Strangers to Collaborators: How to Form Solid Relationships


You do so much work to get a new customer, which is totally reasonable, but the real money is in keeping them. The whole idea of strangers to collaborators is to sign new clients/customers/partners, but that can’t be the end of the story.

If I had to sign a new client for every project, fifteen media wouldn’t be a sustainable business. Fortunately, many of my current clients have been with me since I started seven years ago. At the time, I really didn’t know what I was doing, but I figured I needed to meet as many people as possible, face to face, to get my name out there. These intro meetings turned into a strong base of returning clients, so I don’t have to put in the work to woo them every time.

And keep in mind, these clients stayed with me even when I raised, doubled, and quadrupled my rates!

When you’re talking about going from strangers to collaborators, a big part of that discussion has to be about forming solid client relationships from the get-go.

Doing good work, which in my case means getting quality media placements, is the first and foremost thing you can do to form a solid client relationship. But there’s more to it. Here are a few tips I recommend to anyone who wants their newfound collaborator to stick around.

1. Be Realistic About Everything

It might be tempting to start your new relationship on level optimism.

Yes, I can do everything. And I can do it all right now!

The problem is when your optimism for how fast, how much, or how big the results can be, exceeds what is actually possible. I try—right from the start—to be realistic about the kinds of placements I can get for a client and when I can deliver.

When you set an expectation with a client, you can exceed it, meet it, or disappoint. Sometimes the work will be the same no matter where the expectation is, but if the expectation was more than what you deliver, you’ll be sure to let them down.

However, you still want to sell with the strongest possible pitch.

The simple way to reconcile the difference between managing client expectations and pitching your best is to just be realistic. Think about what it took to get results before, add in a decent buffer, and tell the client the honest truth.

2. Be Communicative

Communication should be a no brainer, but I see people make this mistake all the time. Please for the love of all that is good in the world, do not go MIA on clients.

Want to take it up a notch? Always respond in a timely manner.

I strongly believe in setting boundaries with clients. I don’t even have an email app on my phone. So, don’t confuse being communicative with always being available. It’s a different thing.

Being communicative is about regular status updates and responding to clients even when the subject is tough. Let’s say you took on a project and it is taking you way longer than you could have guessed. Rather than keeping the client guessing, just tell them. Be professional about it.

Most people are going to be reasonable. They may even be able to help you work through a problem better than you could on your own. But if you go radio silent, it just makes you look bad.

3. Be the Expert You Are

It took a long time and I had to gain a lot of confidence before this really sunk in: I’m the expert.

Why does being the expert matter for client relationships?

People choose to work with you because you are the expert. You have to embrace that and state your opinion for the relationship to be valuable to them. 

There are a lot of people out there that are just technicians; you tell them to do something and they do it. Technicians are replaceable. Experts, however, are people who can add value to the project. They are not (as) replaceable.

So when you are hired to be an expert, pony up and give your expert opinion. It is okay to disagree with the client and guide them to a better strategy. Again, be professional and even sensitive about it, but don’t skip out on using your experience to get them better results.

There are a lot of factors that will ultimately determine if a new clients comes back and not all of it is within your control. If their budget doesn’t have room for you—it’s not your fault. But all three of these tips are within your control. These are things you can start thinking about from the time you meet your potential best client to seven years later and beyond.

Rebekah Epstein