5 lessons to build a business that I learned from my clients

client 1

By Mars Dorian, {grow} Contributing Columnist

Whenever the end of a year comes nigh, I reflect on the past 12 months. And as think about 2013, I realize that I learned five important lessons from my clients. I hope you can learn from my experiences … and my mistakes!

Here we go.

1. Clients say they want something out-there. They don’t. Really.

I once created a couple of illustrations for an ebook. One particular chapter was about malicious software. I drew a picture of a computer program that came out of the screen and strangled the user. The client said this was too aggressive and could be considered as offensive. I had to delete the image and created a new, tame version.

This wasn’t the first time someone hired me to create something bold and creative, only to have me create something safe in the end.

Creative, bold, out-there usually translates into “create something that is already proven and safe.”

My lesson for 2013 is learning how to interpret this client language.

client 2

2. Attention is the highest compliment you can give online.

I often get emails from potential clients who thank me for replying. I want you to linger on this a moment … They are not thanking me for the work (which I haven’t done yet), but for simply acknowledging their message.

That represents the times we’re living in … a world where millions plead for attention, every acknowledgement touches a heart. It may mean: “Thanks, for treating me like I exist. Thanks for making me feel like I matter.”

How can you strengthen that bond ?

I keep in touch wayyy after the transaction has been made. Just recently I wrote to a client who hired me two years ago. He was pleasantly surprised and thanked me for the message. Judging from his writing, I could sense how much it meant to him.

I always contact people online whose work I admire. If I listen to a kick-ass podcast, or see a crazy drawing or an article that helps me, I make sure they know about it.

Will that all lead to client work eventually? Maybe, maybe not. BUt I never think it hurts to strengthen our human bonds.

3. Trust attracts clients.

The Internet has destroyed geographic boundaries, but it has built emotional ones. Since the majority of my clients live on the other side of the planet, a lot of them feel queasy when working with me for the first time.

Many of my first email exchanges with (potential) first-time clients go like this:

“Once I send you money via Paypal, how do I know you won’t run off with it?”

“Will I have to pay you if I have more questions?”

“I’ve read on your about page that you’re German. Can you accept Dollars?” (I’ve heard of this obscure currency before!)

“Will you stop contacting me once I send you the final payment?”

These questions may seem silly but they’re not — when working digitally, you’ll never see your client in real life, and giving money to a perfect stranger is an act of trust.

That’s why I focus on establishing trust immediately through testimonials on my site, a detailed explanation of the work process, and by encouraging them to ask any questions they like to establish confidence.

client 3

4. Your network is your retirement fund.

Jeez, at this point, I should emblazon that phrase on my flag and wave it around, because I’m telling this to everyone.

If you work at a bricks and mortar business, your network will be dependent on your geo location. The minute you get fired or have to move away, years of local network-building will go out the window. Sayoonara.

But your online network? It will grow and grow till you make your last breath. You can change careers and even countries, but your online network will move with you. Heck, even when I’m on planet Mars, typing away in some forgotten outpost, I’d still have access to my network from earth.

Right now, I’ve made valuable connections with peeps from around the globe, and the more and meaningful those connections become, the more work I get.

My network is my retirement fund.

5. Psychology is the number one online skill

A lot of people who want to appear “cutting edge” say coding is the most important skill online, I have to disagree.
Until you’re a hermit programmer, you need to know at least the basics of psychology to deal with your fellow meat-based walkers. You can’t code yourself into a successful client negotiations. Yet.

I know a bunch of creative folks who code the craziest websites, draw the most delicious designs, but when it comes down to client communication, especially price negotiations, they’re as dexterous as a gorilla in a porcelain factory.

“Well, my work speaks for myself,” they would say. No, YOU speak for yourself.

If you can’t communicate, get yourself a book on (client) communication ASAP and start learning about your fellow meat-packed walkers.

How do I address strangers online ?
How can I pleasantly write about pricing ?
How can I make potential clients trust me online ?

Learn everything about the power of language and which words to use, because that ability is going to put food on your table, seriously.

