A huge challenge for independent production companies and creative services companies is selecting the right clients. You want to work with companies who understand the creative process, have clear goals, and are comfortable with deferring to the pros. You want to have a respectful, mutually beneficial relationship with your clients. Some clients are a total drag. Lack of clear goals, micromanaging, and endless changes can drive a project in the wrong direction, making it unprofitable for you and putting a blight on your reputation. Its better to turn these clients away.
How can you tell in advance whether a client relationship is going to be profitable, or be a total grind on your people and resources?
Creative COW co-founder Ronald Lindeboom provided a framework for differentiating clients and grinders as you "interview" leads. He breaks the market into three categories:
Top End Clients
These are clients that are clear about their their goals and are willing to pay good money for good work. They defer to your expertise, and understand when to step away and let you do your job. This kind of client tends to be loyal to service providers with whom they have had a good experience. They see their service providers as "partners". They are likely to be respected by their peers, so they can become an advocate for your services, referring you to new business.
Middle Market clients are fair minded, honest clients who will work with you but don't necessarily have the pull or reputation to become a great advocate. You can do good business with these folks, but they probably won't help you grow your business.
Grinders have little respect for you or the creative process and lack realistic goals for their project. They will iterate on work endlessly, dragging you and your profits down with them. They expect huge results for little money. They see no problem with being rude and demanding with their service providers. The end product will not be your best work, and may hurt your reputation. They will be no help in growing your business. Indeed you may even lose money on a project if you keep making resources available for their endless changes of heart.
So its important to "interview" your leads before you bring them on board as a client. Think back over your past clients... you probably had a sense very early on whether the project was going to go well or badly. Note the patterns of behavior that led to an awful project, and be sure to ask questions that will reveal these traits during your initial interview. Make sure that the client is capable of taking the project through to completion, which requires a level of respect and deferral to your expertise. Most importantly you should insist that the client has clear and well communicated goals for the work you are doing for them. There must be an agreed scope of work, so they know what they are paying for, and so you know what you are on the hook to deliver. A good client will clearly establish these boundaries up front, before work begins.
With a careful client interview and evaluation process, you can weed out the grinders and focus on partnering with the clients to make sure your job stays profitable and enjoyable.