Business Tips

Should You be Friends With Your Clients?

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Should you be friends with your clients? And: should your friends become your clients? I’ve been pondering this since I heard a podcast about it a few months ago.

The truth is, I have BECOME friends with many of my clients. And over the years, my friends have BECOME my clients. Both situations can be tricky and I have found that it’s important to navigate both delicately!

When Friends become Clients

When I first started my portrait business 12 years ago, I still had my day job at the bank and had a lot of coworkers and friends that immediately hired me to photograph their kids and families.

I knew my cost of goods, but I felt bad charging my prices when I was first starting. I also didn’t want my friends to think I was desperate for money (ha ha). So I began refusing to collect their session fee. For some reason I felt better saying “Oh gosh, no, I’m not making you pay a session fee!” Sometimes, I’d even give them a discount on their products. And honestly? I look back on those days and am filled with regret that I spent so much time on those clients and so much money on the products and didn’t get paid what I deserved. Yes, I sabotaged my ability to earn income in those days.

Over the years, my confidence has gotten much healthier and I no longer discount for friends – not the session fee, not the products. And I believe they respect me because of it. But it wasn’t an easy transition in my brain!

Another issue with your friends being your clients: you don’t want them to be embarrassed to point out a mistake or a shortcoming in your service. I definitely think it happens a lot – a product or service is delivered and it’s not perfect, but the client doesn’t want to hurt her friend’s feelings or look like she’s high maintenance, so the client stays quiet.

A third issue with your friends becoming your clients is that it is sometimes hard to follow your normal workflow. In my photography business, I have a basic path I take all clients through. However, that path can easily become blurred when I’m photographing a friend. My pre-session consultations will have a tendency to become too chatty and we don’t cover some important things, or during her photo shoot I might not make the extra gesture needed to put her more at ease. This has been a consistent battle for me – putting my friends through a different experience than people I don’t know. I’ve become better but there is always room for improvement. After all, I want my friends to have exceptional client experiences just like people that are new to me!

Here are 5 things to consider when your friends want to become your customer:

  • Determine if there will be any kind of “friends and family discount” and talk about it in advance;
  • Do not feel obligated to provide a discount at all;
  • Keep avenues of communication open so your client is comfortable to verbalize a problem to you;
  • Maintain your regular workflow so you don’t skip any steps;
  • Treat your friend like any other client so she can enjoy the same experience your new clients do.

When Clients become Friends

Ahhhhh, this is one of my favorite things about being in business. The people that gravitate toward me and my services are people that I end up really loving!

Because my branding and portrait photography business is high touch, I spend a lot of time with each client. I am not a “meet only once” kind of entrepreneur! I typically get to know her very well over the course of the few months we are actively working together.

Regardless of our ways of doing business, it’s understandable that sometimes a client becomes more than a client. You have a lot of things in common (I find that many of my clients like wine and fitness, two of my favorite things). You share the same values, and really love hanging out with that person. Next thing you know, you’re going out to lunch or drinks, or sign up to do a 5k together.

So is this bad? I think there are different schools of thought here. I know many photographers that deliberately keep clients at an arms length and use all measures to NOT be friends with them. This might be ignoring a friend request on Facebook, declining social invitations, etc. And honestly, I totally understand where some people come from with this. When business and personal mix, it can be hard to navigate for some people. Keep business business and personal personal.

But I’m in a different camp. As we get older, we find that friendship is about positive relationships. We may start to emotionally separate from long-time friends that aren’t good for our souls and seek positive, like-minded people we enjoy being around.

Although I have clients that I really like that never quite became “friends,” I really cherish those that do. And because of that, I don’t see a downside. It simply makes your business just that much more enjoyable.

  • If your client becomes your friend, check the list above and make sure you follow that!
  • Continue to nurture the friendship just like you do the business relationship;
  • Be grateful that your brand is attracting clients you love and continue bringing out that element in your branding.

Here’s to friendship! 🍷