The person that pays you is not your client

I had this weird epiphany this morning. Through my cloudy sick haze (yep I’ve been sick) I was lying on the couch and this thought came to me … “the person that pays you is not your client”.

And I thought to myself, what does this mean? Does it make any sense? And if it does, would this insight be applicable to everyone?

So that’s where I’m at – contemplating this idea.

First of all, I don’t think my statement is applicable to everyone. Secondly, it’s probably the one unconscious thing that has equally led me to my successes and failures (in work and career).

Let me explain what I mean …

Most people, when providing a product or service focus on making the client happy. They focus on giving the paying client what they want. For example, if a client wants great photos for their new website, you focus on giving them great photos. If they need a video interview recorded, you give them a great video interview. That makes total sense right?

They hire you to give them A – so you give them A.

But what if you’re focusing on the wrong thing? Actually it’s not wrong, it’s just limiting. What if what you’re focusing on is limiting how you can serve your client. And that by focusing on the client that pays you, it’s actually stopping you from charging more?

Let me take two steps back …

I’ll use a photography example. Recently I’ve been art directing more ‘life style’ photo shoots for individuals who are growing their personal brand. You might think I focus on giving the client great photos – which I do. And you might think I focus on giving them a great ‘brand experience’ – which I also do.

But there is something else I focus on, which isn’t so obvious and it’s quite unconscious.

I’m also focusing on how the photos will impact my client’s client.

I apply the same thinking when I’m reviewing copy or when I’m looking at a website design. I’m not focusing on the client that’s paying me, I’m actually focusing on their clients. And they take priority over my client. Does that make sense?

This often creates problems for me because sometimes I disagree with the client that’s paying me : ) and sometimes I may not do what they want me to do because I don’t believe it serves their client and will hence, damage their brand in the long-term.

I know it sounds crazy at first but when I’m working with a client on their personal brand, I’m actually not thinking about them. I’m thinking about their clients and by using their clients as my compass, it totally transforms and changes how I approach each problem. It takes the ego out of my work. Because it’s not about me and it’s not about the client that’s paying me either. It’s about something much bigger – it’s about serving people.

I’ve used this unconscious compass to create communities, lead events, launch brands, build trust and I honestly believe it’s what drives people to work with me. It also has it’s downfalls too because I’ve walked away from some great opportunities when the balance of making money and serving clients is out of sync for me personally.

The reality is, I don’t know if what I’m doing is right or wrong. What I do know is, there is a trend that is emerging for me. The more I focus on my client’s clients, the more they want to work with me and the more referrals I’m getting. So I’m definitely going to keep doing that for now.

So the question I invite you to consider is … who’s really your client?

If you’re an interior designer, is your client the current owner or future buyer? If you’re a chiropractor, is your client the one that show’s up in your clinic or the partner he or she comes home to? If you’re a book editor, is your client the author or the publisher? If you’re a stylist, is your client the photographer, production manager or model? The answer will be different for everyone but it’s totally worth expanding your focus.

Because if you shift the focus of who you serve, everything changes. Including yourself. And everything gets a bit more exciting because you are no longer like everybody else in the market. You’ll see things differently and solve problems with a different edge. The game totally changes.

So who do you need to focus on to best serve the client that’s paying you? Now that’s a question worth exploring …

ps. I know the flavour and subject of this blog is quite different to what I’ve shared before. It’s another side to me that’s just starting to come out. And it appears to have a lot to say about business and branding : ) So you’re going to see more of this side of me and I hope it’s useful : )

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6 Responses to “The person that pays you is not your client”
  1. Humaira says:

    I’ve been thinking about this the whole weekend, and I have to say it’s really changed my perspective as a Marketer. I’ll be utilising these thoughts in my working life, and try and be mindful of this in my personal life. When you’re serving other people, great things come. It’s all Karma.

    • thaoski says:

      Didn’t know you were a marketer Humaira : ) I guess we share another common interest. Glad the post helped and thank you for always sharing your thoughts and comments with me. And yes karma – one of my favourite things : )

  2. Thanks for this Thao! It’s a bit of a revelation in fact. Now I’m trying to work out who is the client for my engagement shoot tomorrow? Hmmm. In a way, maybe it’s the couple’s children to be. And what they want to know is how much their parents were in love, how beautiful their parents were, how cool they were, what things were like back then. Maybe?

    • thaoski says:

      Thanks for your comment Fiona. Lovely to hear from you again : ) Love where your mind is heading too … shooting for the couple’s children creates a totally different dynamic. When I work with couples, I’m trying to direct them in such a way that they’ll always remember the love they felt when they were engaged. So that many years later, if they ever doubt their love, they have something to come back to : ) Good luck with your photo shoot!

  3. There is a lot of truth in this. I write books and features, ostensibly for editors, but my mind is always on the ultimate ‘client’ – the reader. Often this creates a potential conflict and I have often turned down work because it didn’t align with me and, accepting, would have had to compromise my integrity.

    I hadn’t thought about it expanding out into other professions in this way – thanks for the insights. 🙂

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