How to keep clients for the long term

Creative Industries | How To

Gayle Carpenter

Written by Gayle Carpenter – Creative Director at Sparkloop. Two of Gayle’s founding clients were Red Bull and The Prince’s Trust who she has managed to retain for 15 years.

‘Swipe left’, ‘swipe right,’ ‘24 hours to message’….in this fast-moving world of dating apps, the process of finding your life partner has become increasingly transitory and ‘throw away’ and apps such as Tinder and Bumble are testimony to this. The ethos of building a relationship and working through the good times and bad seem too much like hard work.

I compare the way people build personal relationships to the way they build and develop their businesses.

When starting out with a new client, we have ideals and goals but fundamentally, we need to survive the first day, the first week, and develop from there. We don’t necessarily assume that when we start working with them, we’ll still be with them fifteen years later.

If we were to discuss marriage on a first date, it would almost certainly impel the potential partner to sprint out of the restaurant, never to be seen again. Building a relationship needs to be a step by step process and therefore, working with clients and dating are essentially the same thing, and the steps to successful client retention follow a very similar pattern to securing your long-term, compatible life partner.

Unfortunately, there is no miracle Venn diagram, process chart or hard and fast strategy but to have the best chance of retaining clients, think about these three simple points:

1. Don’t say yes to everything
2. Ride the highs and lows
3. Stay relevant and be agile

Don’t say yes to everything
The vast choice on Tinder might encourage you to meet one date after another, but when you do meet and click with someone, it’s worth pursuing. If you don’t have a fundamental connection from the start, you have to admit it’s not there and move on.

In business there needs to be more than just a transaction. You need to have a spark and a meeting of minds from the outset if the relationship is to have any longevity. There will be that initial gut feeling, and then a balancing act between your head and your heart to decide if there could be a future.

You need to invest time at the beginning of a new client relationship; over-service them, take the time to get to know them and their business and assess if you are compatible. As you grow with one another, the relationship changes; you support each other. The client comes to you because they don’t always know what they want, and vice versa, so it becomes more of a collaboration.

It is always better to under-promise, over-deliver and be 100% honest with them. Once you have built up a tight level of trust and respect, there is more room for manoeuvre. If they are asking you to do a specific piece of work which you haven’t done before, tell them. Find solutions but don’t pretend you can do something that you can’t. They will value you for being up front far more than you producing something sub-standard which will ultimately devalue both your brands.

Ride the highs and lows
Over the years, there will be a lot of them, but when you’re on a high, make sure you celebrate that success with your client and your staff and enjoy it. Moving forward, make sure you are getting regular feedback from your client and keep assessing to ensure everything is on point so as to continue in a positive, relevant and productive way.

As with any relationship, there will be plenty of lows and for this reason, it is easy to take it personally because you are so much more invested in the client. Keep the channels open, talk it through, admit it when you’re wrong and make it up with them.

It is important in business to be humble. Clients will see the merit in what you do rather than listening to you blasting on about how great you are. Existing clients know your strengths, so you don’t need to rock up in a Ferrari to impress them. Many businesses feel they almost have to take part in some sort of beauty contest in the quest to attract new business, but more often than not, the clients you attract won’t last. In effect, you will have turned your business into a Tinder app.

Stay relevant and be agile
All businesses need to move forward and grow and as a result there is a need for you to be stringent with your processes. This helps administratively, but for a creative business, you also need to have your finger on the pulse and be agile whilst remaining relevant.

You have to work hard to ensure you keep understanding what the client wants and keep up with every step they take so as to always be on the same page. This takes both time, effort and often almost daily contact with them.

You can almost be a few steps ahead. Be proactive and see where you can collaborate to push things forward with them. If you have already retained the client for a period of time, you will have built up a core and intrinsic understanding of their business which allows you to potentially take some risks in directions you might want to explore or make suggestions to them. With mutual trust, they are far more likely to listen and welcome your suggestions. They feel safe that you understand the business in depth and that you have their best interests at heart.

But don’t forget the kids! As in any relationship and/or family, everyone needs to feel valued; not only your client but your team. If you have created a strong ‘family’ with your staff and given them responsibility and autonomy with the clients, this will encourage them to build their own, important relationships with them. The end results? The team is happy, the client is happy, your staff stick by you, but most importantly, your client does too.

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