40 Essential rules for stress-free client management

Picture of Matthew Stibbe
Posted by Matthew Stibbe

For the last decade, I’ve been compiling a list of ‘rules’ for client management based on very personal, subjective reactions to things that happened to me, mainly in the business world.

I was partly inspired by NASA’s 100 rules for project managers.

I always meant it to be very personal and some of the rules relate to very specific things that happened to me. But I realised that with proper scrubbing it might be interesting for you too. I don’t always manage to live up to these rules but I always want to.

  1. Don’t email or call anyone if you’re feeling angry.
  2. If in doubt, brew up or go for a walk.
  3. You don’t have to do things you don’t want to do.
  4. If something can’t continue forever, it will stop.
  5. It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.
  6. Be a good friend to your emotions.
  7. Wings are strong because they are flexible not because they are rigid; be like that.
  8. Treat everyone as if they were VIPs: polite, attentive, respectful.
  9. Respect people’s time. Write shorter emails. Talk less.
  10. Invoice as soon as the work is done. You might fall out with your client or they might go bust if you wait.
  11. Don’t discuss your schedule and traffic management issues with clients. They don’t need to see inside the sausage factory.
  12. The bad client rule: three strikes and you’re out. Strikes include: negotiating over an invoice (trying to get a discount after the price has been agreed and the work delivered) and not listening to my advice (they don’t have to take it).
  13. Don’t look over your shoulder.
  14. You don’t have to speak first.
  15. The thing you are cross about is not the thing you are cross about.
  16. A project that starts cocked up tends to stay cocked up.
  17. Warning signs that an agency project is doomed: client in an insane hurry, sloppy briefing from agency, no end client contact, ‘write now, brief later’.
  18. More Gary Cooper and less Tommy Cooper.
  19. If you don’t trust or respect your client anymore, get out. You can’t make bad people good from a subordinate position.
  20. For new overseas clients, get 50 percent upfront or all of the money in escrow unless you know them personally.
  21. If someone does something extraordinary for you, write them a thank you note (and copy it to their boss). This is good karma.
  22. Working weekends for clients: I’ll do it once if there’s a genuine emergency but, unless you pay me obscenely well for your inefficiency, I won’t do it twice. Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.
  23. If someone else is holding your passport, don’t get distracted or leave for the airport without it.
  24. Don’t start a project with a new client unless you have an agreed brief and a formal go-ahead email.
  25. Once a time-waster always a time-waster.
  26. Meetings are marketing, except with time wasters.
  27. If you don’t show up for three meetings or calls in a row, we’re not going to get on.
  28. You’re not as important as you think you are. Graveyards are full of ‘necessary’ men.
  29. Don’t let your ego, vanity and stress get in the way of doing a good job for your client.
  30. Idiotic clients need you more than competent ones. They just have to pay more.
  31. The presentation rule. If you are given an hour for a demo, finish in 45 minutes to allow time for questions. Don’t take 2 hours 10 minutes.
  32. Sometimes the best answer is no answer and sometimes it’s a question.
  33. There is no basis for apprehension.
  34. It sucks to let anyone get between you and your primary customer. They take all your good work and ideas but give none of the credit or feedback you need to do a good job. This is only partly compensated if they bring you new business that you wouldn’t get otherwise.
  35. Everyone’s important. The quiet person in the corner of the meeting might turn out to be the new boss.
  36. If the client repeatedly dithers about a project, just walk way. Manoeuvre X is better for the soul that pandering and pleading and bleating.
  37. A last-minute, urgent rush job does not guarantee that the client will accept anything you write or that the project will be easy, well-briefed, straightforward or profitable. Being in a hurry doesn’t obviate the need for a clear brief; it doubles it.
  38. It’s okay to agree to small bits of extra work for one-off pieces, but scope creep on large projects quickly gets out of hand as you add a couple of hours extra work to dozens of documents.
  39. Don’t write a proposal for an unqualified lead. If price is the only deciding factor, you can answer that in a paragraph with an indicative price. But it’s better to do a qualifying call first.
  40. ‘When you have got a thing where you want it to be it is a good thing to leave it where it is’ – Churchill.

How to choose an agency for your new website

This article was first published on Articulate Marketing on 19 January 2015.