Client retention and referrals are the best ways to build a good client list. Earlier in the year, one of my clients referred to me a colleague who is in a closely related business. I was so happy! While working with clients new and long-term, my mission is to do an excellent job and exceed expectations, so that I will create the conditions for a long relationship and the receipt of referrals.
The two clients are friends, yet very different in working style. The first is laid back and easy to deal with. The new client, to be honest, has not yet developed trust in my abilities. There is a tendency to be more hands-on than I would expect and to assume that things may not have been done correctly on my part. I’m not sure of the source of the client’s anxiety, but I’ve decided to view the matter as a learning opportunity that will keep me in top form. I will be pushed to do my best work and have the opportunity to go into trust and credibility building mode.
I started on the client retention path by first learning who had referred me and then sending a thank you email. Prior to that, the client had received December holiday cards, as it is my custom is to send holiday cards to all clients I’ve worked with in the previous five years.
Regarding the new client, my objective is to help that individual relax and know that I’m in control and will make him/her look smart and capable in the eyes of superiors and peers. I’ve written previously about how to establish a good relationship with difficult and demanding clients. https://freelancetheconsultantsdiary.wordpress.com/2015/12/08/how-to-manage-a-difficult-client/
Other tips include:
If you know that you’ll be asked to address a certain problem that the client must resolve, or you must make make recommendations about how the client might capitalize on an expected opportunity, do your homework and come to the meeting brimming with practical ideas and insightful questions.
Listen to the client
Listen and learn how the client views matters from his/her perspective, whether it’s how to implement the solution for the project you’re working on, how to resolve a customer service glitch, or any other matter that is presented. Show that you value the client’s opinions.
Respect the client’s ideas and suggestions
You may not have all the answers. The client’s lived experience matters. Be open to incorporating the client’s ideas into your proposed solution. Always agree with the client and validate his/her choices. Subtly adapt his/her suggested strategy into something that you know will be more effective, when necessary. If the client mentions that another consultant has handled a similar project in a different way, listen up and learn. You may receive valuable information on how to improve your business practices.
Misunderstandings cause relationships to fray and misunderstandings occur when communication is unclear and insufficient. Meetings may be infrequent, but emails are a way to report on (in writing!) your many successes toward achieving the objectives and goals of the project. I keep my clients apprised of what I’m doing. This custom also helps when it’s time to send an invoice and billable hours must be justified. What I don’t want is a client who questions why I’m claiming so many hours. Moreover, if the client feels that some aspect of the project scope should be expanded or diminsihed, adjustments can be made in a timely fashion.
Get it in writing
Take meeting notes and within 48 hours post-meeting, send an email to confirm what has been discussed and agreed-upon. Include project specs, the fee structure, the payment schedule, project milestones, the deliverables and the due dates.
Client retention is the foundation of every business. It takes less time and effort to retain a client than to pursue and acquire a new one. Furthermore, long-term clients are much more likely to bestow on you that ultimate affirmation, a referral.
Thanks for reading,