A question that repeatedly comes up when we first start talking to potential clients is: “Where are you based?”. It’s a completely reasonable thing to ask and it’s understandable that someone we’re working with would want to know where we are whilst doing the work.
Although often the question isn’t exactly about where we’re based, it’s actually about how close we are, geographically. For clients it would all see to be about the 3 L’s: Location, location, location.
Whilst we completely appreciate that someone might want the reassurance that we’re just down the road, it is something we feel is becoming less and less important. Whilst it’s by no means revelatory to point out that technology is making the tools we use to communicate more accessible and easier to use, it is something we can’t ignore. The requirement to be in the same room as the people we’re working with is becoming less and less important.
To illustrate the point, there is a long term client we’ve formed a great relationship with over the course of the last three years. We speak to them regularly, get on well with them and were even introduced to their children the last time we had a meeting. The fact that they’re based in New York (whilst we’re in London) and all of the communication has been conducted over a mix of email and Skype has never had much of an impact on the way we work together. We’ve never stood in the same room as them, but we still manage to make it tick along nicely, and everyone is happy.
We’ve also worked with clients based in offices literally down the road from us, who we’ve never actually had any face to face contact with. This isn’t due to the fact that they’re not an important client to us (every single client is important to us — sounds a bit cheesy, but it’s true), it’s because it would simply be an unnecessary addition to the way we work with them.
We’ve produced print work for a client based in South Africa which featured in a magazine we’ll never physically hold. In terms of communication throughout the project, it wasn’t particularly different from that of clients based in the same postcode. The only real similarity between the projects mentioned above was the fact that the results were all successful. The work itself didn’t suffer as a result of any differences in location, and the communication during the design process was clear, quick and easy to manage.
Now, we’re definitely not saying that physically meeting the people we’re working with is a bad or unnecessary thing. We do a great deal of it and as well as being helpful, it is something we genuinely enjoy. It is, however, clear that it needn’t be a prerequisite for a successful and happy working relationship. For us, the things that are fundamental in a working relationship are an understanding of the people we’re working with and the capability for both parties to communicate clearly and easily. These things aren’t dependent on where we’re sitting in relation to our clients, they’re dependent on how we talk and how we listen to what’s being said. Asking the right questions, knowing when to shut up and reacting to other peoples responses in the appropriate manner are the things that are vital to get right. The room we’re sitting in whilst these exchanges are taking place is largely irrelevant.
Whether it’s email, Skype, iChat, face to face, smoke signals or carrier pigeon, it’s all about communication — making ourselves understood and being able to understand others.
Do you have any examples that challenge our view? Does our thinking work only for a small agency like ours, but not for Freelancers? We’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.
Thanks for reading.
Tom and Phil
*This post was recently published on the FindGood Marketing Blog*