In Defense of Clients

I’m going to say something controversial: Clients have brains and aren’t actually evil.

This statement would seem to contradict a lot of popular discourse online, especially from web and design professionals. I’ve reached the point where I normally click past this type of content when I encounter it (seen it once, seen it a million times).

However, a recent post on Webdesigner Depot titled 7 Essential Red Flags to Watch Out for in New Clients caught my attention, and not the least bit in a good way. I’m feeling a little punchy, so here goes…

Everyone has clients

A quick definition of terms: whether you’re a freelancer, business owner, or a salaried employee at an organization, you have clients. No matter your chosen profession, your clients are the people for which you produce and deliver products or services, and who eventually compensate your for your toils. Indeed, we all have clients.

So being someone who both has clients and is a client, I can understand why others would write comics and dedicate entire blogs to the pains of this topic. I think it can be cathartic for those who create the content, and it’s usually heartening and entertaining for those who read it.

But I would encourage anyone about to hit publish on the world’s next “89 Reasons Why Clients are Morons” article to pause for a moment and consider how they actually contribute to and perpetuate perceptions of clients’ naiveté.

Your clients enlist your services for a reason

Alright, now before the phone lines start lighting up, I want to articulate exactly what my beef is here. Yes, I understand that when somebody writes an article about nightmare clients they don’t intend to lump every single person into that category. And yes, I also understand that some bad-apple clients think it’s acceptable to suck the life force out of the people they hire.

What I find problematic is how this constant online ranting contributes to a general mindset that a client should be assumed to be a blathering, incompetent idiot until they prove themselves otherwise.

The part of the Webdesigner Depot article that I simply couldn’t get past (and ultimately inspired me to write this post) was new client red flag #3. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s easy to think that if a client has an existing website which sucks, that they must have had a bad web designer. What is true much more of the time is that they had a good web designer and they screwed up the site all by themselves.

Really? Having spent a number of years in the non-profit world, I can attest to the fact that if a client has a crappy website, it’s probably attributable to inadequate monetary and human resources, and not personal reasons. Quite often, the lack of human resources is the most insidious culprit. I would venture a guess that the same is true in the for-profit world as well. That doesn’t mean that these people aren’t ready, willing, and able to fix the problem now.

Clients mostly likely want to hire you to do something for them because they don’t know how to do it themselves, or because they know that you can do it better than they can. However, approaching a business relationship (or any relationship for that matter) with the assumption that the other party is beneath you is a bad idea. Correspondingly, approaching a business relationship (or any relationship for that matter) with an awareness that the other party has advanced expertise in something you scarcely comprehend can be intimidating. Potential for misunderstandings abounds.

I think we can all play nice

Everyone is entitled to their opinion. And within the confines of conducting oneself with a reasonable level of decency and maturity toward other people, everyone should be allowed to use the social web to express their opinion.

But I don’t think that web and design professionals will benefit in the long-run from this ongoing diatribe against clients. Whether you work as a sole operator or at a 9 to 5, clients help us put food on our tables.

Taking the perspective of the client, if I stumbled on a online rant by a freelancer/etc. that clearly alluded to their work experience with me (and questioned how Darwinism hadn’t taken care of me by now), they could consider our working relationship finito. Sure, I may seem like nothing more than another ignorant client to them, but I at least have the good sense not to do business with condescending jackasses.

Conversely, and making sure we’re still on the same page, I would never suggest commencing or staying in a dysfunctional contractor-client relationship for money.  If a client is irreparably problematic, cut your losses and move on, or start job hunting if you’re in the 9 to 5 camp.

Ultimately, I believe that most people are reasonable human beings. I also think a lot of potential negativity can be avoided with a little bit of education. But realistically, most clients could give a crap about the intricacies of PHP or colour theory—in fact, they probably want you to work for them so you can worry about those things instead.

However, when clients have a better understanding of the value you provide, then they may be more inclined to appreciate what it costs and how much time it will take to complete. (We’re talking benefits here, not features.) I think it’s obvious who’s responsibility it is to demonstrate that to a client.

And while a client might not have a clear understanding of the value you can provide at the start of your working relationship, chances are they do know a thing or two about their own line of work. With open minds, we might learn something from them as well.

Posted in: Off-topic

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