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How to Win Over a Client in the First Meeting

Concept shot of exchange business card between man and womanThe initial consultation with a client can be awkward and uncomfortable, especially if you feel like the two of you aren’t quite clicking. It’s essentially an interview – for both of you. Each person needs to decide whether they want to work with the other. And much like a first date, it can be hard to read the cues to know if the other person is “into you.”

There is no surefire way to make a client want to hire you, but there are a few best practices that can greatly increase your chances. This first meeting is the time to present yourself as professional and likeable. Here are some tips for making a good first impression at your initial client consultation.

Make them feel comfortable

First, establish your expectations for the meeting. I like to begin my first client meetings by letting them know this is a casual conversation simply for us to each learn about each other. I purposely don’t take out a pen and paper, until the conversation has reached that point. Rather, I’ve found it puts the other person at ease to feel like they’re talking to a friend and not being interviewed. This is an important step toward developing a meaningful relationship with a client.

Prove you’ve done your research

I know I said you should set the expectation of the first meeting to be a casual conversation, but that’s not a free pass to come completely unprepared. Make sure you do your research ahead of time so that you can ask targeted questions that will help you get to the point of the matter. If you leave a meeting with more questions than when you arrived, you didn’t do enough research to ask the right questions – and you’ve just made more work for yourself!

Share relevant experiences

If the opportunity naturally arises, you should reference other clients you’ve worked with that had similar challenges, and how you successfully overcame them. Clients like to know that you have experience related to their industry. You don’t need to be an expert, but having a few case studies to share can really earn you some bonus points.

Be humble

Coming in with too much confidence can push you over the edge – and not in a good way. Clients want to feel like they are in capable hands, but too much confidence can make it seem like you’re downplaying their challenges. It can even make them feel self-conscious that they aren’t able to solve the same problems you’re claiming to be “common” or “easy.” Be humble, genuinely listen to what they have to say, and throw in a little humor at your own expense!

Give them something of value…at no cost

I get it. You don’t think you can afford to offer free advice to a potential client for fear they could walk off with it and never call you again. And that may very well happen. However, in my experience, offering some minimal free advice almost always returns more business than what I would have gained by trying to charge for it in the beginning. Free advice earns you trust, wins you respect and shows the client you aren’t out to try and nickel and dime them. When they see that you really know what you’re talking about, they’re likely to carve out a budget and come back to you for more work.

Leave with a game plan

Finally and most importantly, leave the initial meeting with a game plan. This next move may be on you – to create a proposal or follow-up in some other way. Or it may be on the client to determine their budget or talk with their business partner. Either way, be sure to leave the meeting knowing who is expected to do what and by when. This allows you to follow-up should that deadline pass and it also prevents things from going stale after the progress you made in the meeting.

Do you have another valuable tip to share for how to win over a new client? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment!

 

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2017 in Business & Success, Life

 

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5 Things You Can Immediately Do To Gain More Business

5-things-you-can-immediately-do-to-gain-more-businessI recently wrote about the benefits of business turnover in the New Year. True to annual trends, I also experienced some turnover in my client list. Despite my best efforts to “practice what I preach” and look at this as a positive, I felt unsettled, and frankly exposed, by the fact that a few (really great) clients had chosen to part ways.

My business had made significant growth in 2016, almost so much so that it wasn’t sustainable to think I would continue to grow at such a rapid rate. After all, as a consultant I essentially sell my time and even I only have so much time in a day. So there I was, a shrunken client list and an increased bandwidth to take on more work.

What did I do? I invested some of this newfound time into beating the bushes and testing the waters for new business opportunities, but I was strategic with how I did it. Cold-calling is not effective for my business, nor does it result in quality clients (at least in my experience). I wanted to build my book of business with client work I enjoyed and could complete efficiently. Here are the five strategies with which I began.

Talk with current clients about expanding your services

For me, this was a natural and obvious first step. I was upfront with my current clients, many of whom have been loyally working with me for several years. I told them I had availability for more work and offered to create a proposal for what additional services I could provide them that would amplify my current efforts. Not one turned down the offer to at least consider my proposal and right off the bat several increased my monthly retainer. I was so pleasantly surprised to learn that many of my clients had wanted to increase my services for a while but were mindful of my workload from other clients. It pays to ask!

Follow-up with leads that have fallen off

Next, I went through my notes of leads and proposals that didn’t result in business. For the most part, I never received a response after several follow-ups and was so busy at the time, I didn’t have to chase after them for work. I opened up the conversation again with a “Happy New Year, I hope you are doing well…” I received some responses within the hour – from contacts who had failed to give me a response over several months! A New Year brings a new business mindset and also gives businesses the opportunity to evaluate where they stand financially. Following-up during this time is an easy way to breathe fresh air back into a proposal and drum up new business.

