Do We Serve Ourselves or Our Clients?

by Jonathan Longnecker

I fired one of our first clients last week. It was messy and no fun for everyone involved. I also managed to get a lecture from the president of that company on how to run my business and better serve the needs of my clients.

While the initial reaction for any of us would probably be thoughts of a Chuck Norris roundhouse to the face (in slow motion, of course), the whole incident made me think hard about what 47m is at it’s core, and what it truly means to serve a client. I think there are two ways to serve a client:

Scenario 1: Blind Serving

In blind serving, you’re always making the logo bigger or adding starbursts because the client says so. Not because it’s better for them, but simply because they demand it. A lot of companies won’t fight this because they’re just trying to make a living. And that’s ok. I think everyone starts out serving blindly. Get the job done ? client happy ? get paycheck.

But at some point, you come to a crossroads. At some point, your experience will tickle the back of your brain and say “That’s a bad idea!” So what happens then?

Scenario 2: Passionate Serving

I think the next stage of serving your clients involves talking through those “make the logo bigger” conversations and explaining your work. Why you believe your decision is the best not only for the design, but also for the company. These conversations are still no fun, but if you’re really passionate about what you do, you can’t let it go. You’ll win some and lose some. And occasionally, the client will come up with a better idea. Seriously, it will happen. If you’ve checked your ego at the door like any good designer should, you’ll be open-minded enough to see it.

Is your company serving blindly or passionately?

I wish the story ended here, but it doesn’t. There are those certain clients that just can’t be helped. They don’t listen to anything you say and destroy your designs in Photoshop and send them back to you claiming they’re better. What then?

Scenario 3: The Ultimate Sacrifice

When you see a client being self-destructive in their design decisions and they won’t listen to you, it’s time to let them go. With that kind of drama and conflict, I can guarantee you you’re not passionate about the work anymore. This will lead to a decrease in quality, and you start wasting each other’s time. They’re looking for a Blind Servant and you’re a Passionate Servant. You may be losing money, but if you’re truly thinking of the client, it’s a sacrifice you have to be willing to make.

Getting back to the firing of our client; it was becoming painfully obvious that we were trying to passionately serve them and they didn’t want the advice. After almost 5 years we had grown apart in a radical way. Our cultures were polar opposite. So it was time to move on. And I’m ok with that.

So is there a place for both kinds of servants? Absolutely! For your sanity, decide which one you are. And more importantly, make sure your clients know and appreciate it.

November 30, 2009

Design, Business, Personal


  1. Depending on how the “breakup” goes the relationship can stay in a professional place. We’ve fired clients and then had them refer people to us. Make them realize you can’t make them happy and you’re doing them an disservice by forcing the relationship to work. “It’s not you, it’s me.” smile

    Jon, I’m sure you did the right thing. I can’t imagine anyone being upset with you, you’re the nicest person on the planet.

  2. @allan Yeah I did everything I could to explain that. I think after working with them so long there wasn’t much I could have said to make it better. Did I mention my dad works there? Lots of fun smile

    Thanks man; I’m apparently still learning how to express my passion in a way that doesn’t piss people off. Getting there, hopefully!

  3. Jon,

    Great thoughts. Nice and concise and does a good job of laying out the issues and the solutions.

    I agree with Allan. I think if this is done with the right attitude on the part of the designer, you can agree to disagree with your client and part ways on civil terms. I would hope they see the value of that decision for both parties because in the end, you are serving them by letting them know you are not the right one to serve “their” design needs.

  4. Jon,
    Long time no talk. That was well said and I think at some point everyone will run across this situation. Unfortunately, designers are never thought of as doctors. In most cases people never second guess the diagnosis of their doctor nor do they question the prescription. At the same time a doctor is very rarely required to provide 3 alternate solutions for the ailment only 1 correct solution. If only designers were viewed as doctors it would make everyone’s lives much better.

  5. @Jeff, Thank you sir! That was the intent. Not sure if they bought it though smile

    @Chris Hey man, good to hear from you. Yes, agreed. Just because you have a set of eyeballs doesn’t make you a designer

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