My way or your way? (Or how to strike a balance when dealing with clients)

My way or your way? (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin, with due permission from the 2 'spotted' models.)

My way or your way? (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin, with due permission from the 2 ‘spotted’ models.)

The other day, I received a long email from someone who has assisted me in an urgent project this year and a thought-provoking question was in the email: “To what extent do you push for your ideas and when do you give way to client’s wishes?

It seemed a very simple question but the longer one ponders on it, the more complex it somehow becomes. And so I briefly replied that, “Hmmm, I am not an expert but, I guess, the priority is still the client’s wishes, his comfort zone, and his realities.” I then realized that the question deserves a longer reply so I decided that this can actually be a good topic in my next blog. :)

Before I expound on this question, let me first qualify that my tips/insights below apply only to circumstances when one’s core values and beliefs are not going to be compromised (that is, the situation should not call for pleasing a client but committing a crime or even a professional faux pas in the process!). Therefore, this post refers only to situations that do not involve the commission of a crime, breach of contract, and other similar consequences.

I may be citing real-life experiences just to emphasize a point but I won’t be mentioning names of persons or institutions, for privacy’s sake. (It is indeed true that ‘experience is the best teacher’ so I hope that my own experiences will help you, dear readers, in dealing with situations when you are torn apart between wanting to please your client 100% and pushing for your ideas.)

The following may be considered as good take-off points or pieces of advice:

1. The customer is always right. This may sound used and abused but always remember, when faced with a blank wall, that you exist because of your customer (client). Fortunately, I got trained in DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control) Methodology, an approach to problem-solving and considered in the corporate world as part of the Six Sigma management philosophy. Through DMAIC principles, I had a deeper understanding of how to connect the client’s wants and needs to my existence as part of a corporation or even as an independent professional. I will not bore you with the details of how my training went but suffice to say, there really is a ‘methodical’ way of appreciating why clients behave that way and why you, as a supplier or service provider, should go the extra mile to do what your clients want.

2. Know your bottomlines but always refer to point No. 1 above. You can always have your own ‘bottomlines’ or that specific points when you really must say “no” already. This means that you may always bend to the wishes of your client but if such acquiescence means that the final project/output will already have significant impact on your career and long-term goals, then by all means, say a respectful but firm “no”. For example, if a valued client requests you to finish the layout and design of a book with a very short lead time–a time frame that makes it physically impossible to deliver a brilliant design–you can respectfully but firmly reject the project. After all, it will be your reputation and portfolio at stake there.

However, there will always be those rare instances when you simply cannot refuse, right? I had been in those situations and they were really difficult times. Should this ever happen to you, you can consider taking the following course of actions: (i) Accept the project but propose changes in the terms of reference so that the tasks may be adjusted based on the time frame given (e.g.,  if it is no longer possible to develop 3 cover studies, then strike an agreement where you will only propose 1 or 2 studies; (ii) consult a lawyer to help you develop a contract where there will be enough protective clauses for you (e.g., your contract should stipulate that the client should give their comments within a specific period only and anything sent beyond that will already impact the project calendar and, therefore, you should not be made liable for the consequent project delay); (iii) agree on fair/realistic quality standards and ensure that your client will not feel shortchanged (e.g., while it may be impossible to develop highly-complicated graphic works, you and your client should agree on minimal use of info-graphics and nice but simple design tweaking); and (iv) request your client to allow you to sub-contract some of the tasks involved so that you can deliver on time with the agreed quality parameters.

