You read about them, hear about them, but never really meet them.

You probably have had a few great experiences with your clients. But those fantastic human beings, who will instantly fall in love with your work and cannot wait to hire you – just haven’t appeared yet.

I may disappoint you, but I’ll tell you a big secret:

There are no dream clients.

There are, however, normal people — with their good and bad traits — who will happily transform into dream clients, only in one situation:

That is when they meet the creative professional of their dreams!

This explains why for instance, some creative freelancers enjoy working with wonderful people, while others are struggling every day with rude, difficult and disrespectful individuals.

Apparently, you are not the dream creative these prospects are looking for if you mostly have to cope with a low budget, yet demanding clients.
This does not necessarily mean you are not a qualified professional. It’s just that you lack some basic skills and expertise to land quality clients.

It took me a few years and many mistakes to realize this simple truth.

My first-hand experience

When I was just starting out as a freelance architect, a family friend decided to hire me for designing a block of flats. I had to co-operate with an older architect who was in charge of the project. It turned out to be one of the worst experiences of my whole career.

The older “colleague” didn’t actually want to work with me, afraid that if I did well, she wouldn’t be in demand anymore. She made things really difficult for me, trying to show I’m incompetent.
She even told lies about me on not delivering on time.

She wore a fake smile in front of the client, pretending to be helpful and cooperative. After the client would leave the room, she changed into a mean witch. It was a real nightmare!

Right about that time, I was really convinced that working for friends and relatives is a huge mistake — just like most people will tell you.

If you ask me now, I’ll tell you I was wrong!
Since then, I’ve worked for close friends and relatives and we both enjoyed the experience. 
In fact, it’s much more fun to work for people you already know and like!

I still had a lot to learn, not particularly about architecture and design. My skills as an architect were proficient since I had already worked on several projects. But, my ability to deal with clients and run my own business undoubtedly sucked!

The family friend was eventually neither good nor bad, as I found out 15 years later when I was asked again to do some work for him. The architect he once trusted and made my life difficult had ripped him off; although it took him many years to unveil her real personality!

Anyways, at first, I was very skeptical about accepting the job. The awful past incident was still haunting me. But eventually, I decided to give it try.
After all, I had already handled demanding and ‘not so easy-going’ clients. Actually, it was a challenge I had to take — and I love challenges!

I didn’t regret it at all! On the contrary, this time it was an effortless and smooth project. The nightmare had changed into a dream!

I’m sure you guess who was responsible for this transformation. Definitely not the good fairy!

It was me, who had totally turned from an insecure and naive, semi-amateur freelancer into a seasoned professional and an excellent psychologist.

So, if you want to switch to the dream creative which everybody would like to work with — although some cannot afford yet — keep reading!

Just don’t expect an instant transformation.

Still waiting for those dream clients?

The recipe for becoming a professional creative

It normally takes time, since it’s a combination of experience, confidence, quality work and the right strategy.

You will, however, have some useful insights on what’s keeping you from working with quality clients and how you can avoid common mistakes that most young freelancers are making.

First of all, you should honestly answer a simple question:

Are you really awesome at what you’re doing?
Are you an excellent designer, writer, photographer, illustrator or architect?

You don’t have to be the best, but you must definitely be beyond average or unique in your niche.
Otherwise, your chances to attract quality clients are very slim. You can, however, keep working, honing your skills and improving day after day.

But, let’s assume that you are an outstanding creative. Now, keep on reading!

Clients don’t do you a favor when they hire you. They buy your precious time and expertise.

They probably know it, I’m not sure you do!

When it comes to financial issues, a lot of professionals have an absolutely fallacious mentality.
Many of them feel uncomfortable to discuss their rates, even worse, they don’t dare to ask for money clients owe them, fooling themselves that it’s a matter of dignity.

In case you feel guilty every time you talk about paid services, you have to start working on your self-esteem, otherwise, you’re never going to earn what you deserve.

Decreasing rates every time on client’s demand? You’re more likely to lose money than clients!

So, this time I sent a detailed proposal, explaining what exactly I’m hired for, how many appointments are included and making crystal clear when and how much I get paid. I always take a deposit upfront and never leave a big amount at the end. I never deliver the final “product” before the payoff.

There is no decent client who will have problems with a clear contract, on the contrary, they will appreciate it.
Be more than careful with those who have objections. Also, be sure it’s clear that time is money — for both of you.

Play by your own rules and set boundaries

You are the expert, you know the process, you give guidance, therefore you set the rules.

This doesn’t mean you don’t take into consideration your clients’ needs and desires. Your main goal is to make your cooperation an exciting and unforgettable experience for both of you. Especially for them.