As long as the roboconomy hasn’t taken over, you’re still dealing with 100% organic humans. Clients are the lifeblood of every business. Innovation and good products are essential, but they don’t mean anything if you cannot communicate that value to your target audience. I’m grateful for the Internet because it has allowed me to create my own career. But I never forget that on the other side of the planet, on the other side of the screen, there’s still a human being, and s/he’s waiting for a real connection.

Aren’t you?

mars dorianMars Dorian describes himself as a creative marketeer with a moon-melting passion for human potential and technology. You can follow his adventures at www.marsdorian.com/

Original illustrations by the author.

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  • Sunny

    Thanks for writing this Mars and sharing your experiences. I like your edgy artwork – it communicates the mistrust perfectly. More to the point I agree with you about how important the soft skills are in any line of business or really any thing you do. How often have I heard “It wasn’t what she said, it was how she said it” meaning that the tone of voice was worse than the actual words.

  • Mike Rudd

    Mars, I always enjoy your posts on here and this is another great one. Thank you for sharing! I often tell my friends/clients/colleagues that the most important thing they can do for their business and life is just “Be Yourself” and “Be a Human” and I think trust, psychology, etc all go back to it. Keep up the great work and thank you for sharing!
    Mike Rudd

  • Hi Mars. Great post, great artworks, great subject.
    I agree with you on all the line and I love the way you explain the point 3 about Trust. It’s funny and very realistic, very true. Chapeau! 🙂

  • #2 Bang On. I often win new clients simply because I respond promptly. And Iran within 15 minutes, or less.

  • You so right about this – a lot of times, I offend and/or confuse clients because of the tone (or lack thereof) when I write messages.

    Sentences which would sound normal/harmless when i say them in my voice sound sometimes offensive when I write them down, because of the lack of tone which I can’t show in written form. I had to learn to rewrite all my writing because of this realization.

  • Do you use an email app for that ? Something which helps you prioritize emails ?

  • Yeah, Mike, the human aspect is so vital especially online when the digital “barrier” exists that prevents possible emotional connections at first. I had to learn to write in a way that reaches people emotionally.

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  • Aaminah Shakur

    One of your most useful and accessible posts, Mars (which is saying a lot because I love your posts.)

    In regards to “If you can’t communicate, get yourself a book on (client) communication ASAP and start learning about your fellow meat-packed walkers.” Are there books that other Grow community members found especially useful for this? For many of us who work in very solitary fashions (I’m a writer and artist, for example), we may be adept at social media and socializing with people we are quite comfortable with, but it’s a whole different skill to deal with clients or potential clients and I find that most of my circle struggles constantly with questions like “how do I discuss pricing and payment terms in a way that doesn’t sell myself short, doesn’t scare them off, doesn’t undercut others, and still gets us both what we need?” and “how much communication is too much communication or starts to seem like pestering?” etc.

  • yeah, this balance is vital, and I learn it only by doing. Sometimes, I have asked too many questions, other times, not many enough. Every client is different, but if you have dealt with many, you will learn how address through sheer experience. I analyze mails and look for clues between the lines that tells me what kind of writing language I should use / how my reply should look like.

  • This blog post is one of the most useful posts I’ve read in 2013! thanks dude.

  • I am really impressed by your blog. The 5 points shared are excellent, specially the third point which is the trust building among clients or customers. That is the most important fundamental for any business.

    Thanks for posting such great blog.

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  • Your statement that we live in a “world where millions plead for attention,” and that “every acknowledgement touches a heart” is so true. We all want to be known and appreciated online and offline. It’s being a person like that who thinks outside their own little world even it is by sharing a simple thank-you can definitely lift the spirits of a client, friend or family member.

    As I think of someone who does this so well, I have to bring Mark Schaefer’s name to the table. He is one who practices this on a daily basis in the Twittersphere. Think of the impact that he has had on the lives of thousands simply because he listens and interacts. Do I have some work to do on this? Oh yes! Am I up for the challenge? By all means.

    Thanks Mars for inspiring and encouraging each reader.

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