As you work with a client over a long period of time, your relationship with that client will change and grow. It’s great to become closer with your clients and foster your relationships, but it’s also important to keep your business relationships professional. By keeping the relationship clearly defined, you can have a strong connection with your client without becoming overly involved in their business.
Mark off Boundaries
Maintaining boundaries with your client is essential to the health of the relationship. When your clients become too friendly, it can lay the groundwork for problems.
A client with whom you haven’t set boundaries might:
- Ask for a discount.
- Request more flexible payment terms.
- Overshare regarding business or personal problems.
Learn to say “no” to clients in the first place to avoid these issues.
Keep Your Business to Yourself
Moreover, don’t be guilty of oversharing your own business. When a friend asks you how business is going, you can tell them the whole truth, but when a client asks the same question, be polite and honest without going into too much detail. Instead of, “I just lost my biggest client – I don’t know what I’m going to do!” you can say something more along the lines of, “I’m having kind of a tough week. You know how it goes, right?” This lets the client see your humanity without using him as a complaint outlet.
Additionally, it’s a good rule of thumb to avoid mentioning to clients that you’ve recently bought a new car or gone on an expensive vacation; they might start thinking they are paying you too much, even if this isn’t true.
The mental health profession has an adage that you can’t help someone if you are too close to the situation. This is true of business relationships, as well: you can’t do your job for the client if the two of you have too familiar a relationship.
Set the Tone
You can proactively set the tone of the client relationship early with two crucial actions:
- Sign a client contract at the beginning of the relationship.
- Maintain regular, friendly contact.
A well-written contract will prevent future communication issues, but it will also show (not just tell) the client that you intend to be professional about this relationship. When you’ll get paid, what you’ll deliver, and all of those details will be ironed out right away so there will be no questions. And a good contract is the best way to show you’re serious about your business. It will also help prevent clients from becoming overly chummy.
To balance this, though, make sure to stay in casual contact with your clients on a regular basis. Don’t only reach out when you need to get paid. Take an interest in their business, and feel free to share little details of your life with them. Your clients are human beings, after all, and treating them as such will always be appreciated.
These two simple tips will help you maintain a nice harmony between friendliness and professionalism.