I was inspired to write this article by people I’ve worked with who are struggling to manage their clients in different contexts. This is particularly difficult if you run your own business or you have a ‘people-pleaser’ personality which leads you to over-commit. The ultimate impact is an unsustainable work routine.
In a working environment that has no boundaries how can we balance client expectations with our own needs? Using my personal experience and learning from my clients, coaches and friends I’ve developed these 5 steps.
Understand the client
Consider your existing client relationships and explore
- Which of them work effectively? Why?
- Are any less effective? Why?
- What do I bring to each relationship?
- What’s going on for my client(s): their context, routines, pressures etc?
What do I mean by effective? Well one thing you’ll learn early on if I’m coaching you is that it doesn’t matter what effective client relationships look like to me. My focus is on helping you to get really clear on what’s effective for you in your business relationships. This could be anything from clients who respect your time to just finding the right chemistry.
Prioritise one or two areas you’d like to improve on.
Understand your needs
When do you deliver your best work? What creates a really productive work and learning environment for you. I find many of my coaching clients have never stepped back to ask themselves these kinds of questions. Are you
- a morning person?
- reactive or reflective?
- committed to family / social time that’s important?
Shape your personal boundaries from these questions and decide where there is flexibility. I’m a morning person and I get my best thinking done early. I struggle to concentrate on complex tasks at the end of a long day. A few days on the run of late meetings is not going to see me at my best.
To what extent can you reshape your work routine to really play to your own needs?
Contract with the client
Agree how you’ll work together early on and review this as the relationship develops. Often we jump straight into the work and forget to invest in the relationship. Take time to understand your client’s needs. Explore
- Their work culture and routines
- How you’ll review how the relationship is going
- How you can both get the best from the engagement
Understanding your own needs will help you to identify commonality and areas of difference. If your client regularly leaves things to the last minute and expects you to respond how will you handle this? Does your client want you to shape ideas with them or give you a solution to implement? There is no right and wrong but understanding different preferences is the first step to addressing them.
Respect your boundaries
When you’ve explored what will work for you both respect the boundaries you’ve agreed. Help your clients to understand how they can help you to deliver your best work and keep finding ways you can play to their needs. Developing shared understanding will deepen the relationship.
Be flexible but don’t try to be all things to all people or you’re being a people-pleaser
A very wise coach (she knows who she is) once told me that my boss had no vested interest in helping me to do less. In other words, she was telling me that I needed to take responsibility for setting my own boundaries. This was a real lightbulb moment which helped me to think differently about the messages I was giving to colleagues. My words were expressing one thing and my behaviour was saying something else.
Continuous open dialogue
Review how things are working in reality. There are many techniques for managing professional relationships, but communication is central. Ask your clients
- Is there something I could do that would add more value for you?
- What’s worked well since we last met?
- Are we working how we planned or have we developed other routines?
And show that you have listened and understood by continuing to invest in the relationship.
I’ve learnt that it needs continuous attention and there is no magic formulae
Managing clients is essential if you want to grow your business and do your best work. Delivering the most value to your clients in a way that also works for you is a tough balancing act. These 5 simple steps help me to learn from every client I work with.
I’d love to hear from you if you have other tips for managing clients or if this is an area of your work you’d like to improve.
In future articles I’ll share more about how I work along with some coaching techniques you can apply yourself.