The Ideal Client
The ideal client? Isn’t it the one that pays on time? No argument there, but at OpenArc, we think that relationship should go further. It’s an important point of view that too often goes unmentioned: Who you work for matters. Across the corporate landscape, too many projects crumble under the weight of lack of communication, lack of chemistry or simply plain old lack of care – and too many companies and clients accept dysfunction as normal. Every project won’t be a perfect match, but there’s nothing quite like when a client’s need and vision mesh perfectly with your capabilities and expertise. We think it can happen more often than it does, and we’d like to offer a few guidelines for you to make your own luck.
The ideal client has a marketing budget.
Nate Smith, OpenArc Marketing Director
You’re right. This seems obvious. Simple, even. Doesn’t every organization – be it a startup, a nonprofit or a Fortune 500 juggernaut – have marketing needs? You want to tell your story. But how do you find an audience? If a client doesn’t value that aspiration, then the relationship is in a rocky place right from the start. There’s no sense of return on investment or a broader corporate goal. In other words, unless you define it – give it a name – it lacks value. As noted sales expert Jeffrey Gitomer says, value is nothing more than value perceived. There’s just no way around it. The truth is, budgets reflect deeper thought. Budgets are drawn up for things clients care about. If an initiative is important, you’re going to put energy and funds (and a name) to it.
Additionally, marketing is not merely external. Successful marketing efforts can (and should) include everything from your internal website all the way down the line to job training manuals and even the employee handbook. Good marketing is storytelling. Good marketing is communication. Good marketing is budgeted.
The ideal client has a plan to increase the value of their organization.
The notion of value is something we return to over and over again: What do you value? Are you valuing people? Are you valuing the growth of your company? Are you valuing the bottom line? And what does it represent anyway? At the end of the day, do you really care about the work you do, or are you just crossing it off a list? Like we said, every project can’t be a perfect match, but there are moments when the joy and the mission come together and the work is transcendent. Now, there are also times when that happens and nobody cares. But if your motivation is pure, it doesn’t matter. You’re building a better process. You’re increasing value.
Brooks Canavesi, OpenArc Sales Director
Why do you care about your organization? Why should others care? Basic questions, yes, but important. In fact, if after chuckling at them, you realize that you can’t answer them, take some time to sit down with your stakeholders. Buy them a coffee. Buy them a beer. Ask the questions. Do you have a brand toolkit or identity guide? If not, vendors (the “we” in this conversation) will have to make their best guess when working for you – resulting in an identity formed either hastily or for free. These, obviously, are not best practices that lead to greater value.
Keep in mind also that the concept of value can vary wildly from organization to organization. It could be superior communication, it could be market share, it could simply be overall excellence – but it must be tied to your customers. In fact, a 2010 Harvard Business Review article goes so far as to posit that marketing departments be reimagined as “customer departments,” bringing customer-focused functions to the forefront and allowing organizations to corporately “shift focus from product profitability to customer profitability.” We couldn’t agree more.
The ideal client values people.
How do people interact with what your organization offers? Knowing the answer won’t control your brand, but your interactions can provide insight into the brand and an excellent benchmark of what you’re really here for. Brands live in the minds of people. If you ignore people, you’ll never connect your brand to anything valuable. Anything real.
Joel Reed, OpenArc CEO
At OpenArc, we practice a process we call “design-driven development,” and what sets it apart is our intense focus on the client. We solve individual communication challenges, so one solution doesn’t fit all. Over two decades of developing and leading development teams, I have seen the value of the well-rounded technologist. There are certainly revenue metrics and other things you can find in the glossary of a business book, but design-driven development is creative and collaborative, built on the client’s vision and a lot of listening. It’s brand building through relationship building, and this kind of unique offering attracts a more ideal client – partners that require care in how a solution is conceived and executed. Partners that we want to work with.
I find that when you value people – their insights, their thought process, their affections – you become more open to collaboration and to great ideas. Simply paying attention will bring wonderful dividends. If you’re purely data-driven, that can become overwhelming. We pride ourselves on our technical expertise, and data is absolutely crucial to what we do, but tempering it with creative understanding makes complexity more understandable and adds a human connection. People, with all their flaws, are the matrix we operate within.
The ideal client isn’t afraid of a fight.
Everyone should love a fight. Now, before you click to the next thing on your agenda, let’s dive into that. Whatever the vision of your organization, business-related or not, ideas matter. And ideas happen in community. The things that are quick to sink relationships are usually rooted in poor communication, and so it follows that the best relationships are ones where you truly engage and enjoy the process. Lively, spirited discussion and debate in service of a common goal will always push you forward and reveal your best. Like sharpening a knife, it’s a friction that will lead to deeper refinement.
Nate Smith, OpenArc Marketing Director
One of the best pieces of advice my father ever gave me was this: “Always make sure to have a few people in your life that aren’t impressed with you.” Aaron Sorkin, writer of A Few Good Men and creator of The West Wing, puts it another way: “If you’re dumb, surround yourself with smart people. If you’re smart, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you.” Be willing to be persuaded. Be willing also to challenge. When you are, you will inevitably hone your focus and goals, but also your audience – leading to better work and increased impact.
I am certainly not without flaws in my professional relationships, but I continually challenge myself to be an ideal vendor and partner for my clients. A dear colleague and former boss of mine was fond of saying, “Life is too short to do boring work.” This should be a call to arms regardless of your field or industry. Throughout my career, I’ve witnessed this simple truth: if you’re listening and your client is listening, there will always be places where you can find common ground.
The ideal client will not, under any circumstances, work without a contract.
We’ll close the series on a more practical – but equally necessary – note: Would you like to get paid? Would you like to be paid on time? Would you like to know who is paying you? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then read on. Even if you’re doing pro bono work (or pro-Bono work, if that’s your thing), setting expectations allows you to put aside the small stuff and get to work.
Jonathan Colby, OpenArc COO
It really is all about expectations. A strong contract protects both parties and defines the rules of engagement – scope of work, timeline, payment, and especially for software development, intellectual and creative property – and if we are going to build and keep lasting relationships, then we must foster an atmosphere of both having and meeting expectations. It’s like building a house, and that agreed-upon set of expectations serves as the foundation and the only real base to build on and move forward from.
Design guru and Twitter gadfly Mike Monteiro puts it this way in a raw, funny-because-it’s true talk he gave in 2011: “All clients, I think, start the business relationship with the best of intentions. And things go wrong. Things that you weren’t expecting.” (Fair warning: Monteiro’s talk is funny and extremely insightful, but not for the faint of heart. Headphones up.) If those core elements aren’t in place from the beginning, your expectations can become misaligned – and when you boil misaligned expectations down into a scope of work, there could be magnitudes of difference separating you. MakerBot’s Thingiverse community recently addressed this issue, unveiling a genius riff on their terms of service that makes certain there are no surprises for either party.
Ultimately, this doesn’t have to be an arduous endeavor. Just be clear from the start, define your roles and maintain a high level of communication throughout the process. (And, you know, get everything signed.) Good things will happen.