Working with others is a necessity of being an artist. Creative partnerships and artistic collaborations happen creatively all the time. Business relationships with galleries and organizations also build over the span of your career. But another business-based relationship that can develop in your career is working with clients, or someone who seeks your professional expertise.
Clients pay you for a variety of reasons, for your assistance, expertise, time, inspiration, skill, and more. Perhaps you are being paid to work on a specific project, coach, or mentor someone. Regardless of the work involved, there are certain guidelines and skills needed to work with others. I have created this list from my years of consulting with local artists. This blog post outlines some methods I have used when working with clients that prove the most success.
Before You Meet
Pack Your Tools Nothing like going to meet a client and you forgot the folder you need with critical information or your laptop is blinking low battery and you don’t have the cord. Prepare early and make sure your necessities are packed and ready before you head to the meeting. It looks unprofessional to show up unprepared so think beforehand about what you need to do your best job. This could mean checking in beforehand to see if you need to bring anything.
Show Up Early If you are meeting at a coffee shop or somewhere you need to commute to, plan ahead with directions and leave early. You can easily get lost or hit traffic. If you arrive early, get settled and get yourself ready to work. Nothing like spending 10 minutes trying to connect to the free WiFi. Arriving early lets you calm down, log in, and get organized so you are the most prepared and professional for your client.
Honor Your Time – Respect each other’s time, set a time to meet and work together and stick to it. This way you won’t work way more hours than you had intended and you also don’t burn out or underwhelm your client.
Getting to Know the Client
Meet the Client Where They Are – Get a feel for what your client needs and how you can help. Some clients will be ready to launch, excited about the work, and know their clear path and goals. Other clients are leaning on guidance, opinion, and assistance. Assess where the client is at and meet them at this level even if it feels very elementary. Meeting them where they are at is worth your time even if what you are helping with seems easy.
Referrals Are a Good Thing – After you get a grasp of the goals and needs of your client, if they are needing services and assistance beyond your scope of expertise, refer them to another professional who can help them better. This will actually help build credibility, connections to other professionals in the community and you can be guaranteed to have someone else refer a future client to you in the future.
Listen – Believe it or not, listening to the client is the most important thing you can do during your time and work together. Some clients need to bounce ideas around, talk out a project or just have someone to talk to. Learn to be a good listener and it will take you far.
Constructive Feedback: At some point, you will need to provide helpful, positive, or critical feedback. Feedback comes easier as you build the relationship and create trust with each other but this feedback needs to be targeted towards your client’s success and with their goals kept in mind.
Provide options and let them make the decision While a client is paying for your expertise, be humble about this. If a client doesn’t like a suggestion, don’t take it personally, it just isn’t the correct solution for them. Providing some options or multiple solutions will be more beneficial than a “my way or the highway” mentality. Everyone has different learning and executing styles and a method that worked for you may not work well for the client.
Flexibility Being flexible with your client is key and is almost as important as listening. This can be anything from scheduling and meeting location to the structure of your work together or the work’s trajectory. The original goals or plans may change as you work together, allows the process to happen. Be careful to not be too flexible and over accommodating. You don’t want your clients to walk all over you. Make sure you have limits and boundaries when needed or be able to communicate what you can and can’t offer.
Check-In Touch base with your client if you are unsure if your on track during the work or session. Stop and have a conversation. If something seems confusing, unclear or they aren’t “into it” touch base and ask in the moment. This way you can switch your method or approach and not waste valuable time. Always ask if something was helpful or if you are moving in the right direction and making the progress the client is expecting.
Follow-Up At the end of the session, workflow, or meeting, follow up and decide if another meeting needs to be scheduled. It’s the perfect time to plan future work instead of the back and forth of emails or multiple phone calls you will have to do later.
Letting Clients Go If it’s been a while since you have heard from the client or you’re worried that someone is no longer interested in working with you, realize that there are numerous reasons why they have come to this decision and it’s not always because of you. Budgets, goals, workload, family emergencies, time commitments are just a few reasons why a client may no longer reach out for your services. And if you are just not the right professional for their needs and that’s just fine. Don’t feel bad if you are not the right person for the job, sometimes clients need to move on.