Time takes its toll on everything, including long-term
working relationships. There is some truth in the old phrase, “familiarity
breeds contempt.” Too often, consultants and clients can begin
to take each other for granted. There is usually no dark purpose behind
this, just the simple casualness that results from knowing one another
for many years. There are ways, though, of counteracting the effects
of time. Below are detailed a few ideas that can help you keep your
long-term relationships on track.
Familiar, but not too familiar
Over time your can become quite comfortable with your clients. Perhaps
you are invited to dinner parties or sporting events. There are many
benefits to developing deep relationships with your clients but also
a few pitfalls. (See Career-Op: Friends and Clients, February 22,
One way to keep your relationship on track is to continue reporting
to your client as you have always done. I try to keep a regular status
report of all the work I perform. As a relationship deepens, it is your
status reports that will keep your professional relationship on solid
ground. Sometimes clients, even your best ones, need to be reassured
that you are still working in their best interest, or indeed, working
at all. Perhaps they need to defend your services to their management
or fight for the budget that pays for your time. Maybe they just need
to feel that they are aware of what you are doing. Whatever the reason,
status reports are one way of heading off trouble before it grows into
You should also make sure that your billing statements provide as much
detail as possible. Don’t just list the hours worked, include
a description for each day’s work and for whom the work was performed.
While this might seem redundant considering the status reports above,
your billing statements are designed for a different audience, accountants
and executives. They don’t need detailed technical descriptions
of your work, but they do need an accounting of the work you did so
that they can check up on your work, if they wish. They might also have
different priorities than what they are seeing in your work assignments.
Perhaps they think that more time should be spent on new computer installations
than maintaining a legacy system that is going to be replaced. A good
billing statement can help you identify and correct discrepancies in
priorities before they turn into a larger problem.
Even on the inside
These guidelines also work well if you are a corporate employee. Your
status reports are an on-going reflection of your work and progress
as an employee. You are helping your managers to recognize your accomplishments
and offering an opportunity for them to make corrections in your priorities.
This can help to make your year-end review a more pleasant experience.
Your manager can offer advice throughout the year instead of trying
to make corrections once when it is too late to change anything. Keeping
your managers informed can also help them to make the case for merit
raises and promotions. This is always a good thing.
Take a break
There may be times in your long-term business relationships,
just like your personal ones, when some time away might be dictated.
Sometimes a company may need time to evaluate the part your work plays
in their organization. Perhaps their budget has been expended. Whatever
the reason, don’t take such breaks as the end of the line. Stay
in contact through email or phone, but don’t be overly aggressive.
More than once I have found companies and individuals returning for
my services after a long hiatus. The simple truth is that there are
a myriad reasons why they might not be able to work with you, many of
which you will never know, since they are internal to the company. If
there hasn’t been any obvious “falling out” between
you and your clients, give it some time. More than likely, they will
Communicating regularly with your clients, regardless of how long you
have worked together, is one way to insure that small problems don’t
grow into relationship-breaking issues that will harm both you and your
client. It is important to your career to cultivate client relationships
as they will be the backbone of your work for years to come.