Sasha’s Soapbox: stop talking crap about your clients

I’m trying to be more positive these days. But let’s be realistic, I wouldn’t have to try so hard if there weren’t so many things that rub me completely the wrong way. Clearly that can only mean one thing: I must tell you about these things, for only by sharing them will I ever be rid of them. So it is with encouragement akin to: “I’m surprised it took you this long” from those who know me best (my friends) that I embark on this journey to illuminate the deepest grumbles of my professional life. Please allow me to serenade you from my soapbox…


 

"Stop Talking Crap About Your Clients" hand-drawn typography by Sasha Endoh

Let’s start with something very basic, but extremely annoying. You might not know about this if you’re not a freelancer or don’t work with clients but there’s this super pesky trend in design (both graphic design and web design, and other client service fields) to talk some serious smack about clients. With websites like Clients from Hell, and videos like the one below (for shame) it’s easy to get swept up in all the client bashing and adopt the “us vs. them” attitude.

 

And sure, I can understand that doing client work can be hard. Keeping positive, fair, professional, and creative can take a little extra effort after a long day at work. But here’s the thing: clients aren’t the problem (for the most part), we, designers, are. Look, some people make for difficult clients, and some people are just shitty people. Let’s not beat around the bush here – working with shitty people is nobody’s dream come true. But working on the assumption that you’re dealing with shitty people will never bring the best out of you (or them).

So how about instead of talking smack about your clients you actually start treating them with respect that they deserve because without them you wouldn’t have a job. I’m not saying that you should kiss their feet or demean yourself in any way, just treat the humans with whom you work as humans.

Here are a few thing to keep in mind:

  1. You are being hired for your expertise, not just technical prowess –  if your clients knew what you know they wouldn’t need you. Assert yourself as the expert and you’ll be treated as one.
  2. Without clients you don’t get to do all the fun things that cost money, like eating food, having a place to live, or getting that silly outfit to torment your cat with. Nada. You should thank your lucky stars for clients each and every day.
  3. The term “educating a client” should be banned forever – your clients don’t need to be educated about how you do your job, what they need is to be treated with professionalism instead of eye-rolling. If a client asks for something that can’t be done, or shouldn’t be done – have the common decency to explain to them why that is, so they might understand where you’re coming from. Again, you’re the expert. This is what you get paid to do. Update: also give them an option that does work! This is another part of being an expert in your field and not just saying “no”. (Thanks Alice for the suggestion!)
  4. If you, for whatever reason, don’t respect a client – don’t work for them! Some of you might be surprised how quickly you’ll learn to love your clients if you adhere to this rule. Not to mention that a little humility goes a long way. And if you really don’t respect someone, nothing good will come of working with them.
  5. Unhappy clients don’t come back for more and don’t make referrals. So make it your goal to make them happy, damn it!

I got really worked up writing this list, some real soapboxing is getting done here people! The thing is, I love my clients, and even when I don’t love them I still respect them and look out for them, which means standing up for them. I also don’t have any unrealistic expectations about work –  work is work, you shouldn’t expect it to be some sort of magical “everything goes your way” time but being respectful and professional while doing your work has a very real impact on the quality of the work you produce and how you feel about yourself at the end of the day. The least things you can do are do your job, be nice to people, and provide as professional of a service as you possibly can. Bottom line: talking poorly of your clients is just unprofessional.

If you need any more convincing check out this talk by my hero Mike Monteiro. He’s a magical human being, like a unicorn of design he is. You should listen to him.

 

Are you fired up now? If your answer is no then you should never work in any sort of client services field ever again. If your answer is yes, spectacular, welcome aboard my friend!

And just to show that the situation in the video at the top of this post can be dealt with professionally:

 

What do you think?

Is it crazy to think that the thing standing between our best work and us isn’t our clients but ourselves? Is it only a natural part of work to need to vent about the people with work with, clients included? Or is it just plain unprofessional to talk about work outside of the office? Let me know what you think!