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When you offer a service, either as a business, an agency, a contractor or a freelancer, you work with clients who pay for your services. Sometimes this may be hourly based, but more likely it is is a fixed rate for the project. Therefore as an agency or contractor you are not employed by your clients; instead you work with your clients.

In today’s competitive marketplace this concept can become lost, and clients end up dictating the whole project. Not only does this restrict the project through loss of flexibility, but it curtails your freedom as an agency. Ultimately the project will suffer because of it, so it is important from the very beginning to set up ground rules with your client to work with them, not for them.

‘With’ versus ‘for’

‘With’ alludes to a collaboration, whereas ‘for’ fosters the idea of a hierarchy. When you collaborate with someone you work as a partnership, with each partner having an equal say in the situation. A hierarchy, on the other hand, suggests that there is an overall boss who has the final say.

When you work with a client both of you are putting trust in the other, and expect each other to make good on any promises. The experience of working together needs to be mutually pleasant and beneficial. However, you also need to remember that the client is investing time and money into you, and needs to feel onboard with the project throughout.

When you work for someone, you take less responsibility for the project but the payback is that you have much less control. Tasks and times are tightly set, and you experience less flexibility.

Learning to work with a client instead of for a client is beneficial to both of you, so let’s look at some methods of ensuring you maintain the boundaries from the very beginning.

Ways to work with clients

Be business-like

Whether you are a sole-trader or a large corporation, you must treat each project as a business project. Be clear on costings, payment schedules, milestones, deadlines, expected results, and any other fine detail about the project. Be confident in your abilities and how much they are worth.

Setting a contract

To ensure that all the details are known to all parties and adhered to, get it in writing in the form of a contract. This clarifies all expectations upfront, as well as doubling up as a plan for the project.

Communication

Communication is one of the most important aspects of working with a client instead of for a client, and requires a two way system for it to work. Both you and your client need to respect and act on each other’s communication, whichever form it comes in.

Listening

If you do not listen properly you will never fully understand what you require from each other. Never pay lip service to this form of communication; it is vital you appreciate what is being requested of you.

Responding

Respond to every communication you receive in a timely manner, with your own thoughts and inputs. When a client has hired you to work with them, they appreciate your opinion, otherwise they would employ someone to work for them instead.

Recording

Can you remember everything you heard or said? Chances are your client can’t either. Make sure you keep a record of all your communications, using a management system that is pertinent to the particular project you are working on. In this way, you can easily refer to past conversations and save the changes as they happen.

Sharing

Make sure you share all your information with your client, and ask him to do the same. Remember you are working with your client and it is important both of you have equal access to the documents and files necessary to complete the project successfully.

On the same page

Both of you will have distinct ideas and opinions regarding the project, so managing them is crucial. Being on the same page as each other is paramount to the project moving forward; if you are clashing at every turn it will affect the success of the task. One way to overcome this is to brainstorm on a regular basis, and see how each other's ideas can lead to new and better one.

Prepared for change

Sometimes you will have to accept that what you have come up with so far is not working. If this happens, be prepared to change it to accommodate your client’s needs. A project should always be a work-in-progress; don’t be too rigid with your initial plan but let it occasionally have a life of its own. Your client will thank you for it at the end of the project.

Upfront honesty

Always be 100% honest with your skills, abilities and experience. If not, you may find you are in over your head with the project, resulting in a poor performance and unsuccessful outcome. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know, but you will find out, and expect the same back from your client.

Taking the time

In business, time means money, so always be clear on your milestones and completion dates and stick to them. If a new parameter arises that will cause a delay, make sure your client knows this. At the same time, ask your client to be clear on when he can deliver information that you need to move forward.

Agreeing to disagree

It is hard when you have invested a large part of yourself into a project for a client to criticize or dislike any part of your work. However, there are times when you have to humble yourself, and waiver to the client’s decisions. Ultimately the project will belong to them and you have to respect their ideas.

Occasionally there will be times when you may deem it important to stand your ground with your ideas. If you genuinely feel that your vision will create a better and more productive finished product than theirs, it is in the client’s interest for you to speak up. Regardless, it is important to remain objective throughout this process, and see the task through your client’s eyes as well as your own.

Taking rejection

There are times when what you have produced just does not meet the brief stated. This does not mean your work is bad; it just means it does not fit the final outcome required. When you work with a client you have to accept this type of rejection, and handle it in a business-like manner. If your skills do not fit this particular project, then recognize it and move on.

Never get defensive but communicate to your client that you understand, that you are sorry that on this occasion you could not fulfil their brief, but that you hope to be able to work with them again on future collaborations. If you have worked well together it is likely your profile will fit future projects, and that you will work together in the future.

Conclusion

Being part of a team with your client is the overall aim when you work with each other. Engaging with your client will ensure the task is completed to the satisfaction of both you, plus it will make the project more pleasurable and less stressful. By creating an excellent working atmosphere your client will also be more likely to call you next time rather than a different agency.

So working with your client, as opposed to working for them, equates to a win-win for everyone. A collaboration works better than a hierarchy..

Mattias Le Cren
Content marketing & growth hacking advocate. I'm heavily into tech and football. Ping me on twitter: @lecrenm
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Project Management Update