Why I Don’t Like Using the Term “Client”

Why I Don't Like Using the Term "Client"

I don’t like using the term “client.” I use it all the time. Seriously, take a look around my website. It’s everywhere. But I don’t like it.

As someone who works in a service-based creative industry–web design and development, specifically–client seems like a default term. It’s the most universally understood word for the people who employ my services and, therefore, it’s often the easiest word to use. But that doesn’t make it the most accurate word.

I don’t like using the term client because it gives the wrong impression of the relationship I have with the people who hire me.

The Term Client is Impersonal

“Client” is a stuffy word. It’s business-y. It reminds me of women in pant suits and men with leather briefcases sitting behind mahogany desks that are littered with manila folders. That’s just not me. In my opinion, even business relationships should be fun and laid-back…or at least amicable.

I think that a lot of us use the term “client’ because it’s business-speak, and because we think business-speak makes us sounds professional. In some ways this is true. Being able to talk the talk of your particular business establishes expertise, but throwing in business jargon just for the sake can be annoying and pretentious.

I find that the people who hire me do so because they like working with small businesses over enormous agencies. Using big business terms only distracts from my personal charm.

The Term Client is Alienating

Using the term “client” instantly puts you at odds with the person who’s hired you. You’re not on one team working together, but on separate teams working in opposition. The “client’ is someone who creatives complain about. A “client” makes your job more difficult, every request eliciting audible sighs and obvious eye rolls.

Making the client the enemy fosters a negative environment that inhibits creativity. The client isn’t an enemy. The client is a partner. We should be striving for a culture of respect and understanding. We should be open to opinions and feedback. We should be working together, on the same team, toward a common goal.

The Term Client is Confusing

When we use the term “client,” it often gets interpreted as “customer.” Customers are people who pay for goods and services. Customers take part in transactions.

The problem with this interpretation is that it implies a simple one-way workflow. I’ve been hired by people who thought the website-building process would go something like this: client gives web designer money to build website, client sits back while web designer works, in 6 to 8 weeks client receives beautiful finished website from web designer. In these instances I’ve had to bite my tongue to keep from blurting out, “WRONG!”

Building websites, like any creative work, is not a one-man job. It’s a process and a collaboration. When I take on a web design project, I rely heavily on client involvement. We Skype, we grab coffee, and we email incessantly. I assign homework (with due dates) that requires them to be involved in the creative process. I ask for feedback at every single stage—from planning to design to development.

The back-and-forth allows me to get to know the business and the faces behind it, which enables me to create a website that does more than just look pretty. It enables me to create a website that solves a business’s problems and accurately reflects its brand.

I work this way because I like it, but also because I believe that collaboration is the best way to create a quality product. The people who hire me need to know this ahead of time, and the use of terms like “client” causes confusion around these expectations.

Is There an Alternative?

Thinking about all of these things, the term “client” just seems inappropriate to describe the people who hire me. “Client’ is cold and confusing and confrontational. But as much as I dislike it, I continue to use it. It’s so ingrained that I sometimes find myself using it unintentionally. The problem is that I haven’t yet found a fitting alternative.

Anyone else dislike the term “client”? What do you use instead?

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  1. February 8, 2016 at 9:29 am

    I’m still trying to figure out how to replace the word “client” in my own business. But, some terms I like, and have been throwing around (trying on for size) are: “my tribe”, “my people” (or, peeps), my “readers” (since my business is to write), etc.

  2. February 8, 2016 at 11:00 pm

    Awesome suggestions! I love “my people.” I’ve been tossing that one around lately too, and it fits great 90% of the time. I still find that sometimes “client” is the word that works best, but hey, I’m getting there. 🙂