The value of teaching your clients

“I’m not interested in your creative input. Design what I tell you.”

It’s not often I hear this, but I can still remember a few years ago when I had a new client tell me this. She wanted me to take her ideas, which weren’t great, and give her exactly what she wanted. The problem was I have a deep conviction about always doing what’s best for the client, even when they don’t want it.

Typically when a client wants me to do something that will hurt their brand (usually through bad design or poor strategic decisions), I’ll gently let them know why it’s a bad idea and offer creative alternatives. So what happens when they insist on bad ideas? What happens when I can’t talk them out of it?

At that point I have a decision to make. Continue to serve the client by doing what they ask, or politely let them know we aren’t a good fit. If the client is just belligerent in their disregard for what we do, I’ll end the relationship. However, if there’s hope there, I’ll often forge on.

Are you a teacher?

At the end of the day I see myself as a teacher more than a service provider. I want to educate my clients about great design, interesting marketing, and innovative thinking. Just like educating a child, sometimes that takes a few tries. Sometimes I’ve done work for clients that I wasn’t proud of. That usually leads to the next project and we have the same discussion again. “Why don’t you try this, it would be better for your business.” They might still say no.

But the next time, they might say yes.

The next time they might take the spec design I did, to demonstrate our thinking, and run with it. They might begin to learn the things I’m teaching. Eventually you can transform someone who doesn’t really know what they are doing, into a great client who values your thinking, and does interesting work. And at that point, you’ve enriched their businesses and lives, rather than just provided a service.

But none of that happens if you give up on the relationship the first time you’re asked to do bad work. Sometimes what’s best for the client is giving them what they ask for but continuing to push better ideas.

To me it’s the difference between a teacher and a service provider. I want to be known as a teacher.