As an entrepreneur or a small business owner, you need to focus your resources on gaining new business. This doesn’t simply mean start a new project and attract new clients. What it does mean is building strong relationships with your existing clients so they’ll give you their repeat business. Even if they don’t return to you, hopefully, they’ll still refer business to you. With this in mind, you need to understand what it takes to build these types of relationships.
Patiently Form Relationships
A good relationship is built on trust. You need to have your clients see that they can trust in your expertise. To do so you must maintain a policy of openness when it comes to your professional opinions and viewpoints. It’s especially important to do so as you keep a project’s best interests in mind. While it’s tempting to simply appear agreeable so you don’t have to face an uncomfortable confrontation this never works out well in the end. Not only is this counterproductive but it can actually damage your reputation, which means you won’t have the long-lasting relationship you’d been hoping for. However, the opposite is also true in that when you express your honest opinions (and do so with confidence) your client will respect you more.
This is important to remember as you share knowledge with your client. Most of the time they won’t understand your area of expertise. As such, they’ll feel ignorant and disconnected with the project you’re working on. MBO Partners says that you should take this opportunity to share information that will help them understand things better. Explain what you did, why you did it, and how you reached this decision. Doing so will build trust and confidence in the process. Of course, this works better when you have a good understanding of their industry and company. You don’t have to be an expert here and you can’t expect yourself to be an expert in everything. However, you can keep up with your clients’ companies and industries so you’re sure to speak their language and cater to their needs.
All of this is going to take time – so be patient. Instead of engaging in schmoozing, invest in really getting to know your client and helping them get to know you better too. Additionally, you should always remember that the work you do for your client is paramount in building a relationship with them. At the end of the day, no amount of personal connection can substitute for great work.
Maintain Open Lines of Communication
Once you start forming a relationship with your clients you’ll want to make sure you do everything you can to maintain open lines of communication. Acknowledging to your customers that you see them as a “person” and not simply as a “paycheck” can go a long way. Just how much of a personal connection you can create here will depend on the industry that you’re in though. It will also depend on the client type and their personality.
Regardless, when your client reaches out to you it’s important for you to respond promptly. Acknowledge that you’ve received their email as soon as possible, even if you don’t have an answer for them right away. This will make them feel more comfortable, simply knowing that you’re working on their issue.
At the same time, Forbes says that you want to be more than an email address. This is because, despite email’s prevalence in business today, it’s often misconstrued, especially when dealing with a stressful situation or if you and your client don’t know each other well. Fortunately, there are other channels you can use here instead – phone calls, UberConference, and face-to-face meetings help put a face and voice with a name. Hosting a web meeting can be a good option too.
Regardless of which of these avenues you use for communication, make sure you communicate with your clients in a timely and efficient way. Of course, you don’t want to let any single client overtake your time or have a negative impact on your productivity. However, you do want to make yourself available so your client sees that their project and satisfaction are important to you. This will also encourage your client to be open and honest with you – as though you’re taking their ideas and concerns seriously.
Go Above and Beyond Your Clients’ Expectations
As you read through these things you can see that there’s a common theme: You want to always do your best to exceed your clients’ expectations. This will help you build a strong relationship with them. Of course, you don’t want to oversell yourself or promise unrealistic results. However, clients are impressed when you set reasonable expectations but then you over deliver.
What this will actually look like depends on what you feel the client thinks is most valuable to their business. This could be anything from delivering the project in an aesthetically pleasing format to hand-delivering the project and giving them an in-depth walk-through while you’re there. Other clients may simply appreciate a “thank you” after they’ve hit key business milestones or an unexpected card around the holiday season. The key is to find the opportunity to go above and beyond in a way that your clients will appreciate.
As you do this you’ll also find times when you can adjust or expand your core offerings to cater to your clients’ needs. There are two major benefits in offering customized solutions. First, your clients will always remember when you came through for them. Secondly, you may be pleasantly surprised by how this opens up more revenue streams and new product offerings that you hadn’t previously thought about. If you’re making a significant departure from your core offerings here, make sure that you’re being adequately compensated.
With all of this in mind, you can see how your business’ success depends on strong client relationships. This is especially true if you own a small business or one that’s still in its early stages. Now is the time to develop exceptional client service as one of your company’s core values. Instead of seeing yourself as a vendor, you want to see yourself as your clients’ trusted partner. Doing so will set you apart from the competition.