3. Listen. Have a more open mind. These two ‘epic statements’ sound simple, right? However, they are easier said than done. I have met consultants, artists, and graphic designers who are so brilliant but seem to lack or fail in the emotional quotient (EQ) department. In the same way, I have worked with young and upcoming specialists and professionals who may still be ‘learning the ropes’ but whose work ethics, patience, diligence, and commitment are exemplary. These are preferred by clients. I don’t need a very brilliant artist but who always complains, doesn’t listen, and acts as if he is always right and the greatest artist in the whole world. I prefer someone who does a great job (even if it’s not so perfect) AND really listens, appreciates my business, and open to my ideas. Simply put, intelligence, brilliance, and talent should be accompanied with the right attitude. No wonder EQ is essential in ascertaining whether a person is perfect for the job. :) You might ask, “How will these two statements help me when I want to push for my ideas because I know I am REALLY right and that my ideas ultimately support the goals of my client?” My answer is simple: You can actually make your client feel that your idea is actually his idea just by simply listening and having an open mind. Listen more and you will perhaps realize that your ideas do not exactly oppose his ideas. And in the worse case scenario, there might be a workable compromise position somewhere. The trick is to make your client feel that his ideas are also important and useful in the bigger picture.

4. Always remember, your client is NOT stupid. There are designers and IT specialists who think and act like they are God’s gifts to the universe (pasintabi lang po, bato-bato sa langit, ang tamaan ay h’wag magagalit). They are the ones who will bluntly tell you, “Oh, I cannot do that because…(and then give you long explanations with their technical jargons and IT what-nots)” when you simply needed a user-friendly template. There is a common joke circulating around that we must never have IT administrators as enemies because they hold the passwords to our private emails and, painfully, they can easily cause the demise of our careers (or reputation?). It seems a harmless joke, right? But the reality is that many IT and graphic design professionals have strangely developed a certain ‘air’ around them. They are the untouchables. You cannot mess with them. You cannot argue with them. They have their own language, which you cannot penetrate. They make fun of lesser morals who have only basic understanding of IT and design jargons. But be warned: clients are smart, too. They may have lesser gigabyte of IT knowledge but their basic understanding of IT and design what-have-you’s may mean that they have humongous understanding and ownership of the other important matters in life–including the money that they will pay you. Never assume anything. Never assume that the client doesn’t know anything about your line of work. Never assume that they are stupid or fools. Thread carefully for the client might just ask someone to blacklist you in the whole corporate community just because he did not enjoy your sarcastic email about why it is not possible to convert such a file to the template that you needed. Fair enough? :)

5. Good track record matters. Build a solid track record with your client and this makes the work (and future negotiations) a lot easier. It is alright to push for your ideas particularly if they are really brilliant. However, remember that it takes time for a client to trust you enough. It is the same with relationships. Don’t expect people to trust you instantly just because you have a very good CV. Relationships take time to build. It is the same way with clients. They tend to listen more to people whom they already worked with over the long haul. Therefore, if someone or a corporation is your first-time client, be very careful with your ideas. Try to hold your horses at first. Get a feel of how they interact with you, take note of their corporate culture (and even their body languages!), and eventually, you will know when is the perfect time to propose your ideas. (See no. 9 below also.)

6. Appreciation. We had been taught the power of appreciation by our parents. We had been told to say “Thank you” when someone helps us, gives us a gift, or utters a compliment. But no one really told us how to say “Thank you” if someone acts like a brat or refuses to listen. Someone has forgotten to say that the workplace is in another dimension. Planet Mars, maybe? The thing is, it is difficult or downright impossible to say “Thank you” if you are pissed off. However, if the going gets tough and you are faced with a client who doesn’t seem to want to listen to your ideas, count 1 to 10 and say an inner “Thank you”. Thank the heavens above because you have this client and the job. Thank the universe because this difficult moment in your life makes you a better and more patient person. Thank the stars because you have this opportunity to practice yoga (read: the art of detachment). Finally, thank that spot where you are standing on because certainly, someone else can easily fill that spot (and he is just a phone call, SMS, or even tweet away!).

7. Remember the rule of karma and the saying, ‘walls have ears’. Every action that we do will become part of our history. There is no way that we can delete the past so we must always strive hard to think of the consequences of our action or statement. If we made a client very happy today, it may eventually lead to more opportunities in the future (and not necessarily with the same client). A satisfied client will always speak nicely of you and such a reputation is very important in the market. If you are faced with that moment when you really must be frank with a client and insist on your ideas, then weigh the benefits versus the risks. Will insisting on your point ruin or negatively impact your relationship with your client? If the answer is yes, then don’t hold your tongue and simply do what the client wants or wait for the right time to re-negotiate.

