Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sometimes, Things Just Don't Work Out

Not every match is a match made in heaven, and the same is true in our professional lives. Sometimes, the client we had been longing to "land" for months or maybe even longer, turns out differently then we had planned. Or, the service provider we were so excited about being able to hire, doesn't fulfill our expectations in the end. Over the last few months, I have heard many stories from colleagues and customers that highlight just how complex the client/vendor relationship can be, and how often disappointments and frustrations can ensue. It is our natural instinct, and indeed we are taught, to end these relationships in these instances, and move on. But before we do, it is important to learn from these relationships, and also to get out of the experience as much as we can.

Here are a 5 tips to keep in mind if you are having a bumpy road with either your client, or a vendor you have hired:

1. Be clear from the beginning about expected timetables, deliverables, fees, goals, and approaches. A detailed proposal or contract can go a long way in making sure both parties are on the same page. If you are a writer like me, be sure to include the number of revisions you are including in your project agreement, so that you will not be losing time and money on an infinite number of revisions you had not anticipated, and the client understands the need for closure on the project. An excellent blog about this appeared today on the "Men with Pens" blog post, "How to Kill the Scope Creep Beast."

2. Find Common Ground: Often, we are all looking for the same thing, we just have different styles and ways of going about it. If you are experiencing a repeated frustration or miscommunication with your client or vendor, try and paint a picture for them that shows exactly where you are coming from, and then ask their opinion. Highlight the common ground that you share with them, which should include a mutual desire for success, a quality, finished final product, and testimonials and case studies to use in future. It takes a fair amount of time and energy to match up clients and service providers, and no one wants to see that time wasted, so make sure each of you understands the other's point of view.

3. Listen, Take Notes, and Document Discussions: It's a good idea to get into the habit of taking detailed notes during all discussions of a project, particularly during key phases. The service provider in particular should listen closely to what the client wants, and after you have taken notes, send a follow up e- mail with highlights from the meeting, so that both parties are in tune with each other. Also, make sure to "read between the lines," when a client repeats a phrase or requests a specific deliverable. When they ask for a better web site, for example, what does that mean? More graphics? Better SEO? Easier navigation? Or if they say they want a brochure, maybe what they really want is a more useful home page, or a simple flyer or takeaway piece. It's the vendor's job to point out the best solution to the problem, and to offer an array of solutions if the client is open to it.

4. Don't Go to Bed Angry. There's no point letting frustrations grow. It's important to confront any issues head on and clear the air. If you have a concern either as a vendor or service provider, speak up about it as soon as you are aware of the problem, so that you both can move on and focus on the project at hand. If there are too many distractions and roadblocks, it will show in the end result.

5. End Things the Right Way. If a situation is not working out and you are fairly certain it won't improve, it is important to end the relationship and move on. If you have a contract, make sure you read the fine print and understand any financial repercussions of ending the project early, such as a "kill fee" or percentage of the final fee. Make sure you also provide as much notice as possible, and check your agreement terms on this. As much notice as possible will allow the client to move on and find another vendor if they wish, or allow for the vendor to make up any financial loss by finding another project or client. Sometimes, for whatever reason, things just don't work out, and in that case it is better to move on.

Got any thoughts or solutions you'd like to share in dealing with vendor/client relationships?

1 comment:

etpickett said...

Truly, right on. Excellent post! :-)