What’s the key factor you look for in a new client?

The best people to work with are the ones that really want to change.

Q: How do you decide which clients you really want to work with?

I’ve mentioned before that client relationships are just that — relationships. In order for them to work there needs to be a number of things in place. One of the main things is respect — you need to respect your client and they in turn need to respect you. This is the baseline. Make sure you feel in your gut that you’re going to be able to work with your client in the good times, and also in the tough times when your projects are barrelling towards a hard deadline.

But there’s one key thing that we always look for in our clients. We aim to see if they really want to change. You see, design projects are almost always part of the process of change, and change can be a very painful thing. My continued observation of human (and corporate) nature is that pain is something that most people try as hard as they can to avoid. People might say they want change, but what they mean is they want to want change.

People might say they want change, but what they mean is they want to want change.

So what you want to find is clients committed to the process and work involved in change. It’s like a gym membership. People sign up to a gym membership for one of two reasons:

1They want to make significant changes to their fitness. They are going to lift weights, run on the treadmill, have a personal trainer. In short, they really want to change.

2They want to make themselves think that they are committed to change. These people will have their initial fitness assessment, jog on the treadmill a few times, fool around on the nautilus machine for a bit, and then despite continuing to pay their membership, slowly drift away because the process of change is hard.

What we look for in a client is for them to be committed to lifting weights, even through the burn. They know that change is necessary to make progress. They’re the clients we know through experience will work through the challenges of bringing change to an organisation, especially when it gets tough. They won’t ghost, won’t disappear and say the project is “in review”, and they’ll work with us as a strong partner.

We try to find clients who understand that change is necessary to make progress.

We recognise these people by their strong track record. They will have worked on difficult projects in the past (not necessarily design) and they have a reputation for putting in the work. They’re not likely to big-note themselves, so we need to do a little digging around to find out what they’ve managed to get done in other projects. They’re quiet achievers, so we need to do our research.

So when we find these people, we make sure to give them everything they need, because they are as rare as ambergris and we don’t ever want to lose them. When they show that they really want change, it’s our job to make it as easy for them as possible. We’re enthusiastic. We include them in the process as much as we can, and as much as they can manage. We make sure we beat our deadlines, and give them all the information and ammunition they need to get the changes at their end of the project.

We nurture these people as much as we possibly can, because we sure as hell don’t want to be the reason they have an reason to wander off. It might be their workout, but we’re their trainer, and that’s a big responsibility.

So we take it seriously.

Ross Floate works in Melbourne at Floate Design Partners helping clients build sustainable digital capabilities, better products, and damned fine publications.


This post originally appeared at Dear Design Student, a great publication about growing into the field of design, no matter how old you are.

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