Go through your stack of business cards

I also sifted through business cards I had collected from meetings and networking events throughout the past year. There were some that I felt could generate leads, so I reached out to these individuals to set up a time to talk over coffee. During this casual discussion, I was able to learn more about their business and also tell them that I am looking to take on new clients. This small investment of time most often resulted in the contact’s enthusiastic offer to keep their eyes and ears open for someone who could benefit from my services. Of course in exchange, I offered to do the same for them.

Touch base with your “power partners”

I have worked to develop several “power partnerships” with businesses who offer my services to their clients. I sent each a note letting them know I am available to take on more work and to “load me up” as they see fit. Much like reaching out to my current client list, I was able to gain some quick projects that they had on their plates, but didn’t want to risk overloading me with. Now that they knew I was open to more work, they were happy to offload.

Reach out to competitors

Finally, and most surprisingly, I reached out to contacts that I knew offered the same services I did. Yes, competitors. This may sound like an odd thing to do, but I have found a lot of value in developing a good working relationship with competing consultants and businesses. Why? Because when you get to know who their ideal client is, you will realize you really aren’t hunting for the same lead. In fact, their wheel house may be completely different than yours. In reaching out to my competitors, I wanted to put out my feelers for any leads they may have recently turned away either because they weren’t a good fit for their business or they were too busy to take on more work. Often, competitors will refer work out to me if they think I would better accommodate the client. Win-win!

When you look to build business, what strategies do you use? Share your thoughts by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2017 in Business & Success

 

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How to Professionally Fire a Client

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!


How to Professionally Fire a ClientIn an ideal world, we would all become best friends with our clients and enjoy the work we do for them so much that we would wonder why we’re actually being paid. But in reality, some clients push us to the point of resolving that no amount of cash is enough to offset the stress and anxiety they add to our lives.

If you’re forced to make the tough decision of whether or not to cut ties with a client, it’s important to do so with professionalism and class. Even a strained client relationship has the potential to yield future leads and recommendations if you make the effort to leave with a mutual understanding.

Take a look at this list of common “problem clients” and how you can professionally approach each with a breakup line better than “Let’s see other people.”


The offense: Late (or nonexistent) payments

Everyone has a rare moment or two when a payment gets lost in the shuffle or maybe a particularly hectic month that causes you to make a late payment. But for this type of client, it happens all the time! It’s like they pay no attention nor do they care about your payment policy (i.e. net 30 days), yet they still want all their services delivered on time.

What you wish you could say: “I’m wasting way too much time pleading for your payments and acting like I actually believe your endless excuses.”

What you should say: “I enjoy working with you, but you are consistently late with making payments while I continue to meet your project deadlines. Out of respect for my time and for my other clients, I can no longer accommodate this relationship.”

Words of wisdom: After poking and prodding this type of client with reminders about making their payment, you might finally receive a check (sometimes with a nice “forgive me” note) and be tempted to continue the cycle with just “one more chance.” Just keep in mind that this relationship will continue to add stress to your day and steal time from your other clients. If you do feel compelled to stick with them, suggest that they move to quarterly payments (so that you’re only hunting down checks every 3 months) or invest in a system where you can automatically charge their account – businesses do it all the time!


The offense: Wants the moon and the stars on a shoestring budget

In my personal experience, these clients have been among my smallest accounts, yet ate up more of my time than clients paying 10x as much! They are great at micromanaging and wearing you down with negotiations on your pricing and requests for “just one more thing.” While you always want to under-promise and over-deliver for your clients, this business model is simply not sustainable.

What you wish you could say: “You are impossible to please and we’re losing money on you.”

What you should say: “I’ve carefully considered my workload and unfortunately I can no longer accommodate your needs at this time.”

Words of wisdom: The first red flag that you’re dealing with this type of client often occurs as early as contract negotiation. They may try to talk you down on price while refusing to take out any of the services you propose. Use your gut to decide whether to proceed with working with them, but keep in mind that the relationship cannot go on if you are constantly taking a loss each month on their billable hours versus the amount they are actually paying you. It’s not fair to you or to your other clients.


The offense: Verbally abusive

In personal relationships, we are far less likely to accept verbal abuse; yet so often we allow this to go on for far too long in business relationships. This type of client is one that is directly or indirectly demeaning and negative towards you or your staff. They may yell and swear at you, threaten you, or ever so subtly and indirectly put down your work. Whether the verbal abuse is obvious or subliminal, you cannot stay in this relationship.