This won’t happen, however, by letting them be in charge of the project.

This time the first meeting was at my office — not at the client’s place. I always advise professionals to do this, it puts you in a stronger position.
In cases where I made the compromise early on and met clients at their offices or made additional meetings that were not in the contract, things easily slipped out of my control.

Do it once and it becomes a habit!

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be flexible. But, assuming an appointment was canceled due to your client’s request, you won’t reschedule your whole week to fit their program.

Don’t make concessions easily, even when you can — you give a wrong message that some clients will take advantage of.
For instance, I never answer the phone or reply to emails, after 6 or in some cases 8 o’clock in the evening. But, I also won’t make business calls during weekends or evenings.

You can’t expect from your clients to respect your working hours when you don’t do it yourself!

Become a persuasive negotiator i.e. avoid negotiations by giving options

I was recently discussing with a friend, who is a successful entrepreneur, about a promotional service she turned down because the agency charged her too much.
A few days later, they got back to her, with a huge discount to the ⅓ of the initial price!

This was an unforgivable mistake!
What they actually did was admitting they overcharge their clients for a service costing much less.
Or, that they’d been starving and tried to get them no matter what!

In both cases, the game is lost for them, my friend will never take them seriously again. She will definitely expect huge discounts in the future.

Betraying your client’s trust in you is saying goodbye to them — and to referrals. It’s much wiser to lose a client and then reconsider and adjust your rates, than looking so unreliable or desperate.

Instead of discounts, give options

I’ve created several services tailored to meet my clients’ needs. They usually have to make a choice between a simple and a premium service. And no, they don’t always choose the cheapest option!

Also, reward your good clients with unexpected gifts, like an extra banner for their website or something they might find useful and it’s easy for you.

Obviously, I’ve lost a number of prospects before I learn to manage things successfully.

Use your marketing tools cleverly and subtly

Another reason I insist on meeting with clients at my place, it’s because it helps me sell my services.

My studio has a really cozy and soothing atmosphere and a stunning view — something that is noticed by everyone who visits me!
What impresses them more are the color combinations. They rarely have this unexpected experience, to feel relaxed and cheerful among so many colors, yet perfectly combined.

This way, they do not only see what they’ll get but they feel it with almost all their senses. And this is a strong impression they won’t easily forget.

Your design and decor can really be a powerful marketing tool for attracting clients.

The same goes for you.

Be cool, friendly and pleasant

We all prefer to work with someone we like. Although we take our jobs seriously, most of us want to have fun while working.

I have clients who want to be my friends, with some of them we laugh a lot! I am careful, however with those who might not understand my humor.

Making silly jokes or being extremely friendly with someone you just met is not very clever. You want to attract clients, not scare them!

In case you don’t meet clients in person, a nice profile photo is necessary. You don’t have to look gorgeous — actually, in some cases, this may bring you more troubles than clients! — but showing your visitors you’re friendly, warm, approachable and agreeable can help a lot.

Be — and look — confident and trustworthy

This doesn’t mean you have to be an arrogant, smart-ass who has all the answers, especially when you don’t!

Trust and honesty are the most important and hard to get traits of a successful freelancer or entrepreneur and what most humans are seeking for (in business and life in general).

Clients need to feel reassured that their issues are in good hands and they can rely on you to solve their problems and give them the right answers and advice.
If you win them over, they’ll stick with you.

During my teaching career, I often had to deal with questions I couldn’t reply immediately.

In similar situations, the best thing to do is being honest and promise you will look for it and come back with an accurate answer. Nobody will blame you for sparing the time needed to provide the right information.

Choose the right words and bring up the right emotions (Become a good psychologist)

This is the most important lesson I took during my career.

You have to be a great psychologist in order to become a successful freelancer or entrepreneur.

If you are capable of recognizing a person’s emotions, you’re one step ahead of him/her.

Having a new home or a working place is for most of us one of our biggest dreams. Building, renovating or remodeling a house, however, is among the most stressful and exhausting experiences.
Unexpected problems may occur and mistakes can happen since it’s a complicated assignment, where many contractors and craftsmen are involved. Afraid of this inconvenience, many people put off a renovation until problems become unbearable.

What for a non-expert seems like an awful mess, for me is a routine. My goal is to make my clients forget the difficulties and focus on the pleasure of having soon a new amazing home.

I often have to remind them, they can finally relax, stop troubling their minds and let me do the work. This is why they pay me for! They always smile and sigh of relief when they hear this simple truth.

Keep your temper and don’t let them see you stressed or worried. Wait until they go, to figure out how you can solve the problem occurred and come up with the solution.

