Are you a servant or a service provider?

Oliver @ NO LABEL Studios
6 min readFeb 14, 2020


A topic was raised recently by a friend, who I won’t name here, in one of the Slack groups I belong to. A once ideal client had sadly turned into the opposite, causing great frustration and a feeling of being let down. A feeling that a great number of us can relate to I’m sure.

It’s one of those typical vent and get it off your chest posts, which we all have to do from time to time. This is a healthy practise that can allow you to move on with your day.

After reading the post and sharing my views it got me to thinking about how we can all fall foul of clients, either avoiding red flags and hoping for the best or sometimes we just get surprised by sudden changes in behaviour, after years of dedication to them. I’ve certainly been on the receiving end of both scenarios — How about you?

This guy is certainly not a service provider.

Take stock of your clients

In order to identify whether you’re a servant or a service provider we should take stock of our clients from time to time. What I mean by that is;

  • Do they treat you with respect and an expert in your field?
  • Do they haggle your fees down to save as much money as they can?
  • Do they delay writing text or providing images, assuming we’re meant to do it for them?
  • Are they looking after our best interests by referring us, thereby treating us as an expert worth sharing with their network?
  • Have they paid us on time
  • Are they expecting freebies a lot?

The questions could go on. Those are just a few to consider asking yourself.

What we’re doing here is scoring our clients on a number of levels, resulting in an overall rating. This rating can indicate whether we’re more of a servant than a service provider for individual clients, and may help us foresee similar negative client behaviours that can help us avoid becoming a servant in the future.

How do your clients score? Are they treating you like a servant or a service provider?How does this make you feel?

How can we transform our clients image of us from servant to service provider?

A lot of this depends on your clients, your industry/niche, your relationship with those clients and a number of other unique factors. Sorry. It’s not a black or white thing I’m afraid.

The things we can do now, regardless of the above unique factors, is update/set new expectations, raise our prices, set deadlines and clarify responsibilities. Essentially hash it out with them in a constructive and positive manner, with emphasis on repairing and improving the relationship.

The theme here is education. We need to educate our clients and help them understand what they can do to work with us to improve the relationship for both parties. Avoiding these somewhat difficult conversations is just going to lead to more struggle and eventual destruction of the relationship.

The client might not even know they’re treating you like a servant. So we’re actually responsible for making them aware and that requires some brave conversations with them. Open and honest communication can help repair a broken relationship. Try it and let me know how you get on.

Nurturing existing clients can help us avoid relationship hell

We do a lot of nurturing throughout the sales process. This activity is undertaken to close a deal and generate revenue for our agency. However, a lot of agencies let this slip to the wayside when money is paid and debts are cleared. The rush of a completed project can make us relax too much and drop the ball.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can continue to nurture and educate our clients, ensuring that they remain a positive influence for as long as possible. It’s certainly partly our fault for letting issues arise, just as much as the clients. By not nurturing throughout the lifecycle clients can go from good to “bad”.

Stop letting expectations slip and pay attention to the warning signs. If you don’t you’ll go from service provider to servant. It’s not only good for your wallet but for your mental health too.

Regular nurturing can lead to sustainable client relationships, building strong bonds and a referral network that influence our sales pipeline for the better.

A real-life experience of mine

I once had a client who I really liked working with. We got on, they had a great attitude to getting stuff done and listened to my input. I felt like a service provider, like an expert. We were a great match.

What eventually happened was the relationship crumbled and we’ve not spoken for a long time, nor do I believe we ever will again.

I ended up resenting the client. It got to the point where it would ruin my whole week if one of her emails landed in my inbox. One of the reasons was I knew it would be another one of her “can you just…” emails, and the other being I couldn’t not open it the moment it arrived — mainly because I knew it was another one of her freebies.

I think this all started from day one. Her budget was £800, the biggest budget I ever had at my disposal, back in the day. She immediately held a power over me, although I’m certain she didn’t actually know that.

Apart from the monetary blindsiding I was looking forward to working on the website. It was the sort of project that brought something new and challenged me, and that was exciting. I liked being able to play the service provider role on a project like this.

My proposal was accepted and work began. Yes, I thought.

Now, the project was fairly normal with some of the usual challenges, but nothing exceptional or negative. I delivered a few revisions and made some developmental changes before launch, a few more than I would have liked looking back now, but that was ok.

At least I thought it was ok.

You see this client had been seriously burnt by a developer who had disappeared from a position in his agency. The sole person who knew how this custom built bag of crap worked was not coming to her aid. She had broken features and paying clients refunding every week. The pressure was on to deliver the website within as few weeks as possible, and at that time I was hand coding, so changes weren’t exactly swift. It took time to make new layouts and optimise my code. For those of you who have ever hand-coded, you know.

This whole burnt past made the client very jumpy if there was even a hint of delay, inability to deliver or changes to fees based on scope creep. So without really knowing it I was bending over backwards to get her to trust me, and heal her opinion of us developers. We’re not ALL bad I thought and I overdelivered to make sure they knew it.

It took me about 2 years to realise that this client was setting the rules, dictating pricing and made me feel like I had to prove myself all the time.

I was 100% a servant…

Cut a long story short (bit late for that huh?) I ended up sending an email cutting ties with them, which led to much confusion on their part. Their reaction soon turned to somewhat sour, and unpleasant emails would come back. however, eventually a mutually beneficial end came to the relationship, which was like lifting a car of my chest and mind.

The point of that story is not to bum you out. It’s certainly not to make you side with me and call this client nasty things whilst reading the story. I share it purely to give you insight and to remember that setting expectations, nurturing client relationships, reminding and touching base with people can lead to a healthy client base, better mental health for you and a positive career in web development.

Take care everyone, go nurture some healthy relationships and maintain your service provider status 👊



Oliver @ NO LABEL Studios

I build WordPress websites for agency owners, freeing up their time. I work exclusively on WordPress, designing and building websites with Elementor.