A Client or a Friend? How to Tell the Difference


You adore your clients, they make you laugh, you see them for their brilliance, and you cherish them. All really good things until you can’t pick your clients out of the friend line-up anymore. Once those lines are blurred you can get into a sticky situation because you may over-promise, get lazy with boundaries, and lose your leadership within the relationship.

I’m always excited when a client relationship turns into a friendship especially because the people I work with are so funny, talented and smart (the perfect friend equation!) but I make sure to hold off friendship till AFTER the contract is over. Here’s why.

Let’s delve into what a friend relationship looks like:

  • an equal amount of personal info going back and forth between the two.
  • spending time with each other is a free experience.
  • you care about each other.
  • you both can have bad days and the other person won’t mind + support you thru it.
  • you’re all emotions and sometimes can take what the other person does personally.
  • you don’t call them on their shit all the time (cuz they just want you to listen).
  • you answer their texts in your free time.
  • they take your expertise for granted/don’t care about it.

A work relationship looks like:

  • you call the client on their shit.
  • you care about them.
  • it’s all about the client – so it’s 100% them and their information.
  • you don’t tell them your own personal stuff/complain/give your own life any attention.
  • you’re unbiased.
  • you don’t take anything they say/do personally.
  • you’re friendly and professional 24/7.
  • you’re looking out for them and their best interests.
  • you give them advice based on their situation.
  • you answer their emails/messages in your work time.
  • the client pays for your time, attention and expertise.
  • they value your expertise.

You’re human and therefore bound to blur the lines on these. You can be friendly and joke with your clients since it’s important for them to connect with you. It doesn’t diminish your expertise to laugh while at the same time be the leader and tell them the hard shit/call them on their bs.

It’s a blessing to work with my clients and I enjoy every second of it but it requires effort and work on my part to make sure they’re getting the most out of our time together. I keep trying to cultivate a better and better client experience because I want them to succeed.

On the flip-side: I’ve had to wake up at 5am (due to timezone mix-ups) and loved every minute of talking to my clients. Listening to their business challenges and aspirations makes me happy. It’s possible to keep the client boundaries clear and for it to still be an enjoyable experience on both sides.

From what I’ve learnt working with different people these are the rules I have in place to keep things clear (they’re always evolving):

Rules of client engagement:

  • stick to your boundaries (if you say you’re not answering emails on the weekend then don’t answer them).
  • don’t work with clients on a co-project while they’re still you’re client.
  • don’t immediately offer services/price cuts/proposals without really thinking it thru. (Impulse leads to regret.)
  • don’t work with clients while on vacation.
  • don’t swap services.
  • don’t buy any of your client’s services while you’re working with them (wait till after).
  • don’t allow them to keep rescheduling the same appointment.
  • feel free to buy their products while working with them.

Not all clients become friends but they should be able to trust and rely on you as their leader.

How do you handle client/coach relationships lines?

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