How to Be a Good Client

Illustration by  Petra Eriksson .

Illustration by Petra Eriksson.

This is a guest post by Rachel Lazar, a seasoned consultant and marketing expert who's worked with hundreds of clients. For a complementary article, read A Scope of Work Template to CYA with Vendors.

Get the Most from Your Flexible Workforce & Not Suck at Clienting 

As the workforce continues to evolve and move towards greater flexibility for both employees and companies’ needs, it’s imperative to focus on how best to maximize this new team of workers. No doubt, you will hire contractors and outside vendors at various points in the lifecycle of your business.

Being a pleaser and a workhorse myself, it’s taken time, and many engagements with clients as an outside vendor, to gain clarity into what is truly important in the client-consultant relationship. 

Like anything in life or business, it’s ultimately about finding the right people. Whether they be in-house or contract, the right people will care deeply about growing your business. Their business is your business. As such, people who are committed to and engaged in their work want to be all in—informed, working from complete context, collaborating with your team members, and ultimately, confident that they are doing good work.

As all consultants can attest, there are both incredibly wonderful and incredibly challenging clients. Interestingly, it’s rarely the actual work that determines how an engagement will go. The best clients take the time to bring contractors truly into the fold, an endeavor that often takes way more time than you think it will. Putting in this effort to educate on the business, the market, internal team dynamics, and the challenges and objectives, complements your contractors' expertise and allows them to do their best work for you.

On the flip side, the clients who lob bits of information across the fence, or don’t communicate well or provide timely insights and updates, make it more challenging to ensure contractors can focus on the most impactful efforts. Speaking from experience, when you have a team of seasoned marketers who go deep into each marketing channel to drive new customers and revenue, we don’t need a lot of hand holding but it’s always surprising when we learn that we haven’t been given the full picture. 

Nine years into my consulting practice, we are working with our favorite client ever. Yes, I know we’re not supposed to pick favorites, but we do. With this client, we are truly embedded with the team, including being invited to their holiday party and team offsites. We have visibility into all aspects of the business, and with that perspective we can provide support in a number of areas, and ultimately, to help them scale their marketing and revenue significantly. 

The gist is that the more you treat your flexible work-force similar to how you treat internal full-time employees, the more effective and efficient your contractors will be. As the lines blur between these two types of staff, this will only become increasingly more important.

Good Client Cheat Sheet 

Acknowledge that you can’t do it all yourself

  • This is the biggest hurdle to being a good client. If you’re gripping the reins, it’s likely for financial or control reasons. Remember, you hire outside expertise to push your business and brand goals forward in ways that you cannot do alone or with the resources you currently have in-house.

  • To get your control-freak self over this hurdle, you must distance yourself from the assignment emotionally. It’s business. Prioritize the skill sets you need to hire for, establish a reasonable budget, write a specific and actionable scope of work, and commit to the project (more on that below). 

  • If hiring for marketing, recognize that there is no longer one marketer that can do everything well. Both performance and brand marketing require niche expertise if you want them done well. 

  • Understand that the performance marketing landscape is especially nuanced. Bring in expertise for the channels that will most impact your business, from PPC/searc to social media to email marketing. 

Really let contractors/vendors do their job

  • Establish clear expectations. This includes defining a single key objective, project KPIs, a budget, and timeframe for success. Consider writing a project plan or creative brief to document all of these requirements. 

  • Set regular check-ins that map to the project timeline and deliverables. 

  • Don’t micromanage contractors. You are paying them well to do their job. They will move mountains for you if you demonstrate trust early. 

  • Be a true leader. With a clear scope of work you can confidently assume they’ll do their job, so get out of their way. 

Provide full disclosure, especially when times are tough 

  • Be 100% open about the state of your business. If you’re holding back information, it likely goes back to control issues. Over-communicate, especially when the working relationship is new. 

  • Your contractors are part of your team, so connect them with all of the necessary internal and external stakeholders necessary to move the work forward. Too much visibility is preferred to not enough. 

  • Communicate early and often if changes occur that impact the contractors’ scope of work.

Pay invoices on time

  • This is a small but mighty touchpoint in your contractor relationship, especially if the talent is early in their career and establishing a business. They depend on your payment to meet their payroll. 

  • Paying on time, and early if you can, goes a long way to create trust and loyalty. This is an unspoken gesture that says you’re looking out for them and value their work. Tracking down late payments distracts from the work and drags down contractor morale. 

Give referrals generously

  • At the end of a project engagement, show that you appreciate your contractors by writing a LinkedIn review and sharing out your work in social channels. They will do the same.

  • Talk up your contractors in your business networks. Referring them to other good clients is the third best thing you can do to make them love you (after trusting them to do their jobs and paying your bills on time).

Rachel Lazar is the Principal of Lazar Marketing Consulting. Her team provides full-service marketing strategy and execution, as well as management for Google Adwords, PPC and SEO. Rachel also co-founded Impact West Seattle, a local women’s giving group, and advises startups.