What you wish you could say: “I dread interacting with you and no amount of money could offset the emotional damage you have caused.”

What you should say: “I strive to provide my clients with the best service possible and unfortunately I am no longer able to do that for you because of the difference in our work cultures and communication styles.”

Words of wisdom: The bottom line is no one ever deserves to be verbally abused and you must end a client relationship immediately if this occurs. I promise you, it never gets better. No amount of money is worth this stress.


The offense: Doesn’t respect time or boundaries

This type of client is toxic because they can really disrupt your work-life balance. They don’t respect your time by expecting you to meet tight deadlines, canceling meetings at the last minute, asking you to start a project and then changing directions or failing to get you the information you need to do your job. They also encroach on boundaries by expecting you to be available in the evenings and on the weekends and to be doing work for them during this time.

What you wish you could say: “You may pay me for my time, but you don’t control all of it. I need time to do other things that simply don’t involve you.”

What you should say: “It’s one of my top priorities to provide adequate time and attention to all of my clients. Due to my current workload, I am unable to commit to the hours you need from me and I cannot continue our partnership.”

Words of wisdom: There will come a time when important projects require you to work late into the evenings or on the weekends. However, this should not be the case for most of this client’s projects. If they insist that all of their work is propriety, where does that leave your other clients on your list? While you may be doing work for your clients, you are still your own boss and must maintain a sense of control over your time by letting go of clients who don’t respect these necessary boundaries.


The offense: Bigger problems are brewing within the business

This client wants you to have the magic solution to fix all of the problems within their business even when this task goes far beyond your area of expertise. For example, the client is asking for a new website, but really this is merely a bandage on a gaping wound of mismanagement, a weak business model and an unhealthy company culture.

What you wish you could say: “You are a mix bag of problems and bad decisions. It would take an entire overhaul of your business to prevent you from inevitable bankruptcy.”

What you should say: “While I would be happy to provide you with services that fall within my area of expertise, it’s come to my attention that you need help in additional areas that would impact the success of my work. At this time, I cannot take on your project until you have first resolved these other important matters.”

Words of wisdom: No one has all the answers – or expects anyone else to. If your client looks to you to be their marketing director as well as their business partner, investor, therapist and cheerleader…don’t walk away, run! Unless they acknowledge a good understanding of these other problems and demonstrate their determination to fix them, this is a toxic relationship that will only bring you both down.

Have you ever had to make the tough decision to fire a client? What was the determining factor and how did you handle it? Share your experiences by commenting below! 

 
2 Comments

Posted by on November 7, 2016 in Business & Success

 

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Delivering Happiness: How to Provide Clients with More Than Just Services

How to Provide Clients with More Than Just Services

Whether you are an entrepreneur growing a small business or a CEO of an established company, you likely understand the importance of “delivering happiness” to your clients. Your clients expect to receive quality service and products from you – that’s standard. But what really makes your business stand out is going one step further to provide them with unexpected, but much appreciated benefits. These benefits are the reason people will come back to you time and time again for more business.

So what can (and should) you do to provide more than just your basic goods and services, but to really deliver happiness? Take a look at these four tips.

Tip #1: Share your advice or expertise at no charge

No one likes to feel like they’re getting “nickel and dimed.” It usually takes one a few minutes of your time to share a little extra advice or expertise with your clients. For example, someone might ask for advice on getting more likes on their Facebook page. Rather than stick them with a costly proposal right off the bat, offer one or two simple tips to establish credibility and build trust. You shouldn’t invest too much time in free advice, but giving just a little at no charge will almost always come back to you ten-fold in future business.

Tip #2: Form a friendship…get to know about them, personally!
Solid connections and meaningful relationships are at the heart of every successful business. Keep this in mind as you cultivate your client relationships into friendships. Really get to know your clients and customers. Remember their birthdays, the names of their children and their hobbies. Not only will this give you something to make small talk over at your next meeting, it will also demonstrate your listening skills and attention to detail. Clients who are friends are more likely to be satisfied with your service and stay loyal to doing business with you in the future.

Tip #3: Resolve any issues promptly and for free (as long as reasonable)

Solving a problem promptly and effectively is a great opportunity for your business to create happy clients. Use the “customer is always right” motto and resolve the issue without sticking your client with a bill for it (so long as it’s a reasonable request). Yes, you may lose a few bucks in billable hours, but you will more than make up for it in future business from a happy and loyal customer. (Note: if this proves to be a reoccurring theme with a client, it may be time to weight the cost-benefits of the relationship altogether).

