Until a few years ago, I used to maintain strict boundaries where professional relationships were concerned. ‘Business and pleasure don’t mix’ was what I’d learned in school and that’s also what many of my seniors advocated. The naive little girl that I was, I believed them. The result? People finding me unapproachable, closed-off, and just too professional for comfort.
My personality evolved and eventually transformed when I started volunteering with support groups and women’s and children’s organizations. When you go somewhere with the aim of providing help and solace to the distressed or less fortunate, you need to be warm, open, and very friendly. I learned- and still keep learning- some important life skills while I spend my spare time volunteering. One of the most valuable among them is the importance of friendliness- yes, even in business.
I’m a less formal person now in all my relationships. I take pride in being an easy person to get along with, able to laugh about anything, take a joke at my expense, and I’m friendly with almost everybody. Notice that I said ‘almost everybody.’ Why? Because there will always be people resistant to friendliness, especially if it’s work.
Being friends with your clients doesn’t mean you have to go for picnics together, or call each other all the time, or share secrets. It’s more about building strong, long-lasting relationships, which is never going to happen if you are strictly professional and business-like all the time. No, you don’t have to be friends on Facebook or get drunk together, but it’s perfectly okay to share a joke or start and end meetings with hugs.
Your customer doesn’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care ~ Damon Richards
Let me give an example. One of my earliest clients was starting her home business and hired me to write all the content for her new website. In the beginning, she came across as someone dry, intimidating, and totally closed-off. A few weeks into our association, she gave me a few days off since she had to take her son to the doctor for a series of tests and stuff. When we returned to work I enquired about her son, and we got talking. She told me that her son had just been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, and obviously it had left the whole family heartbroken.
That was the first time ever that she’d volunteered any personal information about herself during our time together. I work with specially-abled kids at two nonprofit organizations and have some idea about the way autistic children behave and the kind of care they need. I shared some of the positive stories of autistic kids with her, just to illustrate the fact that special needs children can go on to live perfectly normal lives. She found comfort in my words, and from the next day she seemed friendlier and less intimidating, and we remain friends to this day.
When clients open up to you about personal life or volunteer non-work related information, it’s an indication of the trust and comfort they feel with you. Of course, like I mentioned earlier, not every person would want to be friendly with you, but once you’re able to find a middle ground between being friends and being clients, you’ll discover a whole world of perks.
To begin with, clients you have a great rapport with will agree to a pay rise easily. They will also keep you for a longer time and refer you to new clients. They will be easier to communicate with. They will offer helpful feedback and suggestions and brainstorm ideas with you. They will be less of a hassle and more of a joy to work with.
You don’t even have to meet your clients in person to be able to build strong relationships. Whether you’re meeting for coffee or talking on Skype, warmth, friendliness, and openness bring the same results everywhere. This is one of the many reasons why this blog strikes a balance between personal and professional.
Perks are good, but relationships are even better.
Over to you…
Are you friendly with your clients? If so, how has it helped you and your business?