Why You Should Be Friends with Your Clients

Just like many laws and ideas (I’m looking at you slavery and gay marriage bans) eventually become outdated, the whole “don’t mix business with pleasure” mindset needs to retire. Several of my clients are also my friends — and it’s actually good for business.

My client meetings typically start and end with hugs, not handshakes. I communicate with many of them via text. Everything is very business casual, like wearing jeans on Friday’s.

Some clients were my friends first. Others, I’ve developed a more personal relationship with other time.

Business is about relationships.

You can’t build a strong, lasting relationship if you keep things strictly business. You can’t develop trust with someone you don’t know anything about.

This doesn’t mean you need matching BFF bracelets. You don’t necessarily need to invite your clients to your wedding or even friend them on Facebook. If you do grab a few drinks with them, it’s probably still wise to keep your intake to a minimum.

But it’s totally fine to offer up a joke when you find an opening, add an emoji at the end of a text or email to lighten the mood, or inquire about personal details they’ve offered up in the past.

For example, I knew one of my client’s was out of town on his honeymoon, so I of course asked about it when he returned. This opened up the door for me to field additional questions, which he answered. It was the most he’d opened up to me about his personal life in our yearlong working relationship.

He went from a client that I found rather closed off and intimidating, to someone I could relate to, especially now that I’m going through the wedding planning process. He’s even offered up some good advice.

True, not every client you work with will want to break the business barrier, so it’s best to follow their lead. If they curse in front of you, it’s a good indication that they’re comfortable enough around you to take the professionalism down a few notches. If they complain to you about work or life, they’re signaling a level of trust and opening the door for more intimate, non-work related interactions. Know how to read the room.

Like any friendship, it won’t happen overnight. But over time, your relationship will creep further into the grey area between friends and business associates, which I view as the sweet spot.

Once there, you’ll reap the benefits.

Your clients will be more inclined to keep you on (even if budget cuts arise), forgive mistakes and refer you to new clients.

Communication gets easier and less formal. For instance, once I know I’m able to text my client’s, I get responses ten times faster than I ever did with email.

They’ll hassle you less when you’re on vacation, and overall be a greater joy to work with.

When I lost a big client last month, I was let go by the CEO, whom I had never met and never worked with directly. Even our email and phone communication was virtually nonexistent. This person couldn’t put a face to my name and had zero personal investment in me. I’m sure she didn’t think twice about leaving me behind as she moved the company in a new direction.

I can’t imagine a friend being so cut and dry. Freelancing has little job security, but I feel much more secure with the clients I’ve developed actual friendships with.

Take your relationships beyond email.

Invite your client to lunch or coffee, tell them a little bit about yourself, and inquire about them. Find even one common interest, and let things build from there.

The result could be a freelancer’s dream: a long-lasting working relationship.

This article originally appeared on No Pants Freelance.

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