My philosophy of business success: Treat clients as you do your friends

Several years ago, I had an opportunity to write a statement summing up my philosophy of business success for a special business section the Daily Hampshire Gazette was publishing. I came across it just a few days ago and think it is worthy of repeating here. So here it is with new material added:

Somewhere along the way, I developed the business philosophy of treating clients the way I treat my best friends. Here’s how to put this philosophy in action:

•  Always have your clients’ best interests at heart. Because we are dedicated to our friends’ welfare, we tend to go the extra mile for them. Do the same for clients. Sometimes this requires telling people what they don’t want to hear but need to hear. But just as you’d warn a friend who was about to make a major mistake, you owe it to clients to not be a “yes” guy. They pay you for your expertise and honesty; always give them both.

•  Give clients the benefit of the doubt. With best friends, we willingly overlook personality quirks and forgive bouts of crankiness. Do the same for clients. If someone is having a bad day, don’t assume they’re treating you shabbily on purpose. You never know what’s going on behind the scenes; 99% of the time, someone’s ill humor, lack of gratitude, or similar bad behavior has absolutely nothing to do with you or your work. By not taking things personally, you stand a much better chance of keeping your client relationships on an even keel.

• Practice random acts of kindness. If I see an article or a news item that pertains to a client’s business or to one of their personal interests, I send them a link via e-mail or drop the clipping in the mail. Also if a client is having some significant milestone or development in their business, I often send a little gift. For example, when one of my book proposal clients sold her book to a publisher for a six-figure advance, I sent her a CD that I knew she’d enjoy as a way to celebrate her success.

I also do this random act of kindness thing with clients who I’m not currently working with because any reason to remind people that you’re still out here and thinking of them is a good thing. Plus it’s a way to say, “Hey, remember me?” without seeming like you’re trying to sell them something.

• Be wiling to listen off the clock. Although I do work for larger organizations, many of my clients over the years have been sole practitioners or small partnerships. Often these people need a sounding board for business issues that have absolutely nothing to do with my work for them. By being willing to serve as an unpaid sounding board when they are grappling with dilemmas, I have found that my relationships with these clients have grown stronger and my value to them greater.

Although taking time out of a busy day to be an unpaid counselor may seem like it’s costing me money, in the long run, it has resulted in business relationships that have lasted for years and years. Again, it’s the same thing I would do for a friend who needed someone to listen…and indeed, a number of clients have become good friends as a result of this approach.

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