• Lifestyle, Advice

Should you be friends with your clients?

Recently, a freelancer friend asked for some advice. A client invited her to her birthday party in the city.

They had a perfectly lovely working relationship, but never hung out socially. My friend was fretting about if she should go or not:

“Why not?” I said, “There will probably be, um, cake, there.”

“I dunno,” she said, “She’s my client. It just seems… weird.”

When you’ve been freelancing a long time, your social and professional lives will almost invariably intersect. Some freelancers like this.

I have always worked in “social” businesses, so I’ve never known any alternative – and enjoy it, to boot. Others find it more disorienting.

I’m a proponent of letting the two overlap; in most cases, developing a personal relationship benefits freelancers!

Here are a few reasons why:

We’re all people

Yes, as a freelancer you are a business unto yourself. But you are also a person, doing work with other people – and if you are reasonably cool and fun and approachable, some of those people may want to be your friend!

That’s a good thing! Humans are social beings!

If you’re prone to compartmentalization (like my perfectly lovely freelancer friend), you may feel a bit discomfited by the intersection.

Fortunately, nobody is saying it’s obligatory. You do not have a gun to your head – you needn’t go to a party, if you’re truly loath to.

But it’s nice to have the invitation, and it’s probably less complicated than you may think.

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You can still have boundaries

Becoming friends with your clients doesn’t mean you’re obliged to give them your work for free; neither a friend nor a client should expect you to compromise yourself just to maintain a relationship.

Similarly, becoming buddies with a client doesn’t mean you have to take their emergency-editing calls at 2 AM.

As long as you know your boundaries (and the person in question isn’t bananas – in which case you probably don’t want them as a client anyway), you should be able to have a nice personal AND professional relationship, simultaneously.

Important note: it goes without saying that if you feel harassed in any way, do NOT feel obligated to keep the peace as either a “friend” or a freelancer. Don’t do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.

It only strengthens bonds – and it can be fun

From a purely gimlet-eyed freelance business perspective, it’s not at all a bad idea to attend a client’s party, where you a) reinforce your bond with your existing client and b) may meet new clients and contacts.

But that’s a little bit of a cynical perspective. From a more relaxed standpoint, it’s NICE to get to know people you work with.

Freelancers often operate like lonely little satellites, working on their own time and in their own spaces… and while your cat may make for good company, her office Christmas shindig leaves something to be desired.

If a friendly client makes the effort to invite you to something, consider accepting – even if you’re normally a happy hermit.

Again, I like being friends with my clients, so I lean towards being a social butterfly. If YOU do not have an interest, politely decline! That’s okay.

My friend ended up attending, and had a perfectly nice time (there was, indeed, cake). Building a personal relationship with clients can be fun… as long as you’re fundamentally comfortable.

Kate Hamill lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily. You can catch up with her on Twitter at @katerone.