Taking time for understanding

After finishing a meeting last week, I found myself lingering after the meeting to chat with the client as we each discussed our plans for the weekend.

The client project is nearing its completion after several months, and it was almost hard to believe that just mere weeks ago, the person I was talking to would have been a complete stranger. Now we knew things about each other’s families, our work, and our lives.

Recently, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to talk to the fine folks at GatherContent – a company based in the UK that has created a web-based platform for planning content – about my content strategy process. It took us about two weeks – and at least one Skype call “across the pond” – to put together all the necessary notes to give as much information about my workflow as possible. But now, looking back, I realize that I skimmed over something really important.

I mentioned in the article that chatting with the client about the project that’s being worked on, whether it’s a website or an app, is important.

What I failed to mention is that it’s just as important to get to know the people who are behind the client project as it is to learn about the company itself. In fact, it may be more important.

clock300What is their daily work life like? Are they dealing with things outside of work that may be affecting their responses to you or the project? What is their office environment like? Is it hectic and busy, thus resulting in very brief responses?

I always make sure, if it’s possible, to go visit my clients in their environment. It’s important to see the space where they work. Many times, through general conversation, you’ll start to learn things about the people involved, not just the company.

And that’s important. Because, after all, they’re not just clients. They’re people. And in the end, the project that we’re working on together is intended for people, too.

For example, during a different meeting last week, another client mentioned that he was heading home to watch the Stanford football game. The next time we meet, I’ll definitely congratulate him on his team’s win over Oregon. It’ll be a good way to kick off the meeting and resume the rapport we built at the end of our last time together.

The first client I mentioned was dealing with some family issues that resulted in a delay in the project. Because I told her I understood, it put us both at ease and led to a much more productive meeting. After our meeting was over, I wished her well in her family situation and it led to us chatting for another 20 minutes. She seemed genuinely pleased to have someone to simply listen.

It’s the little things that go a long way to building a client relationship. And if your client relationship is a good one, odds are very likely your project will be a good one, too.

So yes, it does add some time to things. And yes, lingering after meetings have concluded and using personal time for small talk may seem counter-intuitive – especially if you’re just getting started on your own like I am.

But building a strong working relationship with a person who just happens to also be your client can go a long way professionally. It’s always worth the extra time for understanding.

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