8. Patience is the best virtue. I always liked this saying, “Good things come to those who wait.” This is can be applied when faced with the dilemma of finding a way to push for your ideas without offending your client. Learn to be patient. This is particularly challenging especially if the deadline is tight or the situation is just too stressful. I had been there and believe me, I had experienced moments when I just wanted to walk out of a project. Once or twice, I actually gave up an opportunity for a good reason (see my earlier notes about not compromising our values and principles in life). However, it is best that we always keep our cool. It helps us have a better appreciation of the demands of our clients. I guess it takes many years of practice and experience to develop genuine patience and wisdom. I think no one can really be completely patient (every one will always have that breaking point) so let us also try to accept our humanity. The key, I think, is having enough self-restraint and magnanimity without having to compromise our core values.

9. Timing is everything. I have encountered people who seem so close-minded at first but who eventually open their minds up if only they are allowed enough space and time to think about your ideas or proposals. There is that thing about finding the perfect timing. Don’t talk to a client who just had lost a bid or even endured two or three hours in traffic. In the negotiation table, your client will always have the upper hand. Therefore, you have better chances of ‘winning’ if you lay out your game plan at the perfect time. Pray, consult a feng shui expert, or do a ritual dance  if you must!

10. It’s a free world. At the end of the day, you are answerable to your own self. Stick to your guts. If you are comfortable in your own skin and have a positive outlook of how the world and businesses operate, you will find it easier to strike a balance between what you think is right and what the client wants. Bend if you must. Be like a strong bamboo that sways with the winds. However, never lose yourself just because you need the moolah. Develop an inner compass and that will surely help you make those critical decisions in such challenging phases in your career, and even life in general. It’s a free world. You have the right to make your own decisions, cognizant of the goals of your clients and the rights and welfare of people around you.

Let me end this post by sharing with you a picture of Nobuko, one of the dolls in the Kimmidoll series. She reminds us to ‘live what we believe.’

Nobuko tells us, "By living what you believe, your actions will always find their true direction." [Doll by Kimmidolls; image taken by M. Velas-Suarin]

Nobuko tells us, “By living what you believe, your actions will always find their true direction.” [Doll by Kimmidolls; image taken by M. Velas-Suarin]

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This is not a paid blog. (I do not ask for any donation but I hope you can plant a tree on your birthday/s.)

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin

Journeying with words and books

I devoted much of the day by sorting and cleaning our books. Because we have lost many books  from Ondoy’s floods back in 2009, hubby and I are slowly but joyfully growing the collection again. :) Many of the books that I had collected when I was still single are still with me although some are in storage, left in boxes when I left the country back in 2007.

It always brings me so much joys just to see (and touch!) printed words on paper. I began to seriously take up the hobby of reading when I was in high school and, indeed, my life had been made richer and more meaningful because of the many journeys that I was able to take just by simply reading. My travels had also been more profound because of the companionship of authors like Milan Kundera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, Amy Tan, Umberto Eco, Jose Rizal, and many other great weaver of stories. (I do enjoy light reading, too, so I am not ashamed to admit that I have many chick-lit titles as well!) ;D

Books that stay with me. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

Books that stay with me. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

I think that even with the event of eBooks and Kindle, I would always be buying hard-bound books and paperbacks. eBooks bring so much convenience especially when one is traveling but nothing compares with seeing rows and rows of books on one’s walls, shelves, and even floors! It is just so romantic, don’t you think so, too? While wiping the dust from our well-loved books, I thought about taking their pictures and here are some of them.

Some of our business books.

Some of our business books.

I am aware that many people  disagree with many of the ideas and opinions of Robert Kiyosaki but I would still recommend his Rich Dad, Poor Dad as a basic reading. There are certainly better books than this one but Kiyosaki’s simple style of narration makes reading on financial independence and wealth building more engaging. His other books like the Guide to Investing also offer practical tips but, still, one is advised to be very discerning when following any of his (and even other authors’) recommendations especially when it comes to money and business matters.

