Why some freelancers get their way with clients and others don’t

tug+of+war
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Do you sometimes find it hard to get along with your clients?

Have you ever spent a long time on the phone or in client meetings trying to convince them why a particular decision is a bad one?

Have you ever found yourself frustrated when you can’t do what you know is best for your client?

Do you hate it when you client has to get their way regardless of the decision being the best one?

Well, you’re not alone.

Like I mentioned a few days ago, I’m currently reading the classic human relationship book How to Win Friends and Influence People.

There’s a whole section in the book titled: “How to Win People to Your Way of Thinking.”

And I can’t thing of any group of people in the world (except maybe politicians) that could use some help persuading people to their point of view more than freelancers.

2 secrets to convincing a client you’re right

Here are two big secrets that Dale Carnegie shares in How to Win Friends and Influence People.

First: Never say, “You’re wrong.”

Your clients are wrong.

Sometimes, they’re wrong a lot.

But you won’t ever get anywhere by telling them so.

Because what you’re really saying when you tell your client they’re wrong is this: “My opinion is better than yours because I’m smarter than you. I know what you need and what works well for your business and you’ve actually got no idea.”

Imagine being told that about your own business!

Even if it’s true, it’s a hard pill to swallow.

No one likes to be told they’re wrong–much less that they’re incompetent.

But what if they are wrong?

If your client is wrong, that’s fine.

In fact, I’d say it’s to be expected.

But there’s no need for you to be the one to point it out.

So what should you do to get your way?

That’s where the next piece of advice from How to Win Friends and Influence People comes into play.

A few chapters after the advice to avoid telling people they’re wrong comes this gem: Get the other person saying “yes, yes” immediately.

Let me illustrate:

If your client comes to you and tells you that they want a funny cat video on their home page because they think it will help people have fun on their web site, but you know it will hurt their overall branding, you have two options.

You can either tell them they’re wrong (bad choice).

Or you can help them see they’re wrong and discover it on their own (the right choice).

For example, you could say something like, “That cat video will annoy most of your site visitors and really kill any chance you have of converting site visitors into paying customers. That’s a terrible idea and we really shouldn’t do it.”

But, if you’re wise and you want to get your way without creating any feelings of resentment or anger with your client, you’ll say something like this (notice how many times your client would have to answer “yes” in the following conversation):

“I see why you like the cat video. It’s definitely funny and I can see why a lot of people would like it.

“Remember when we discussed the purposes of your site? (yes)

“I remember you told me one of your top priorities in building this site is to sell widgets, right? (yes)

“Every decision we make in the design and content of this site, then, should help you sell more widgets, right? (yes)

“And should I try to remove anything that might distract from selling widgets on your site? (yes)

“Then I think, although the video is really funny and would make a lot of people laugh, I’m not sure it’s going to sell you any more widgets. Would you agree? (yes)”

See the difference?

In the first instance, you insulted your client’s intelligence by inferring that they were wrong.

In the second scenario, you allowed your client to discover their mistake on their own. And in no way did you make the decision personal. It was all based on what they want to get out of their web site.

At no point in the second conversation was your client’s intelligence, pride or judgment in jeopardy. At no point did you pretend to know more than your client about their business.

At no point did you create feelings of resentment or animosity.

And yet, you still got your way.

(PS: did you notice I used this same technique to draw you into this article? Did you answer “yes” to a few of the questions at the introduction of this post?)

Simple right?

Am I right to think this will work well? Leave a comment on this post and let’s talk about it!

(PPS: All of the links to How to Win Friends and Influence People in this post are Amazon affiliate links. I get a few cents every time one of you clicks through and buys the book. But I never ever ever recommend products or books that I haven’t read or used and think would really help you build your freelance business. If you do click through and buy the book, which I highly recommend, please leave a comment and let me know and we’ll talk about it. Thanks!)

About Preston D Lee

Preston is a web designer, entrepreneur, and the founder of this blog. @prestondlee

Comments

  1. Great post, Preston! This book sounds awesome and it’s a must-read for me.

    I love how you help them “see the light” rather than shine it directly in their eyes and blind them with it. Getting people to reason out bad ideas on their own is so much more effective than dismissing them.

    Thanks for the post!

  2. Clients can be wrong about a lot of things. So can you, so pick your battles. But remember, in the end, they sign the checks and pushing to hard to get your way may damage the relationship. In the past I have told clients up front that part of my job is to play “devils advocate” in certain situations and that sort of clears the way for you to be able to start the conversation needed to help a client see that their goofy idea is indeed that. But sometimes somebody else with more influence has blown into their ear and you are on a losing track. Know when to fold and move on. Also, sometimes the goofiest idea can yield a pretty good concept so be open to them as well.

  3. My god, I’ve just read your newsletter and it’s incredible how it fits with my matter of these days! I’ve just had a terrible debate with a client (and he is actually my boyfriend too, which I am afraid complicates the whole thing) who asked me to redesign his company logo. After some proposals, he told me that he wanted the logo exactly as it was before but with “some little changes” (I think there is nothing more vague than this). As I couldn’t understand what he was meaning with this, he made me sit in front of my Mac and told me to do just an execution of what he was telling me to do. What? Adding some shades in white and a “3d” effect. He said: Wonderful, it’s exactly what I wanted! At the very beginning, he asked me for a “brand new flashing” identity, and now he pretended this dusty, 90’s thing to be his NEW logo. And he was ready to tell that my studio done it for him. Well, I got upset and I’ve made the mistake to tell him that what he has done it was like to hammer an old car and say “Now I’ve got a new car!”. He got very angry with me and told me that I am not able to deal with customers. Though obviously I wouldn’t have ever told this to a customer, I think it helped me to think about a similar situation with a customer that it’s not actually also my boyfriend.
    What if the customer is really convinced that his silly cat video is the best choice to sell widgets? What if he’s totally deaf and blind, and he honestly thinks that he hired you just not to waste his time doing something that someone else can do for him? Customers always right, ok…nothing can keep me just to surrender, execute and deliver the project on time. But that project, even if I won’t put it in my portfolio, has got my name, because my customer goes around telling everybody that I’ve done it for him. It’s a reputation matter. How to manage with this?
    Thank you.
    Your website and newsletter helped me to make the jump from my job to the freelance world.
    Elena

  4. Great post Preston!!! :)
    Just the other week i was moaning to a friend about a difficult client, who was insisting that his idea was the right was to take his companies image. my friend reminded me that “the customer is always right” to which i said “no they just think they are”.

    In the end i ended up doing exactly what my customer wanted for the project for him then to decide it was not right and let me take the lead when i carefully typed an email (revised about 3 times before i sent) reminding him that it is my profession to make the right choices in design.
    He is now one of my favorite customers and values my input and decisions.
    -Stand your ground, but be profesional

  5. Thanks for the great article, Preston.

    I too, find it difficult sometimes to deal with people who want awkward ideas to be implemented in their work. Your article gives me a new perspective on how to tackle this in the future.

    Cheers.

  6. Very good article.
    I personally many times made that mistake by telling what I think about some idea ;) and it is much better to say it in the way you described it to us, “the clean way” :).

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  1. [...] Why some freelancers get their way with clients and others don’t –  Allow your client to discover their mistake on their own. And in no way did you make the decision personal. [...]

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