As designers and developers our clients are our business, so a key part of being successful is cultivating a healthy relationship with them. We are usually so caught up with the “project-in-project-out” mentality, we forget that one of our greatest assets as freelancers is a reoccurring client. In this 3rd article of Client Tactics series, we will discuss the reasons for managing existing clients. We will also see how to manage them effectively.
Reasons for maintaining clients.
Statistically it is seven times easier to maintain an existing client than is to go out and get a new client. On a common sense level, it just makes a good business strategy to try to maintain as many existing clients as you can. This will allow you to plan ahead and budget more for the future. The following are a few more reasons for maintaining existing clients.
1. Rapport is Already Established.
The hard work of getting to know your client has been done. You know their corporate strategies, their ways of thinking, and ways of doing business. Heck, you even know how many olives they enjoy in their martinis. Having worked together before, everyone involved is more comfortable during the new project. Already having rapport with the client means that they trust your judgment and input, they know that their project is in capable hands. With the proverbial ice being broken, you can skip the first step of client-freelancer-posturing and get down to the matter at hand: making a great project.
2. Lower Cost of Retention vs Marketing.
It costs less to keep an existing client content, over marketing your services to a new client. This is true in almost every other business model known to man, and it especially holds true for freelancing. If an existing client has a concern with their e-commerce site that be solved with a quick email, what did that email cost you? Five minutes away from watching ‘Lost’? Your five-minute email just saved your client five hours of headache and worry. That five-minute email is worth its file size in gold to the client. It keeps your existing client content and didn’t cost you anything. The next time you pay for advertising, think of how many new clients you attract for $100 and how many existing clients you keep content for free. The little things you do for existing clientage can really add up.
3. It Keeps Your Name in Their Mouths.
By keeping in touch with existing clients, it keeps your name in their mouths, of course I am talking referrals! A happy customer is the best marketing that anyone can have. Michael LaBoeuf said it best, “A satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all.”. Think back to our five-minute email scenario, the existing customer knows you saved him time and worry. He will tell anyone who is willing to listen about his awesome customer service experience with his web designer. That kind of candid testimonial reaches farther than any advertising dollar you have to spend.
Keep the Lines of Communication Open.
In this day and age, there are almost limitless ways to keep in touch with your existing clients. From old school mailers and newsletters to a quick twitter direct message, reaching out to a client should be quick, thought out, and never perceived as a tedious task.
Since moving into the 21st century, the amount of snail mail a business receives is on the decline. One way to set yourself apart from the pack is to design a mailer. It could be an actual newsletter or perhaps even a postcard with a promo code. Another good idea would be sending a holiday card or birthday card to your client.
Since everyone (including my grandmother) has an email address now, an email campaign to contact is easier and more effective than ever. Most e-mail newsletter software is affordable, if not free, and will allow for mass communication to clients.
While this part of the game may make you feel like a telemarketer, calling your existing clients during their major milestones will lessen the “I’ve got something to sell you” speech and seem more genuine. Even if you get the voice mail of your client, leave a quick message congratulating them on their recent success.
Commenting on Blogs
If some of your clients have blogs, subscribe to their RSS feeds and categorize them under ‘Clients’. Check it every few weeks, read an article or two, then leave simple constructive feedback in a comment. Try to refrain from the typical “Nice Post!”, “Interesting read.” or “First!”. Remember everyone needs a little comment love every now and again.
Right after my grandmother got an email account, she signed up for Facebook. I wish I was joking. Social networks are the hot, “in” thing now, some people even communicate through social networking channels more than standard email. Social networking is changing the way people communicate online. So it only stands to reason that one should contact your clients via their social network of choice. While social networks are often less formal than email or other means of contact, one should still exhibit a professional customer driven persona.
While all the means of contact above work. The most direct way of contact is physical face-to-face contact. This could be a planned “I was in the neighborhood” visit or could even be a chance encounter while shopping with your family. Now with some clients this is impossible; say the ones in different time zones but, if they are local to your area this method of contact is a valuable tool.
Client Stalking is Bad.
During your initial project with a client, ask if it’s alright to contact them in the future after the scope of the project has been completed. I have never had a client tell me no. Most clients will like the upfront nature of this comment, it shows you value their time and respect their privacy by only contacting them if they wish. If the client does give you permission to contact them, that doesn’t mean contact them every time they issue a press release or stop by their shop every Thursday. Limit your interaction to big events, such as:
- A new store location.
- Your contact at the client’s office getting a promotion.
- If local and announced to the public, the client recently had a new child.
- Major holidays (keep the card generic, “Happy Holidays” not “Merry Christmas”).
- Contact or client’s birthday.
Maintaining existing clients is a reward experience for any freelancer. The key to keeping any client happy albeit, a full service web design client or a ‘mom-and-pop’ start-up needing help with social networking for the first time, is customer service. So keep your customer service kung fu strong until next when talk about essential contract basics for freelancers.
Jeff Boshers is a freelance web designer from Tennessee. He enjoys discussing classic design principles, css, printing techniques, and client management among other things. You can find him on twitter @boundbystars and see his work. He is currently doing a 52 week project called 52 luchadors.