The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!
As a business owner, maintaining existing client relationships is a major part of your job. It’s far more efficient, convenient and profitable to keep current customers than it is to go out and acquire new ones. For this reason, you should always have a focus on how you can ensure your clients are happy and also keep an eye peeled for signs that they may be looking to decrease or terminate your work relationship in the near future.
Before this topic begins to make us all paranoid, there’s some good news! Even when a client starts showing signs that they may be a flight risk, there are certain tactics you can use to help prevent your relationship from heading in this direction. In fact, by personally using these five tactics I will soon discuss, I have been able to extend many client relationships far beyond what might have been expected should I have let them “have their way.” Let’s take a look at how these strategies may also work for you.
Establish the “minimum length of relationship” from the beginning
A long and fruitful client relationship begins with the very first contract. No matter your industry, you can likely relate to the fact that in order to start seeing results, it takes time. So often new clients will get frustrated and impatient with waiting for these results and take off before the real benefits begin to show.
When you first sign a client, be sure to set a minimum length of relationship to start. I often negotiate three months, or one quarter with all new clients. In reality, this should seem like a reasonable investment. Any client who can’t commit this long, likely isn’t going to stick around anyways. Now it’s on you to do the hard work to make sure you prove the value of your services before you’re up for renewal!
Set reoccurring phone or in-person meetings to stay a part of the team
Don’t fall victim to being “out of sight and out of mind.” As a contractor or freelancer, it’s easy to get left out of important business discussions because you are not in the office every day. I’ve found a lot of success avoiding this pitfall by scheduling reoccurring monthly phone calls or in-person meetings with clients simply to touch base and stay in-the-know. The more accessible you are, the more likely you will be included as part of the team.
Your work shouldn’t be its own silo; weave it into multiple parts of the business
Depending upon the services you offer, your work may be kept in a silo, separate from other business duties. Yes, it’s a good thing for each employee or contactor to have their respective role, but being completely separate makes you an easy limb to chop off should budgets get tight. Instead, weave your work and expertise into multiple areas of the business.
Foremost I offer communications services, but these also branch into project management, administrative and human resource roles when needed. For some clients, I’ve even played the role of Executive Assistant when the situation called for it. In these scenarios, I watched other employees come and go, while my relationship grew to take on more responsibilities. Be sure and showcase everything you can do!
Be a resource to many employees, not just the boss
Back to making yourself a part of the team and weaving your services into multiple parts of the business, you should also aim to work with many different employees beyond your main point of contact. When the business owner realizes the value you bring to more than just him/her, you will be more likely to enjoy a long and prosperous work relationship with that business.
Structure freelance or on-demand work as a monthly contract
Finally, there may still come the day when a great client will say they need to “cool down” your contact or walk away completely. I’ve learned that this is always worth one last negotiation. Should the client say “We can’t pay for your services this month, but maybe we’ll start up again in a month or two.” Remind them of your policy that once they exit a contract, they must re-enter a new contract in the future and you cannot hold their current pricing for them. The risk of paying more for you in the future, is often reason to keep you on board in some capacity.
Or if the client should say “Let’s go to on-demand services. I’ll just pay as I need you.” This is detrimental because it’s a loss of monthly income, but also because you may take on more work to compensate and then be unable to meet this client’s needs when they need you. Offer them a minimal monthly retainer that pays for a few hours of work each month with the option to add on, if needed. This guarantees you a little income and also guarantees the client you will be available to them when they need you the most.
Do you struggle with clients cutting you out or canceling contracts? Leave your specific questions in the comments below and I’ll weigh in with my advice!