This morning, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of 3rd & 4th grade inner city students as part of a program called Breakfast of Champions. As guest speaker, they wanted me to discuss the “GPS of Success” and tell my story. I shared how I had the foresight to register my design business with the state while I was still in college because I wanted to legally charge my classmates for drawing caricatures at various social events. It dawned on me that I’ve been building this business for a long time.
I went on to share about my days at the fledgling startup called priceline.com and how way back in 1998 I served as Art Director on the original team that founded the company. Many of the youngsters had heard of priceline, thanks to 14 years of TV and radio spots. At the end of my talk, I opened it up to questions and one bright-eyed 3rd grader asked me, “was priceline popular way back in the olden days?” By olden days, he meant way back before he was born. For this kid, 1998 might as well have been ancient history. It made me think back to the days when I first embarked on my journey to follow my passion. It made me think of just how long I have been ‘on my grind’.
A key component to business growth is establishing and maintaining long-term client relationships. My first job was at the Connecticut Post back in 1993 and I did stints in the Direct Mail space as well before landing at the idea laboratory called Walker Digital in 1998. To this day, many of my clients that help to sustain my design company are borne from those relationships that I have been maintaining for over 20 years. People love to ask me, ‘where do you get your customers’ and the truth is, that they are simply friends that I’ve met along my journey. They are people that I’ve worked WITH as well as people that I’ve worked FOR. They are people that know me on a personal level and people that I have a connection to or have had positive experiences with. I’ve come through for them.
Sometimes I think that in our texting-SMS-IM world, we may not be doing such a good job of really stressing just how important long-term relationships are. People skills are just as important as technical skills. In our disposable society, when something doesn’t work, we throw it away. We rarely put the effort necessary to keep something going, because its much easier to just buy something new.
Have you heard the old, and rather pessimistic adage that, “The day you get a new client is the day you start to lose them?” Yes, its true that administration change, and leadership changes, and with those changes come new relationships with different vendors, but I have to believe that if your ‘contact’ moves companies, they will take them with you.
If we focus on growing your business, its clear that clients are not just a commodity, but a necessity. I’m not just talking about new clients, but you want repeat clients and even better still, clients that refer you to other clients. What’s better than a repeat client? A life-long client. But how do you maintain those long-term relationships?
Here are a few tips:
DON’T BURN BRIDGES
Only once in recent history have I had to actually “FIRE” a client. The client was too high maintenance and didn’t appreciate the value we provided and we decided to part ways with them, but only on a professional level. I ran into this client recently at a mutual client’s charity golf outing and we kept it cordial. We even ate at the same table during the post-golf festivities. Don’t be in the business of creating enemies. Even if an arrangement doesn’t work out, you should still remain cordial because you never know where that next client will come from. Which leads to…
ALWAYS TAKE THE HIGH ROAD
Never let a negative situation change who you are. If you do run into a scenario where a client is blaming you or challenging your accounting or being unreasonable in their demands, never be reactionary. Keep your cool and follow your gut. Take the high road. You’ll find that when you do, even those clients will eventually seek out your services again because a good relationship with a trusted, talented service provider is hard to find.
DELIVER ON TIME
One of the first lessons I learned in this business is that you should always underpromise and overdeliver. Give them more than what they asked for in terms of value, and by all means, deliver on time. The Advertising world is a very deadline oriented industry. Create production schedules and incorporate them into your initial scope of work agreements so that you can be transparent about your execution plan. Let your clients see that you are ‘about your business’ and that you will stick to the deliverable dates as promised. Delivering a bit early on some items may be a good investment, especially if you end up delivering late or need to ask for more time down the line.
In this day and age, there is no reason to not be accessible. If you want to nurture your client relationships and foster an environment of trust and reliability, you DON’T want to go ‘off the grid’. If you get a text or email, respond in a timely manner, and respond professionally. If you won’t be available, for example I may book a creative strategy session with a client, and will literally put my phone away for the duration of that session or staff meeting. Alert your more ‘clingy’ clients that you will not be available. As long as you give a client notice, they will appreciate it and see that you care about them and their time. The way you treat other clients in front of them shows them how you will treat them in front of other clients.
BE A PROBLEM SOLVER – BECOME AN ADVISOR
Create an environment where clients come to you for more and more of their issues. Get as much of your industry in your ‘wheelhouse’. Make it so that clients feel that not only are you the best at what you do, but that you also know others who are the best at what they do. Be transparent and stress that their best interest is your priority. Time is money and if clients know that you are someone that they can turn to and are willing to open up your network to, then are more likely to call you when they need something; over and over and over again.
What are some other client relationship strategies that have worked for you?
Long Term Relationships
Making Rain: The Secrets of Building Lifelong Client Loyalty
Clients for Life: Evolving from and Expert-for-Hire to an Extraordinary Adviser
Ramon has over 19 years of experience in award-winning, market-proven, print collateral, marketing material, iphone/ipad app and website design specializing in corporate identity and branding. Ramon’s passion for entrepreneurial design was borne out of 10 years as Creative Director for Jay Walker at Walker Digital, the Stamford based idea laboratory and business incubator holding over 300 US Patents. Ramon served as Senior Art Director on the start-up launch team behind Priceline.com, a Walker company and invention. Most recently, Ramon’s logo and identity work was selected to be published in “Typography and Enclosures” the fourth book in the Master Library series by LogoLounge.
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