A wise businessman and fellow sole trader once told me that clients often don’t really know what they need. They just know they need something.
This fellow traveller in the field of communications, training and confidence building, has had a few more years under his business belt than me to recognise the early warning symptoms. He’s really quite smart at spotting when a client doesn’t have a scooby, and has an unparalleled ability to lead them gently by the nose in the right direction.
I might be a business novice in comparison, but as someone who’s been round the communications block more than a few times, I’d like to think I was reasonably good at interpreting even the vaguest of business briefs.
But working out what a client actually needs can be a bit Krypton Factor. It requires amazing analytical abilities, fully paid up MENSA membership, and a very finely tuned understanding of the human condition.
So believe me, I’m acquiring detective skills on a par with Holmes and Watson, and acquiring them quicker than you can say Benedict Cumberbatch.
Of course it doesn’t take a deerstalker and Meerschaum pipe to recognise that a big part of my business role is to work out what a client really needs. Surely, that’s the bit where years and years of journalistic instinct and experience in getting to the heart of the matter comes in useful. You know, transferable skills and all that jazz.
Spending time, building knowledge, developing trust and understanding, fine tuning a working relationship – it’s my bread and butter, a no-brainer. Indeed, it’s one of the best bits of business.
It helps that I’m in the world of words, of course. To get to the bottom of what a client actually wants and needs, I generally use words. I use lots of the wee devils, usually grouped together with question marks bringing up the rear.
So yes, it’s good to talk, but even the old tried and tested Q&A method is sometimes simply not enough. Seeking client clarity is, occasionally, a bit like trying to crack the Enigma code.
But, dear potential client, these are not criticisms, merely observations. You’re good at what you do, and I’m good at telling you what you’re good at. Even better, I’m good at telling other people what you’re good at, if you’ll let me.
So if you’re not sure what it is you want, fear not. A woolly wish list and foggy thoughts are mere hurdles we can clear together. We’ll get to the finishing line eventually. As long as you let me lead the way when it comes to words.