From Compliance to Guidance: Elevating Client Relationships in Creative Studios

From Compliance to Guidance: Elevating Client Relationships in Creative Studios

"We need more clients"

Do you? One of the things we often cure is the overpopulation of clients, which dilutes focus, attention, and brings some good mess to clean. As you progress on your entrepreneur path, you quickly realize that "more clients" is not exactly what you wanted. Next time, you say:

"We need better clients"

Oh yeah! Now we're talking. Define "better".

"Ehm… they respect us and pay us good money"

Imagine I brought you twenty. From experience - for some reason your business didn't automagically heal. Soon, you need another twenty. Most likely, that's also not exactly what you need.

So what is it?

Before we peel in, here are 5 truths of the creative sector — all gathered across countless safaris:

  1. Creative firms need more clients to grow.

  2. Better clients mean higher revenue and stability.

  3. The primary role of creative firms is to serve client needs.

  4. Most client problems can be solved by delivering excellent work.

  5. Better client relationships just happen, naturally improving with time and effort.

Take a second and reflect on how you plot across these. What's your score? Are these true or false assumptions? It's a tricky question, and that's on purpose.


In the last insight, we talked about the value chain. You learned that it's a spectrum between efficiency of creative execution and strategic business impact.

Whether the above five are true or false depends on your business model and place in the creative ecosystem — or a position in the value chain, if you will. It takes some thinking, but hey, since you're reading this, we know that you're not in a market of quick hacks.

When I advise owners of creative firms, I often start with a simple question:

"What is it that you want"?

It's actually more challenging than it seems, and there are a few patterns. Here's one of them:

"I want to run a studio that produces great work for great clients, who recognize us as experts. We use our creativity to solve their business problems, they pay us good money for our work, and return for more."

If that sounds like you, chances are you'll like the concept I'll lay out below.

This is not the path. It's a path.

It's not an ultimate recipe for running every creative business, because such a thing doesn't exist. There are many good ways of running a creative firm, and this is one of them.

If you're fine running a service firm, that thrives on serving clients as best you can through great creative execution and operational efficiency — this is not for you.

The above is not a rhetoric statement — it's not my intent to devalue this kind of business. I know many great firms operating this way. In many markets this is the way.

Without further ado, what is it?

Visionary Leadership: Transforming Client Relationships in Creative Firms

This is a concept of vision-driven creative studios. A shift from compliance to guidance, founded on visionary leadership.

It's one, where vision fuels the relationship with the clients, so that they benefit from your expert guidance and are happy to pay for it, way beyond the line items.

Loosely, it's founded on the following assumptions:

  1. Creative studios should lead clients, not just serve them.

  2. Excellent work is not enough; understanding client businesses, and industries is crucial.

  3. Building better relationships requires more than good service; it needs vision and strategic alignment.

Better clients? They don't exist

Back to the opener — If it's not "more clients", why isn't it "better clients" that we need? For a simple reason: they don't exist.

You don't go hunt them out there in the wild.

You design them.

You nurture them.

You don't hunt for better clients; you design and nurture them.

It takes two to tango. The "quality" of a client is as good as the quality of the relationship that you can build with them. And that, in turn, depends on a range of factors.

“Building better relationships requires more than good service; it needs vision and strategic alignment.”


First off, let's define relationships. I've heard this term misunderstood so often, that it needs clarification.

  1. "Relationship" is not a "connection". That's coming from the old world of agencies and their sales reps. You'd hire a rep, and by doing so you'd buy his address book. Some call it relationships. That's not what we are talking about.

  2. Relationship is not client pleasing. You don't keep spinning circles and jumping through the hoops to keep them happy hoping to keep them tied to you. It's not a cure, it's a prolongation of suffering.

  3. Relationships is not putting "personal" before being "professional". If you look at a flood of solopreneurs flooding on LinkedIn with their "social selling", they mostly run on a playbook of "know — like —trust". Build awareness, get liked (now, you know why these selfies are so important!), then maybe get hired. That's not what we are talking. There's a great episode of 2Bobs by DCB and Blair Enns, where they debunk this. Experts don't need to be liked to be hired. In fact, it's a weak positioning. In their view, a relationship (understood as going beyond business and getting more personal) is a reward for serving a client well over a longer period of time.

  4. For our undertaking, "relationship" is a purely professional bond, that has a strong foundation, and specific dynamics. We'll dive into that.

Thank you for investing your time in Futurecrafting™ Insights. It pays off.

Let's define the relationship we want a bit more:

  • The clients come to you to help them solve business problems. They don't come for "a video". Thus, you probably need more than a good creative.

  • They recognize you as an expert and trusted advisor. You have given them reasons to do so. And that brings good money.

  • They come back to you — not for no reason.

Is it day dreaming? Make no mistake, it's not.

If all you've been doing so far is producing these last-moment explainer videos for that agency or even some good CG or VFX for a TVC produced by another production house for an agency, this may sound like a distant or impossible reality. Because, most likely, it is.

To get to the promised land, most likely you'll need to go client direct, and there will be more than pretty pictures at stake. In business, where there's risk, there's profit. Too scary? Stick to polishing your craft and efficiency.

Need lasting relationships? Lead with vision, not compliance.

What is your role?

What is this relationship dynamics?

What is it, that you'll need to fuel it?

Visionary Leadership

The short answer is Visionary Leadership.

What does it mean?

You know your industry inside out. At least your courtyard. It's not following trends. It's understanding what's broken and where all these things are going. It's clearly defining your position against the backdrop. A challenge on its own, for sure.

It's not only this — next is understanding your client's business. Sufficiently, so that you know where they are, and what is the overlap of your creative world, their business, and their goals.

Lastly — because you see where things are going, not just in your industry, but also in theirs, you plot how your creative solutions can take them where they want, or better — where they didn't even think they wanted to go.

This is the vision part — building a view of the world, calling out what gives, and boldly proposing an alternative, that's appealing to both you, and your client.

"Lead with vision, grow with strategy."

Then — the leadership part.

It's taking full responsibility and ownership of the engagement. Your role is taking the lead, and being the guide.

You drive a decent Porsche, take them on a ride, the steering wheel is in your hands, and you know they'll like both the journey and the destination. You take them on a journey, but they are the hero.

You may be already seeing the benefits. And this may scare the s* out of you. But that’s the point — nothing worth doing is ever easy.

Further thinking

  • What are the root causes behind your struggle to build strong client relationships?

  • What if you prioritized visionary leadership over traditional client service models?

  • How can you practically implement visionary leadership in your firm and client engagements?

  • What do current trends in client relationships say about the future of the creative industry, and how visionary leadership tracks against it?

  • What fears might you face around shifting from compliance to a guidance-based approach?

Thank you for reading Futurecrafting™. This post is public so feel free to share it.


Now, you know.

A cornerstone piece of how I see leading and evolving creative studios in the expertise avenue. Built on the back of the industry's best thinkers filtered through two decades of experience running my firms.

Are you sold on this?

Even if this seems appealing, not all your relationships will look like that. Not all markets are a place for this. Not all clients will go for it.

It's a process.

Have I seen the promised land?

Planted a foot?


I enjoyed camping there, for sure.

It's a compass.

Need a map?

Over to you —

Thinking bigger, seeing farther, making impact. Insights into building and evolving creative businesses and B2B brands. Coming at you from "the fast thinker", Patrick Kizny. #b2b #branding #marketing #creative