We shape clay into a pot
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds what we want.
–Tao Te Ching (translated by Stephen Mitchel)

THIS VIDEO, called “The Vendor Client Relationship–in Real World Situations”, has been going around the illustration forums and blogs recently. Produced by Scofield Editorial in Indianapolis, it has gone “viral” and gets almost universal rave reviews in comments from free-lancers, consultants and sole proprietors. Many people apparently can relate to the skits in the video–told from the viewpoint of the vendor, presumably being taken advantage of by their clients. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2a8TRSgzZY)
Now, I’ve had experiences with clients that exactly matched the skits in the video. They are great–clever and well produced and hit a nerve in me too. But that was more common in the past, when I had the mentality of a victim, relatively powerless against the forces of the business world. They all seemed to be arrayed against people like me, and were much bigger and more powerful. That’s what I think we need to guard against: focusing too much on the big bad business world.
I complained so bitterly to my friends that one of them, ceramic artist created a beautiful black glaze she called, “Mirocha Grim”. I still have the cups she gave me to remind me of that period. The symbolism of the empty cups are nice too, like the world marked by scarcity and lack that I saw at the time. And it showed in my attitude towards my clients. For a long time, I didn’t have many repeat clients. I had to look at that.
The Great Big Reality out there is like an empty cup too–it’s completely neutral, waiting for us to give it meaning. That’s where we have all our opportunities. Whatever you believe about it becomes what you see and experience, eg, it becomes reality for you.
Eventually I started just deleting difficult clients from my address book. And I serve my current clients like they are my friends. And they are, in a way. I’m much happier now, and doing well in my business.
So here’s my comment: By focussing on the wrongs done by large and powerful clients upon small and relatively weak vendors, we may be unconsciously shooting ourselves in the foot. We miss the most powerful marketing concept of all time: target marketing. If you are experiencing some of the scenarios in this video, your clients are probably just not within your target market. They are just not that into you, and vice versa.
Target marketing is like dating. If you are not a good fit, things may apparently go well for a while. But sooner or later, something will happen and for reasons too complex to understand, things fall apart. Or maybe things end with a wimper: they just don’t call again.
It’s the same with business relationships. You want long term relationships–that means repeat business. That’s the foundation of any business and its source of stability. If you are working for people who are not right for you, your client interface will suffer. If you are mistrustful and defensive, counting every potential wrong that could be done to you, even your most probable clients will stop working with you.
It’s a relationship, like any other. If you have ever been on the client end of a business relationship, think about it. Would you want to work with someone who was defensive and ego-driven because they felt so powerless? You might once, but probably not a second time, no matter how skilled that consultant is. If you are a successful business-person, you probably would want to work with someone like yourself–a successful business-person.
Let’s turn this around 180˚. Try this statement, “I work hard to create good working relationships with my clients. In a way, I choose them. Because I value that relationship, I give as much added value as I can to help them achieve their goals. Then I try to think of ways I can give more, without compromising myself or my product. That’s why they come back to me.” If you are working for the clients that are right fro you, you can afford to lavish extra value on them. That’s good business.
Furthermore, when your ideal clients find you, they’ll most likely want to give back to you. It’s just simple reciprocity and it works in all kinds of relationships. They know when you understand their needs and are doing your best to serve them. Your clients be so happy that they will tell their colleagues about you. It’s likely that these references will be as fun to work with as their source: your ideal client.
What’s the best form of marketing?
That’s right. Word of mouth.

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