Ah, the client hunt. It’s one of the biggest elements of the creative professional’s business. While I’m always advocating that you should constantly market yourself to avoid a client dry spell in the future, it’s good business sense to spend some time maximizing the clients you already have. The best way to do that is by forming rock-solid relationships with your clients, which keeps them coming back for more, and (ideally) sending more people your way as well.
Here’s the thing: your clients are more than just a paycheck. They’re real people, with real senses of humor, real emotions, real expectations, and real pressures of their own. Keep this in mind for every interaction, and you’ll come at the relationship ready to build something that will last.
So with that in mind, here’s what you can do to develop great, long-lasting relationships with your clients that pay off (for both of you) over and over:
Trust is essential in business relationships, as it is in any relationship. It can be really tough to find service professionals who are trustworthy, so if you’re someone your clients feel they can trust, they will stick with you as long as possible.
Being trustworthy means that you keep everything above board. You don’t go spilling secrets or proprietary information that should be kept confidential, even if you haven’t signed a confidentiality agreement. You give honest answers when they are due – and that may mean offering information before the questions are even asked. You take a position of service to them, while maintaining good professional boundaries.
Being responsive is a big part of being trustworthy, by the way. Don’t be a black hole to your clients. Answer promptly, and be as clear as you can when you do. Don’t ever let a client wonder if you’re hiding something, or if you’ve vanished.
Ultimately, you are who you present yourself to be: A hard-working professional who has their best interest in mind.
Do what you say you’re going to do, every time. Deliver professionally and on time. Check in regularly so they know they can count on you. An easy way to keep yourself on track and impress clients with your consistency is to set up a system that reminds you to get in touch and follow up. It may be a calendar reminder, pre-scheduled emails, a tickler file, or whatever else works for you.
The more reliable you are, the more favorably your clients will view you, and the more likely they’ll be to lean on you for a long time.
Remember, your clients are human…and so are you. Things won’t always go to plan, and you and/or they may drop the ball, misfire, or totally melt down at some point. Extend your clients grace when it warrants, but also let them have the opportunity to make it up to you. And when you’re the one who goofs, own it quickly and then do whatever it takes to make it right.
When you have your client’s best interest at heart, you’ll have a much better sense of what’s fair. But if you’re only looking out for yourself, it’s a little too easy to take advantage of them, and they’ll know it, too.
This might go without saying, but it pays to be nice. It’s hard to build a solid relationship with someone who isn’t fundamentally nice to you. Be professional, of course, especially if that’s what your branding is — but do it warmly. Professional isn’t synonymous with robotic. Remember: we’re all people, here. You aren’t above them, they aren’t above you, and it never hurts to wish someone a nice weekend or a happy holiday.
We all want to work with people we like. The more you’re warm and likeable, the better off you’ll be in the long run.
This one is huge! Being clear means you’re setting expectations, answering questions directly, and offering measurable progress. This starts at the very beginning of your client relationship, and it should carry through to the very end. Your job as the designer is to establish the client’s objectives for the project, determine the decision-making process so there’s no merry-go-rounding, and set up timelines, milestones, and delivery dates. You need to stipulate the terms of the project clearly from the outset and give the client an understanding of your role and their role.
Doing so not only makes your working relationship easier (because everything is laid out and there are no surprises), but you will also look (and become!) more organized and impressive. Plus, you’ll be well equipped to deliver what they want, when they expect it… making you a keeper for the long haul.
This is one of the biggest things you can do for your clients. When they’re struggling, help them! Assist them when they lack clarity about their project. Share your expertise beyond web design when you know something that would benefit them. Send clients and customers their way. If you know they need help with something you don’t offer, introduce them to someone you know would make a great match.
In short, make your client’s jobs easier when it’s simple for you to do so. You’ll look like a star, and you may even be rewarded by them reciprocating with you.