What I am about to share is based on years of experience, lots of good (and bad) relationships, failures, success, and even friendship.
I started my Web Design and Development shop in 2004. It was just me and my notebook, seeking a new challenge after several years in the Enterprise world (Informix, IBM, Accenture, etc.). I live in Argentina, a country full of talent and convenient rates for companies and digital studios/agencies from around the world looking to outsource their work.
Back in 2004, I just needed one simple and catchy marketing email, a couple of Flash websites to share (everything was Flash back then), and the most important thing… an irresistible $10/hour rate. Two of the five clients I got from that email are still my partners today. And that’s not all… we’ve met face to face despite of the long-distance, we say hi for our birthdays, we congratulated each other for the birth of our kids, etc. I even got an iPhone 2 as a gift when the new Apple device was first released in 2007! Isn’t that friendship?
But wait, we’ve had more than 80 different clients/partners since that kickoff email. What happened with the rest? What’s the key to a good long-term relationship? Does it always mean a win-win situation?
I can’t remember when and where I heard it for the first time, but I was sold on this premise and would make sure to communicate it during my first call with every new potential client or partner.
If I have to summarize a typical sequence of how a relationship with a new partner (not just one-time clients) evolves from the moment they make contact with us, this is what usually happens…
We start working together on a first project and quite quickly they understand that, apart from delivering good quality work at lower rates, we also have other important attributes:
We’re very good at communication. This includes great non-native English (written and oral).
We deliver. We don’t miss deadlines.
We know our tools, we use them, and we’re methodical.
We’re online. We know the Internet and how/ where to find stuff.
We’re versatile. We design, we code, we illustrate, we do art direction, we animate.
We’re proactive. We work hard. We love what we do.
We’re easy-going and flexible. Still, our working culture is not negotiable.
We have common sense and criteria.
So, suddenly, they realize that we are not just affordable and we can provide much more than a convenient rate. We start getting more and more work, and suddenly we’re swamped with dozens of projects.
You can really take your company to the next level with a well-executed long-term relationship of this kind. And I mean it.
So far so good, but that’s when things can get really good, or bad enough to end with the relationship. Most common mistake? Ambition… and the fact that their expectations are to keep the same affordable costs but not pay for the added value. Clients usually tout a wealthy relationship for both sides but don’t act accordingly. They don’t take risks and, most of all, they won’t help you grow.
Growth should be mutual, reciprocal. This is very important; you shouldn’t forget that you’re dealing with skilled and intelligent people that will go somewhere else to find a better partnership if they don’t feel that they are working (and growing) with you.
Compensate them… reward them… care about them. Think about how much value they are adding to your projects, and not just how many hours they are spending on them. Value is the most important asset in a partnership and should be constantly measured.
If you ever start a new partnership or work relationship with another studio, agency, company, or freelancer, just make sure to look after them and care about how well (or how bad) their business is going. Get involved, make them feel that they are working with you, and not for you!