I’ve got unfortunate news for you: your skills aren’t enough to create a memorable business.
There are too many struggling freelance designers with tons of talent for that to be the case.
Regardless of how great your design skills are, they’re not going to be what makes you stand out in a huge pool of other equally talented designers.
No, that’s not what will make you stand out.
Instead, it’s all the other things you bring to the table. It’s the client experience, the process of actually working with you. That might be your personality on Skype calls and in emails, your astonishing client support, parts of your client process, and more. The best client experiences will be enhanced by several items on the list.
This is what trips up so many freelancers on the brink of a business breakthrough.
We often overestimate how much our skills make the difference between where we are now and where we want to go. To get to the next level in your freelance design business, you need to focus as much on your process and client experience as you do on the actual work you perform.
An amazing client experience is the real key to killer testimonials that convert leads, consistent networking referrals, clients that come back again and again, and premium clients that give you stability in your business.
Here are seven things you can add to yours to put smiles on your clients’ faces.
1. Create a client information/communication hub
Communicating with your clients through email, Slack, and project management apps is fine, and certainly makes it easy enough to keep them in the loop on your projects together and get everything done.
But that’s why taking things up a level is seen as such a “bonus.” Since there’s nothing wrong with the current process, a dedicated website or client area is seen as a luxury instead of a necessary upgrade.
Creating some kind of “hub” to communicate with clients through is such a premium experience.
This would be something like a private page or membership area for clients to find information that they would usually save in an email or something less convenient. Just remind them in emails you do send that everything can be found there.
In the client hub, you can keep information such as:
- Your welcome packet and any intake forms
- A project calendar
- Links to any draft or final deliverables
- A commenting system for you to communicate back-and-forth
It’s easy enough to DIY a client hub using a WordPress membership-type plugin or in a Slack channel, but some CRM tools like Dubsado let you easily manage restricted-access areas for clients.
2. Provide ongoing access to yourself
Another “extra” you can provide is ongoing access, advice, or support after your main project with a given client is over.
Think about low-touch options like:
- 14 days of ongoing email support
- A bonus 30-minute follow-up call
- A 6-month check-in website review
- Or something else that can easily be scheduled and carried out around your new client projects
If you’d like to provide this more long-term to every client, you could create a bonus that doesn’t add any extra one-one-one work to your plate the way email or calls would. For example, you can create a Facebook group for customers only where you share advice and facilitate conversations. Or you can hold a monthly webinar for past customers only. (We’ll go more into customer-only content later!)
Some of these things are offered as part of design packages, already, which is great.
If you already have them, adding more can help them convert better. You can also choose to add some perks like this to “save” until you’re done working together. For example, you could lay out all the info for this bonus in your goodbye package, since that’s when it’s most relevant to mention.
3. Connect your clients with other people
A third way to be insanely helpful to your clients is to connect them with other people that can help their business. This goes beyond the services you provide to helping them in other areas, too.
Maybe this means hyping them up on social media.
If you can, talk about and show off your work together and how you loved working with them as a client. If you can’t talk about the actual project or display the work, you can still mention them in other ways. For example, just sharing or retweeting their own social media content is a small boost.
Or you can introduce them to other people in your network.
For example, once you’ve finished a new business’s website, they might need a social media manager, ads specialist, or email copywriter to help attract people to it. Having a list of other service providers you can refer clients to can save them a lot of time finding help in other areas of their business.
Finally, you can send referrals or new customers their way. When it makes sense, giving them new business is the ultimate way to pay it forward.
4. Throw in a small bonus
One more idea for surprising and delighting your audience is to add a bonus, secret deliverable to your overall package. Something that’s not an official “piece of work,” but shows your client you went above and beyond.
This should be something small and quick to complete for yourself, and relevant to the overall project for the client.
For example, with clients for whom I both write content and come up with the editorial calendar, I always like to extend the calendar a bit. If someone asks for a 4-week calendar, I’ll throw in a bonus 2 weeks, or if someone pays for a quarterly calendar, I’ll add a bonus month.
Depending on what you like working on, this small bonus could be a few different things for design clients:
- A page design turned into a plug-in template for future re-use
- Bonus social media graphics matching the site design
- A designed email newsletter template based on the site design
- Optimizing elements of the website beyond what’s in your packaging
And once again, this does not need to be anything extravagant. It doesn’t take much to make a client smile, which is what you’re going for with this approach.
5. Create exclusive client resources
If you enjoy creating content or teaching in your business, you can publish content just for customers.
This content can be articles/text, videos, tutorials, checklists, and more. Any type of content can work, as long as it’s relevant and supplemental to the core offering you’re providing the client.
Your main goal with this idea is to help elevate the client using convenient, easy-to-access content. It doesn’t even need to be exclusive. You can reuse content from other places, like your YouTube channel or blog, if you have one. Just creating a convenient go-to location for clients who need help beyond your services is what matters.
For WordPress design clients, this content can be resources about things like:
- Guides to maintaining the website over time
- Tutorials on using different parts of WordPress itself
- Advice for driving traffic to the client’s site
To hone in on what your own client might need, ask yourself questions like, “what is the main thing my client will struggle with next?” or “what do they need to know to get the most out of my services?”
6. Promote special offers and discounts
Now, before you object to this, I’m not suggesting you discount your own services here.
Instead, you can offer discounts or special offers on other things as a perk of doing business with you.
If you sign up for a reseller or affiliate program for any related product or service as a way to diversify your business’s income, you can often get a special promo code from the main company to offer to clients. This might be a discount, like 20% off your first year, or something like an extended free trial, which is popular with software tools.
Giving your clients a way to save money on other products and services related to your work is a perfect perk, plus there’s potential for you to earn extra income from it. That win/win result makes it something you’ll definitely want to look at.
If you don’t have any affiliate partnerships like that to leverage, you could also use your own products and services, if you have more than one offering.
That can be a great way to bring in repeat clients. If you offer several service packages or a mix of products and services, you can offer a discount to any existing clients on other work they want to do with you.
7. Offer referral incentives
Finally, one bonus you can offer to improve your client experience is to tangibly encourage clients to send you referrals.
Service-based businesses have long been taught to focus on referrals and word of mouth, for good reason. But an all too common struggle is getting people to actually make a connection. It’s not that clients don’t want to share your business with people they know, they just won’t think of it on their own, and asking them once probably isn’t enough.
Most freelancers tend to be shy about asking for referrals. But if you encourage or incentivize it in any way, such as by providing a small treat or cash bonus to clients who send new business your way, a lot more will remember to do so.
The key is making it as easy as possible for clients to refer you new business. Actually asking is the first step. Some other things you might want to consider for a referral incentive program include:
- Suggested text or a template for people to use when referring you to someone else, so you know they nail your elevator pitch and accurately describe you to other prospects
- A special URL or coupon code as a way to easily track which new business has come from the client
- Clear expectations of what’s being asked of them in the program, and what they get in return
Surprise and delight
The key to clients who rave, refer, and return back for more isn’t pro design skills. As good as yours might be, it’s what someone just expects from a designer.
What extras do you already offer to your clients? What makes you special? Share what you do in the comments!
Looking for more ways to delight your clients?