Along with chemistry and ability, trust is essential to long-term relationships. It’s the one that takes longest to establish, but it’s also the one that will carry you through the rough spots.
Chemistry clicks in almost right away. In a few cases, it reveals itself over time, but mostly, it’s there or it isn’t right from the start.
Ability also reveals itself pretty early in the working relationship; the first project, in fact. Portfolios can indicate a design firm’s ability, but can’t prove it for a new prospect. Research into the client’s performance can demonstrate some aspects of their ability, but unless it’s a referral from a trusted source, you have to take it on a measure of faith that the client can hold up their end of the bargain.
Trust, though, takes time. It builds up like layers on a pearl, starting with the acceptance of the first project. It becomes fully formed only after you’ve worked together awhile.
So, how does trust get built?
On the design side, I’d say you have to be a good listener, straightforward and honest. You always have to tell it like it is and not sugar-coat it too much. And you always have to do what you say you’re going to do, and hopefully, even a little more.
On the client side, you have to be a willing participant. That means being open to collaboration and able to deliver the proper input that’s required to reach the common goal of producing exceptional work. You have to be able to pay the agreed fees. Perhaps that’s not surprising, and it may seem crass to say so. But being paid in full and on time is as important to the design firm as meeting deadlines with successful work is to the client.
What does trust buy you? Mostly, it’s time and money. Because when you’re in a trusting working relationship, each party believes the other has their interest in mind and isn’t going to sell them a pig in a poke. Both feel confident that the other’s not going to short-change them. Both feel confident that the advice won’t be simple posturing and the ultimate decision won’t be frivolous.
And when you really need it, trust buys you a Get Out of Jail Free card.
Over the course of every working relationship—and every life relationship, for that matter—someone stumbles. Then the chemistry can get damaged. The ability, thrown into doubt. But trust prevents both of these from happening because it’s built on a legacy of solid, honest interaction and quality delivery.
If you can build on the chemistry and consistently demonstrate trust and ability to each other, you’ll work together over and over again. Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about. You can have a positive impact on your client’s bottom line, and they can do the same for yours.