My little secret in dealing with tough characters is giving them what they most need. Everybody wants to feel accepted and appreciated. The main reason some individuals become defensive or even aggressive is that they feel underestimated and disrespected.

Listen to them, ask their opinion and show them your respect. They’ll fall in love with you! Sometimes, only the fact that you recognize and justify their anxiety and fears makes them feel better.
Be honest and express what you like about them — you can definitely find one good trait — and don’t keep it to yourself. After all, positive feedback is what you expect from your clients too.

Go ahead and give it first!

Be extremely helpful, but don’t give solutions immediately, even if you have them!

Most of the times, clients want answers immediately. Actually, they’d be delighted to have them without paying you!
Some young enthusiastic and impulsive professionals are eager to offer their expertise for free!

As soon as someone learns I’m an interior designer, I’m getting bombarded with all sorts of questions.

I take the chance to explain, why I never give a quick reply or advice before I look into all possible options and choose the most suitable and perfect one. I also advise them not to trust those who instantly give them solutions to their problem.

It’s not just a diplomatic answer, it’s the truth.

But, supposing you already have the answer, most of them will think there’s no need to pay you for such an easy job. Only a few will consider the fact it probably took you years to become able to solve problems or make suggestions straight away.

I often laugh at those smart-ass creatives, who brag about how quick they accomplish a task in front of prospective clients!

On the other hand, in case a question can be answered with a yes or no, there’s no need to charge them. You will no longer look like a reliable professional, but rather like a greedy one!

Show your expertise and highlight what differentiates you from competitors

Even with clients that already know you, take the chance every now and then to remind them why they are lucky to be working with you.
Adding value to your work makes them feel they made the right choice.

People are normally proud and excited to work with a unique, successful creative. And most of them will talk to their friends about you.

Forget what you do in personal life — in business you have to promote and advertise your work. If not, then who will do it for you?

Talk about your achievements and success, only do it with grace and elegance.

You must learn how to brag with modesty!

Point out what differentiates you from your competitors, without talking bad about other colleagues. Nobody who feels superior does this!
Be grateful for those bad professionals who help you stand out and send their disappointed clients to you!

Don’t take things personally — it’s business, not a love affair!

Don’t confuse being friendly and warm with getting emotionally attached to your clients.

Even when you deal with friends and relatives, you have to remind them from time to time that you are the professional they hired and not their friend who’s talking during your business appointments.

In most cases, clients are stressed and anxious, worried about the outcome. Your job is to make them feel relaxed and reassure them everything’s going to be fine.
You’ll have a hard time as a freelancer if you’re easily getting overwhelmed and cannot keep a distance from your client’s emotions.

They normally don’t intend to hurt or offend you, when they are telling you they are not thrilled with your ideas. Don’t perceive constructive feedback as criticism.
The fact they don’t fancy what you suggest doesn’t mean they are rejecting you and your entire work. Don’t be defensive, but try to understand what they’d prefer differently.

After all, you are on the same side trying to bring the best results.

Who to avoid!

Of course, it’s difficult to feel you’re on the same page with someone who has an entirely different perspective — apparently, we cannot work for everyone!

There’s also no need to put up with a mean person whose intention is to humiliate you and degrade your work.
Eventually, some people are not going to transform into dream clients, no matter what!

A few signs on how to recognize them immediately — and stay away from them:

  • They bargain your rates, trying to devalue you and your work.
  • They are rude and tactless, they don’t respect your time and your contract and expect you to be available 24/7.
  • In addition, they demand extra work and countless revisions, without paying you.
  • They know everything better than you and are convinced that everybody alive -you included- is trying to rip them off and steal their money.

Fortunately, those awful guys are a minority!

Become the qualified, positive, passionate, friendly, reliable and cooperative professional everybody would like to work with and you’ll soon be surrounded by ‘dream clients’.

In order to achieve that, you have to find the perfect balance between being rational and emotional. You also have to test, fail and try again.

According to one of my favorite writers, Oscar Wilde:
Experience is the name we give to our mistakes.

The morning I was finishing this article, I had a phone call from a disorganized, indecisive and unstable client I had already worked on a small project and was truly glad it’s over.
She wanted to assign a new project to me. I turned down her request without a second thought, telling her I’ll be very busy for the next 2–3 months.

A few minutes later, I received a message saying the money deposit was in my bank account and I could start working on a new project.The email was sent from a “dream client” who was very polite and kind to tell me she was in love with my work.

Eventually, it’s completely up to us with whom we’re going to work, don’t you think?

Mania Mavridou

Originally published at Millo, on January 20, 2017

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