client. “I can’t work with you anymore. Please find someone else. I quit.”
As you might imagine, the client was shocked. But had no choice. They were no longer a client.
Which freed up my friend, both timewise and having to deal with someone so bad. It didn’t take long to replace the business, either.
We should all have nothing but great clients, but I’m sure it’s no surprise that it doesn’t always work that way.
Here’s my shortlist of how to be a good client:
Good communication: this is the most important item of all. Be responsive to questions. Give clear answers. When you have to ask a question, make it as clear as possible. Respond in a timely manner. Whether discussing details of an exhibit design or working out upgrades to graphics or finalizing shipping, clear communication in both directions makes everyone much more satisfied with the final result.
Be aware of all deadlines: Understanding deadlines goes both ways. The exhibit house knows how long it takes to design, fabricate and ship an exhibit. They should clearly communicate that to the client how long items take, and give out reasonable deadlines for graphic submission, shipping dates and so on. The client should take responsibility to adhere to the deadlines and communicate to the exhibit house any challenges they face along the way.
No mutual mystification: back to communication. If a question doesn’t get asked it won’t get answered. This goes both ways. Share everything in detail.
Clearly Understood Expectations Regarding Money: When entering into an arrangement with an exhibit house, one item that should be understood from the beginning is how the project will be paid for. This starts with the exhibit house but must be reciprocated by the client. Most exhibit houses are flexible (we are) which means that whatever terms are worked out will be to the satisfaction of both parties. If a significant down payment is expected within a certain amount of time, that should be clearly communicated to the client. If that agreement is reached, the expectation is that it will be adhered to. Having to chase money is one of the worst parts of anyone’s job. As a service provider, you hate to be put in the position of doing that, and as a client, you hate to be reminded that it’s time to pay the invoice.
Sharing Good and Bad News: I once had a boss that told me, “I want to hear good news as soon as possible. I want to hear bad news sooner than that.” No matter what the bad news, let your exhibit house know immediately so they can respond. It could be anything (and anything can and does happen in the tradeshow world), but it can’t be dealt with until the bad news is passed along in detail. As exhibit house managers, we don’t like to get bad news, no matter who’s fault it is, but it would be worse to NOT get the bad news and have the client internalize it and hold a grudge. As for good news, if you had a great experience at a show and the exhibit (and anything else coordinated by your exhibit house) was a big part of your success, make sure you share that with them. In fact, you might offer to write a testimonial or make a referral.
Finally, Be Friendly: The best clients are those that become friends. Even if you don’t see them frequently, having a client that looks forward to seeing you, and vice versa, makes it all that much better. Talking about kids, sports, vacations and more helps build the relationship from a client/service provider to an actual friendship. And makes it harder to move elsewhere.
Being a great client goes hand in hand with a being a great exhibit house, working with an organization that understands your needs and not only meets but surpasses them.
Once you have that, it’s a lot easier to be a great client.