06/17/2011 11:17 am ET | Updated Aug 16, 2011

Tips To Success I Have Learned From My Clients

I'm the commencement speaker this week for a graduating class at a prestigious Art Institute. I don't know who suggested me, but it was most likely a client. I can be honest about my clients; even when I'm a shit, they like me. It's part of my charm. And why? Because I tell the truth and I get the job done. I've had the same clients for most of my career; I only lose them when they die.

Now don't misunderstand me, they all aren't great, and I've actually "fired" a few, but I've learned in order to create a career doing what I love, I have to work with what I've got. It's also my responsibility to make a profit and walk away proudly, knowing I did the best job I could for all concerned.

Regardless of what field you are going into, you have to have clients. Doctors may call them patients, lawyers know them as criminals, and politicians call them voters, call them what you like, successful people never forget they're clients.

If clients knew what you knew they wouldn't need to hire you.

You need clients as a fashion designer, chef, computer programmer, or a digital artist.
Clients pay your salary, feed your kids or pets, and pay for the desk you are working on.

You want and need clients for your business and to support your life in the arts. Working in a job you love and have chosen may be the greatest gift you ever give yourself in this lifetime. You're going to have to trust me on this one. Life is tough, even when it's good.

Making deals, retaining clients and getting referrals is the life blood of any business, big or small. But I must warn you that handling clients will be much harder than your actual work. Speaking for myself, I can cook for 500 hundred people with the radio on and a couple of beers under my belt. Planning a wedding with a hysterical bride who bought a dress two sizes too small, dealing with her disapproving mother-in-law, her terrified groom and a small budget? Way harder.

Six months later we will all need family therapy, preferably in an office with a metal detector in the doorway.

Clients are a gift and a burden.

In twenty-five years, I have learned a basketful of lessons from my clients. I've learned from the good, the bad, and the heavily botoxed.

I'm hoping the lessons below sound good to my well-heeled Orange County parents
who have just paid a small fortune for their children to become something (Anything! Oh please Lord, help my kid get a job) because, let's face it, in this instance those parents are the clients.

1. Carry a Clipboard.

I spent several weeks this year working for the world's largest entertainment company. The VP of Development I collaborated with was kind and thoughtful. He had started as a page at NBC, and moved up the ladder quickly. As we drank his expensive red wine at night (somebody has to do it), he told me that as a page, in order to set himself apart, he carried a clipboard. Whenever he was asked a question, he'd refer to his clipboard to look more official. He made sure he had the right answer and delivered it with a big smile.

TIP: Set yourself apart, think about what you are saying and remember good manners never hurt nobody.

2. Wear Comfortable Shoes.

Years ago I was a guest at the James Beard Awards in New York City. A talented and very famous chef named Jean-Louis Palladin won a huge award. When asked to speak to the crowd about what his key to success was, he answered, "Wear comfortable shuuzes...yu sez, yu cannot really work weull if your shuuzes dun't feeit."

TIP: Always keep your dream in front of you. Plan where (wear) you want to end up. Be comfortable and enjoy the road, even with the potholes.

3. Be Prepared for the Worst and Don't Forget to Laugh Out Loud.

Several years ago, I worked with the most difficult client in my career. To call her stinky, a liar, and mean as cat shit is being polite. After several meetings, I couldn't stop myself and I just blurted out my concerns, mostly that she had no talent with food and why had she ever decided to do this? She looked up from her newly shaped behind, perfectly veneered teeth, and severely swollen lips and managed to say to me, "Denise, you crack me up, you are so naïve, what does talent have to do with success?"

TIP: The truth is you may have to work with a lot of people that have no talent and often make more money than you. Try to outlive them.

Denise Vivaldo is an award winning author and food stylist. She is teaching a cookbook symposium with three other authors at Surfas June 25-26, 2011.