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Alliance with clients

This is the second in a series of articles by Ande Schurr on tools for the whole person’s success. This time, we delve into four principles of success for dealing with our clients or employees.


This is the second in a series of four articles by Ande Schurr on tools for the whole person’s success. This time, we delve into four principles of success for dealing with our clients or employees.

* * *

When it comes to our mistakes in the work place, they only come in two colours - black and white.

When we screw up, we know it. There is no ambiguity or differing perspectives, paradigms, relativity or any other alibi. It’s as simple as this: 'Through my doing, I screwed up and caused harm to my client or employees'.

I either wasted their time or their money, compromised their reputation or showed them disrespect in some way that harmed my relations with them.

We are so attached to being right that it requires tremendous effort to take a long hard look at ourselves and let the facts about our behaviour show us who we really are.

It certainly helps to have a friend who can be our ‘truth-speaker’. They will say things about us that we probably don’t want to hear but because they are our friend and they mean well, we allow them that luxury to speak their mind. What a wonderful thing to have such people in our lives.

We can take feedback in two ways:

positively + by
    • Considering the truth of what is being said
    • Looking objectively at the evidence of the fault/flaw/failing
    • Correcting it immediately if it is true

or we can take the feedback:

negatively - by
    • Being too content with who we are
    • Unwilling to see we might be flawed
    • Closing our eyes to our flaws until we stop seeing reality altogether

The examples below, of when client relations went wrong, were generously shared by participants within a freelancer-focused Meetup group I facilitate each month. We shared some examples, then looked to the principles to see which one we broke. With thanks to my mentor David Samuel for imparting these principles and helping me see how to make them my own.

1. Say to your client: Let’s get something straight - You are right, I am wrong

We have to appreciate the opportunity to work and ask ourselves ‘Who is the king in this situation?’ Well, the king is the one who hires. The client.

We have to appreciate the opportunity to earn. Without this client we would have nothing. It’s a twisted reality for us if we think that we come first and the client second. Sure, we are providing them a valuable service but there is always an alternative to using us.

Lastly, we must fix our mistakes at our expense and not give excuses.

Example: Shelly sat down with her client and got to understand the specifics of the project. Without writing anything down, she went away to produce the necessary preliminary work. When she came back to show the client her work, the client said “what is this? This isn’t what I asked you to do”.  She had totally mis-interpreted the brief and wasted a lot of time by not double checking each point of the brief before leaving that first meeting.

Broken Principle: Doing things ‘my way’ with ‘my assumptions’ rather than taking the attitude of ‘you are right, I am wrong’, so let me assume nothing and check everything I think I have heard.

Outcome: After sincerely apologising (and not charging anything for the time she wasted), the client gave Shelly another chance which ended up very profitable for her.

2. Take full responsibility for your position in life

We are formed into who we are. No point in blaming our parents if we’re not happy with how we turned out. We have to think: 'Okay, that's what my situation is now - it is my responsibility to change it'.

We are responsible for tomorrow. Not yesterday and the circumstances we were born into, but tomorrow, for sure, we can change.

We have the power to change things if we put in the effort. We have to say with confidence: 'I am responsible for every step forward from this point on'.

Example: Jeremy was booked for a job some time in advance but shortly after, learned that an important social event was happening on that same day. He tried but couldn’t get out of work so reluctantly turned up on the day and after a string of events, failed to keep his established safe routines and made a mistake that cost thousands of dollars to several of his client’s customers. This ruined the reputation of his client who was trying to win a business contract with these customers.

Broken Principle: By putting his social life before his work life, Jeremy turned up to work with the wrong frame of mind. He did not take responsibility for his position as someone who must uphold the company’s reputation and provide the best service possible. Further to this, he broke one of the company's established routines which was in place to prevent this very disaster from happening.

Outcome: An apologetic Jeremy did his best to make amends but did not think to repay the thousands of dollars lost in this situation. Although he doesn’t get much work with this particular client anymore, he has learned a valuable lesson about taking responsibility and coming to work with the right mind-set.

3. Don't seek to be respected - seek to be worthy of being respected

Our respect is respected. We can't demand respect if we don’t respect first. We have to live honourably and be a decent human.

If we’re not respected, if we are not getting paid adequately, if we are not finding new clients or more clients, then we must look objectively and see if we are under the illusion of entitlement - expecting the universe to bow down to us rather than us doing everything possible to be worthy of better business opportunities and more respect from colleagues.

Example: Olly was on a short term contract and hired an assistant to fill a necessary role. For the first few weeks, all was well, but then in one particular week, when Olly was in a different location and needed regular updates on the situation ‘on the ground’ so to speak, the assistant closed up - not replying properly to questions, not volunteering information and in general seemed to lack respect. Upon self-reflection Olly realised that he was asking a lot of stupid questions by being lazy and not listening properly to the continuous feedback loop already in place.

Broken Principle: Olly sought respect because he was the boss rather than his actions and attitude being worthy of respect.

Outcome: By listening extra carefully to the communication loop already in place, Olly was able to hear exactly what was happening and in doing so anticipate the future which meant asking less unnecessary questions. The assistant became more responsive and respectful.

4. Do a perfect job, perfect to each situation

Perfect is defined by the requirements of that situation.
It means we meet the budget, the time constraints and we work harmoniously with the lead people from other teams to complete the job.

Example: Jason works on jobs that require delicate placement of a device. Time is short in which to position it and he has to cross-check and satisfy that this placement doesn’t stand out and get in the way of another team’s area of work. Because of the time pressure, Jason tends to rush the job and not fix it in place properly the first time which means often the job has to stop and the device has to be reattached. This causes frustration from his client and the people he needs to work closely with.

Broken Principle: Jason didn’t do a perfect job the first time. Instead of calmly considering the situation and carefully attaching the device, he rushed it and ended up having to repeatedly correct his mistakes.

Outcome: Jason now works more carefully and collaboratively with the other teams and takes more time to consider the best placement before the job starts so when the clock is ticking there is less pressure on him.

* * *

In summary, the four principles are both critical and yet completely unnecessary at the same time. The goal is to be a decent human being. That’s it - all in four words. But it’s useful to flesh out what it means to be that kind of person, and that’s where principles and examples are needed.

Next month we will look at dealing with our friends and family. It’s a topic close to home and so this should be particularly interesting. Till then, wishing you the best with your clients and employees.

Written by

Ande Schurr

15 Jul 2015

Corporate video producer and production sound recordist now based in Singapore after a 15-year career in New Zealand. Video clients incl. universities, tech startups, medical clinics and business consulting agencies. Sound clients incl. Netflix, Discovery, BBC, National Geo.

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