Tip #4: Follow-up to see how they’re enjoying your product/service

Timely and friendly follow-up is key for delivering happiness to your clients. You don’t want to be intrusive or annoying (like that waiter that pops over 7+ times during a meal asking if everything is okay), but regular “check-ins” can help to nip any issues in the bud before they leave a lasting negative impression. Clients may not be inclined to bring up an issue thinking it’s too small to initiate a conversation about it. But if you present an easy opportunity for them to speak up by being the first to ask, you’d be surprised how some little adjustments early on will keep a client much happier in the long-run!

How do you go above and beyond to provide your clients and customers with more than just goods or services? Share your personal thoughts by commenting below!

 
6 Comments

Posted by on May 16, 2016 in Business & Success, Life

 

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How to Professionally Fire a Client

How to Professionally Fire a ClientIn an ideal world, we would all become best friends with our clients and enjoy the work we do for them so much that we would wonder why we’re actually being paid. But in reality, some clients push us to the point of resolving that no amount of cash is enough to offset the stress and anxiety they add to our lives.

If you’re forced to make the tough decision of whether or not to cut ties with a client, it’s important to do so with professionalism and class. Even a strained client relationship has the potential to yield future leads and recommendations if you make the effort to leave with a mutual understanding.

Take a look at this list of common “problem clients” and how you can professionally approach each with a breakup line better than “Let’s see other people.”


The offense: Late (or nonexistent) payments

Everyone has a rare moment or two when a payment gets lost in the shuffle or maybe a particularly hectic month that causes you to make a late payment. But for this type of client, it happens all the time! It’s like they pay no attention nor do they care about your payment policy (i.e. net 30 days), yet they still want all their services delivered on time.

What you wish you could say: “I’m wasting way too much time pleading for your payments and acting like I actually believe your endless excuses.”

What you should say: “I enjoy working with you, but you are consistently late with making payments while I continue to meet your project deadlines. Out of respect for my time and for my other clients, I can no longer accommodate this relationship.”

Words of wisdom: After poking and prodding this type of client with reminders about making their payment, you might finally receive a check (sometimes with a nice “forgive me” note) and be tempted to continue the cycle with just “one more chance.” Just keep in mind that this relationship will continue to add stress to your day and steal time from your other clients. If you do feel compelled to stick with them, suggest that they move to quarterly payments (so that you’re only hunting down checks every 3 months) or invest in a system where you can automatically charge their account – businesses do it all the time!


The offense: Wants the moon and the stars on a shoestring budget

In my personal experience, these clients have been among my smallest accounts, yet ate up more of my time than clients paying 10x as much! They are great at micromanaging and wearing you down with negotiations on your pricing and requests for “just one more thing.” While you always want to under-promise and over-deliver for your clients, this business model is simply not sustainable.

What you wish you could say: “You are impossible to please and we’re losing money on you.”

What you should say: “I’ve carefully considered my workload and unfortunately I can no longer accommodate your needs at this time.”

Words of wisdom: The first red flag that you’re dealing with this type of client often occurs as early as contract negotiation. They may try to talk you down on price while refusing to take out any of the services you propose. Use your gut to decide whether to proceed with working with them, but keep in mind that the relationship cannot go on if you are constantly taking a loss each month on their billable hours versus the amount they are actually paying you. It’s not fair to you or to your other clients.


The offense: Verbally abusive

In personal relationships, we are far less likely to accept verbal abuse; yet so often we allow this to go on for far too long in business relationships. This type of client is one that is directly or indirectly demeaning and negative towards you or your staff. They may yell and swear at you, threaten you, or ever so subtly and indirectly put down your work. Whether the verbal abuse is obvious or subliminal, you cannot stay in this relationship.

What you wish you could say: “I dread interacting with you and no amount of money could offset the emotional damage you have caused.”

What you should say: “I strive to provide my clients with the best service possible and unfortunately I am no longer able to do that for you because of the difference in our work cultures and communication styles.”

Words of wisdom: The bottom line is no one ever deserves to be verbally abused and you must end a client relationship immediately if this occurs. I promise you, it never gets better. No amount of money is worth this stress.


The offense: Doesn’t respect time or boundaries

This type of client is toxic because they can really disrupt your work-life balance. They don’t respect your time by expecting you to meet tight deadlines, canceling meetings at the last minute, asking you to start a project and then changing directions or failing to get you the information you need to do your job. They also encroach on boundaries by expecting you to be available in the evenings and on the weekends and to be doing work for them during this time.

What you wish you could say: “You may pay me for my time, but you don’t control all of it. I need time to do other things that simply don’t involve you.”

