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What to Do When Your Client Wants to be Friends

Molly @ Wingspan
May 19, 2020

If you collaborate closely with a client and get along, it’s natural to take an easier tone with them—or even see them in social settings. Before the pandemic, self-employed brand designer Abe Zieleniec would occasionally meet clients for lunch to strengthen their relationship. “Working from home can get isolating," he says. "That’s why I love having local clients—social interaction is nice.” Once it's safe to do so, should consider their next offer to grab a beer? Is it too much of a risk to blur the lines between work and your social life?

Point: You May Score a Friendly Advantage

Friendly relations can help grow your network and boost referrals. Just make sure you set strong boundaries first. With friendship comes trust. “When I become more friendly with my clients, they trust me more," Zieleniec says. "My work becomes more enjoyable. There’s less of them trying to control the process.” And celebrating milestones, like hitting a sales goal, underlines that you share the same goals.

Counterpoint: “Friends” May Push Boundaries

Many self-employed workers discover that the friendlier their working relationship becomes, the more time their client takes up.  Case in point: One marketer took to the Freelancer subreddit to vent about a client who had started to take advantage of their rapport. The client had begun to text and call with alarming frequency and opened up to them about personal issues. “I'm an extremely way-too-nice person, something I've been trying to work on my entire life,” the marketer said. “I tend to let people get away with a lot before I stop it. I don't think they have any idea how unhappy I am.” Money complicates relationships. Consider how having a friend for a client will affect your work. Can you take deadlines and business phone calls as seriously when they come from a friend? “Good fences make good neighbors,” and good boundaries make good working environments.  

Solution: Find Your Comfort Zone and Manage Your Tone

The marketer eventually got her message across—and demonstrated that taking an appropriate tone is a powerful tool for signaling how you see the relationship. When her client asked her to turn something in on a tight deadline, she dropped the indulgent tone, replying instead with: “Sorry, I won't be able to get to this until next Monday. Let me know if you want to talk through a schedule.” After that project finished up, “The client mailed me a thank-you card that I interpreted as an apology.” Since then, the client has been “treating me as a professional, rather than her work friend who has nothing else going on.”

Want to spend more time with friends? Wingspan can take care of the little things, so you can get to happy hour quicker.

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