What your clients really want – and how to deliver

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At its most basic level, the art of understanding clients is about grasping what they want to achieve by hiring you: where they’re at, where they want to go and how your skills will help get them there.

However, over time, a deeper, more subtle level of understanding comes into play. Your role can evolve into something a lot more complex than that of a mere service provider.

Picking up on – and (where advisable) responding to – unspoken needs can really strengthen your working relationships and make you more profitable.

What client really want

Here are four examples of (potentially) what your clients really want, but probably haven’t told you.

A mentor

An anomaly of self-employment is that you can often find yourself being managed by people much younger and less experienced than you. They may feel under internal pressure to demonstrate they’re in charge, while in reality, they want your guidance. Give them that guidance in the form of friendly advice, suggestions and your best work. You’ll be investing in your own future because, as these people progress in their careers, they’ll remember the support you gave them. Also, understand that the experiences and training they have had will be different to yours. They may be more up to date with modern techniques and contemporary working cultures than you, so it’s a learning opportunity for you, too.

An outlet for internal pressure

Sometimes, your contact may need to let off steam. As an external resource, you, unfortunately, present an obvious outlet. But, that terse email, critical feedback or aggressive voicemail message may not be what you think. A typical example is where you deliver your work exactly to the brief, but unknown to you, the brief was wrong. Your contact’s boss leans on your contact to put things right and someone has to take the rap. The easiest target? The hired help. It can be frustrating, but rarely fatal. See it for what it is and let it pass – taking one for the team occasionally will be quietly appreciated and worth it in the long run.

A secret ally

One of the great things about being self-employed is the escape from office politics. Sometimes, though, even as a freelancer or contractor, you can get drawn into other people’s schemes, conflicts and power struggles. Being asked to do something in a way that contravenes the client’s usual processes, taking ‘off the record’ calls and getting invited to clandestine meetings all smack of being recruited onto a team with a hidden agenda. Proceed with extreme caution here. Discreetly helping your contact with the fallout from an innocent goof-up is one thing. Exposing yourself as part of someone else’s unauthorised project or personal vendetta will kill your relationship with the organisation stone dead. It could ruin your reputation, too.

An ego booster

Never underestimate the value in making your client look good in the eyes of their customers, senior management or shareholders. The small sacrifice in credit or praise will repay itself in spades in the form of repeat business. It will mean having your work passed off as someone else’s and not being able to use it in your portfolio. No matter – be proud that your client wants to claim ownership of your work. After all, it’s a sure sign they’ll place plenty more of it with you in future.

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