Image licensed via Adobe Stock
There’s a very special buzz that comes with landing a new client. New work is exciting – whether you chalk it up to the thrill of the chase, the sheer novelty factor, or the joy of nailing a sales pitch.
For creative professionals – and freelancers especially – it’s also at the heart of our DNA. We live for the new. We want our minds to be constantly stimulated and challenged. We are driven to create.
Yet in the eternal quest for new, new, new, it’s all too easy to overlook the existing clients you’ve already worked so hard to onboard – and not give them the time, creativity and energy they deserve.
In the search for the next big win often comes the very real risk of losing sight of what’s right in front of us: existing clients with many more stories to share.
At a time when creative budgets are being tightened and scrutinised by companies big and small alike, it pays to keep your eyes focused on retaining existing clients and getting repeat work. Follow these five golden rules for success, and you’ll be on the right track.
Deliver on your promises
Good reputations are slowly built and swiftly lost. Anyone can secure an exciting new project: all it takes is a smoothly-delivered pitch and a bunch of big, creative ideas. Meeting a client’s demands, however, is something else entirely.
The starting point to building a long-term valuable client relationship and being seen as a trusted creative partner is delivering on your promises. This always begins with setting realistic goals and putting mutually-beneficial boundaries in place right from the off.
When you begin working with a new client, make it clear how you work, when you work, the timescales for delivery and where the gaps are in what you do vs what they need. Agree to terms, communication methods and response times that work for you both, and then stick to them, ensuring you’ve built a buffer for when ‘real life’ inevitably gets in the way.
Add extra value wherever you can
It’s one thing to deliver on what you promise – but it’s quite another to give that little bit extra too.
What this looks like will vary hugely depending on what you do. If you’re a content creator, perhaps there’s a new social trend that’s simply too good to ignore. If you’re a marketeer, then it could be alerting your client to an emerging CRM strategy they need to know about. If you’re an illustrator, maybe there’s a new tool available that could transform your clients’ next creative campaigns.
Whenever there’s a relevant opportunity to reach out and offer that little bit more, be sure to do it. When funds are squeezed, and your client is next looking to cut costs, these small moments of extra value could make a world of difference.
At a time when creative budgets are being tightened and scrutinised by companies big and small alike, it pays to keep your eyes focused on retaining existing clients and getting repeat work.
Consistently meet deadlines
Deadlines are a funny thing; too often dictated by the client based on their schedule, one of the biggest mistakes that creative professionals make is accepting deadlines without ever questioning them – and then rushing to meet these, even sacrificing family and health commitments in the process.
More often than not, rushing to hit deadlines is a recipe for failure. No one wins. A better approach is to agree on deadlines in partnership with your client.
If you’ve followed the first tip and outlined your ways of working upfront, this will be easy: your client knows what to expect from you and how long they’ll need to wait to hear back on a new brief. If you haven’t made this clear, then when a new piece of work comes in with a tight deadline, feel free to push back and offer an alternative date that works for you. It’s always better to request a deadline extension at the outset and deliver earlier than promised than to miss a deadline and ask for forgiveness.
Of course, sometimes life will get in the way, and you’ll miss a deadline. It happens and can’t always be helped. But when the inevitable does occur, always let your client know beforehand so they can plan around this – never leave it until the deadline’s passed.
Keep in regular conversation
In the long and winding history of business, it has never been easier to keep in touch.
Email, social media, voice memos, newsletters, phone calls, even traditional mail – we have a veritable abundance of comms channels at our fingertips these days. There’s simply no excuse not to keep in regular conversation with your clients.
The value of frequent check-ins is all too often overlooked, but it’s the lifeblood of client retention. Every client is different, and finding what works is always a fine balance to strike. But it nearly always pays off, in the long run, to regularly catch up, ask helpful questions, share best practices and advice, and be a listening ear.
The best long-standing relationships come when creatives are viewed as partners rather than suppliers.
Working collaboratively is a two-way street. It requires creative humility and a willingness to accept that you’re not always right and your client may have a better idea. Combine your collective thinking, and you can create work that fills you both with pride equally.
Collaboration is the key to retention; embed yourself into the culture and team of your client, being truly helpful to as many decision-makers as possible, and you’ll find yourself in the enviable position of being seen as an indispensable creative partner.