What you should say: “It’s one of my top priorities to provide adequate time and attention to all of my clients. Due to my current workload, I am unable to commit to the hours you need from me and I cannot continue our partnership.”

Words of wisdom: There will come a time when important projects require you to work late into the evenings or on the weekends. However, this should not be the case for most of this client’s projects. If they insist that all of their work is propriety, where does that leave your other clients on your list? While you may be doing work for your clients, you are still your own boss and must maintain a sense of control over your time by letting go of clients who don’t respect these necessary boundaries.


The offense: Bigger problems are brewing within the business

This client wants you to have the magic solution to fix all of the problems within their business even when this task goes far beyond your area of expertise. For example, the client is asking for a new website, but really this is merely a bandage on a gaping wound of mismanagement, a weak business model and an unhealthy company culture.

What you wish you could say: “You are a mix bag of problems and bad decisions. It would take an entire overhaul of your business to prevent you from inevitable bankruptcy.”

What you should say: “While I would be happy to provide you with services that fall within my area of expertise, it’s come to my attention that you need help in additional areas that would impact the success of my work. At this time, I cannot take on your project until you have first resolved these other important matters.”

Words of wisdom: No one has all the answers – or expects anyone else to. If your client looks to you to be their marketing director as well as their business partner, investor, therapist and cheerleader…don’t walk away, run! Unless they acknowledge a good understanding of these other problems and demonstrate their determination to fix them, this is a toxic relationship that will only bring you both down.

Have you ever had to make the tough decision to fire a client? What was the determining factor and how did you handle it? Share your experiences by commenting below! 

 
7 Comments

Posted by on August 17, 2015 in Business & Success

 

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How to Give Customers What They Need, Not What They Want

How to Give Customers What They Need, Not What They WantWhether you refer to them as clients, customers or accounts, your experience working with any of these groups has likely presented you with the tough decision to either give a business what they want or to give them what they really need.

If you are lucky, these two areas overlap and you look like a hero as you deliver favorable results to your smiling clients. All is right in the world!

But sooner or later, after enough years in the business and after working with enough people, you will find yourself stuck between a rock and a hard place as you deal with clients who bring you ideas that you know are not going to help them achieve their goals.

Henry Ford alludes to this conflict in his quote, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” Often, customers are too close to their own business to see the bigger picture of what it really needs to get to the next level. They will ask for a bandage to fix a gaping wound, when really the underlying problem – and its solution – is much deeper.

So how do you gracefully persuade customers to accept your recommendations for what they need when this differs from what they want? Let’s take a look at five steps that will get you headed in the right direction.

Be kind, but honest when sharing your opinion and expertise

There is never a need to be rude or condescending when informing clients that you do not believe their ideas will achieve the results they desire. Remember, they have sought out your expertise because they want your input. Strive to build a relationship based upon kindness and honesty so that you are able to openly share your opinion and they are well received by your clients. The more your clients trust you and the more your track record of advice has panned out in their favor, the more likely they are to listen to your recommendations in the future.

Offer real examples backing up why something may not be in their best interest

Some clients will want to see proof as to why their idea is not good for their business. Do your research and offer real examples or statistics of other businesses that have used a similar idea or strategy only to have it yield less than desirable results. Another method is to back up your own ideas with research and examples. Don’t just tell your clients, show them why you and many others have found your idea to be of greater benefit.

Give them (only good) options from which they may choose

Give your clients a sense of control and involvement by presenting them with options from which they may choose. The key is to give them only options that will help achieve the same overarching goal. By controlling the options presented, you can help steer your clients toward only good decisions, whether they know it or not.

Get them excited about these options!

Your clients may come to you with a “bad” idea because another business did it (likely in a different industry, with different goals and a different budget) and it looked cool so now they want to do it too. They’re excited about it and for that reason alone it’s attractive. Use this “shiny object syndrome” to your benefit by turning your “better” options into other, shinier objects that catch their eye. Your excitement for these options will get them excited as well. Best of all, they should love that these ideas are new and different from what another business has already done. They will get to be among the first!

Offer praise and encouragement (even if it was your idea)

Finally, step off your soapbox, get down from your high horse and take a back seat to receiving the glory when your ideas deliver the results you’ve promised to your clients. All the credit you could want will make its way to you in the form of a nice paycheck. Until then, be a cheerleader for your client and offer praise and encouragement for their smart decisions that have helped them to achieve their goal.

How have you had to delicately steer your customers toward what they need, and not just what they want? Share your personal experience by commenting below!

 
6 Comments

Posted by on August 10, 2015 in Business & Success

 

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