Here’s another peek at our titles…

Love books, learn new languages, appreciate history! (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

Love books, learn new languages, appreciate history! (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

I got lucky that I was born on June 19 and that means I share Rizal’s birthday. :) Perhaps, many of those who share his birthday would admit that they, too, enjoy reading, writing, traveling, and other forms of communicating. I guess we will always have this hunger for knowledge, experiences, travels, and to some extent, new languages. I took up a basic course in French language in Dhaka, Bangladesh many years ago and, this year, hubby and I decided to be conversant in the language. Luckily, Fully Booked in Bonifacio High Street had this complete volume in French (Living Language series). It contains 3 books and 9 CDs! It was indeed a more practical alternative to attending regular classes because with the e-files, you can easily rewind, forward, and repeat sessions for as long as you want, and for as many times as you want, minus the risk of irritating a teacher or classmates!

Back to Jose Rizal – I would really recommend that every Filipino read (or re-read, depending on the case) Noli Me Tangere. It is Rizal’s most popular book, possibly the book that profoundly influenced a lot of Filipinos who fought for our independence.

And to show more of our well-loved titles…

Food for the soul. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

Food for the soul. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

Not to sound preachy, but I am sure many hold the Holy Bible as a personal companion, a source of guidance, and a symbol of God’s love to humanity. Hubby and I found this beautiful copy (bound and protected by a nice blue leather) in National Book Store. I count myself lucky, too, to have found this 4-volume series on the Mangyan culture (special thanks go to the Mangyan Heritage Center for selling these books to me when I visited their office early this year). The Philippines is a culturally-diverse country so we must do our best to know more of our culture and history. For other readings that are sure to soothe your soul and give you positive feelings, we also recommend The Celestine Prophecy and The Tenth Insight by James Redfield.

These are JR's favorite books! (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

These are JR’s favorite books! (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

I have been blessed with a husband who patiently and lovingly cooks for me. Friends know that I lack talent in the kitchen so the following books are not actually in my ‘territory’ but they deserve a spot here because through this post, I want to thank my loving husband for having the talent, diligence, (and immense patient?) to prepare wonderful meals for me. (Thank you, my Papa Bear!) Indeed, it is true that when we pray, we should always be specific! I prayed for a husband who knows how to cook and he gave this person with culinary talent and much much more!

Grab a book and weave your own stories. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

Grab a book and weave your own stories. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

Of course, I admire Asian* writers! One of my favorites is Ms. Amy Tan. I remember the time when I was reading her The Joy Luck Club, I knew instantly that it deserved a film adaptation (which eventually happened) because her characters are so real, they speak to you like a friend or an old relative. I can go on and on about her and her works but I’d rather that you discover her on your own. I also have full admiration to the writing style of Arundhati Roy. I also like discovering authors myself (minus the influence of reviews or bestsellers’ lists) because that is the only way we can find new treasures.

And so my and hubby’s journey continues. Along the way, we will discover new places, meet new friends, and become conversant in French and other languages. We’re excited every day day because we know that in each step, in every new encounter, in every new book that we will buy and read, there will always be beautiful lessons and stories, intertwined with our own.

I will end this by sharing with you a habit, which I would always do every time I bring home a book. In every copy of book that I own, I would usually write the date when and place where I bought it. This way, every book also shares some kind of link with my own ‘herstory.’

A book bought in Bangladesh. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

A book bought in Bangladesh. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

A book bought in Cambodia. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

A book bought in Cambodia. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

A book bought in Singapore. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

A book bought in Singapore. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

A book bought in Thailand. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

A book bought in Thailand. (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin)

What are you waiting for? Grab a book now and be happily brought to magical places! Soar high and reach your dreams!

Mei_Watermark-4

 

 

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*As much as possible, I do avoid categorizing writers (and people) according to their nationalities. (After all, our talents are part of who we are, regardless of our race.) However, I am simply awed by such great talents, who, incidentally, have Asian roots and heritage, and so I ask for your kind indulgence.

This is not a paid blog. (I do not ask for any donation but I hope you can plant a tree on your birthday/s.)

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin