10 Ways to Get New Clients
Realistically, it will be impossible to keep every client due to any number of factors; the marketing director you've worked with for years leaves or another design firm offers a "loss leader" project. While some scenarios are out of your control, many are not and taking a proactive stance can do wonders.
First of all, keep in mind that you don't work with a company, you work with people. They want to be treated well, understood and reap the benefits of your creative efforts. The following is what I consider core ideas for being a success in business and in life.
Treat Everything As Urgent
Clients want to know that they and their projects are important to you. One way to reflect that is to return calls and emails promptly. This is especially important with a prospective client, there is a lot to the old saying, "you never get a second chance the make first impression." If they have a question or need concerning their project, drop everything and focus on it. If you don't know the answer, ensure them that you will find out and get back with them quickly. Then treat it like a game and see how fast can you solve the problem. It is personally rewarding to hear a prospect or client remark at how quickly you resolved the situation or returned their call.
Live Up To Your Commitments
If I could only pick one aspect for my business this would be it. Dealing honestly with others in business and in life is the building block of long-term relationships. If you say the project will be done on a certain date do everything in your power to make it happen. Admittedly, I have lost projects because I knew I could not make a deadline and I said so. Many will promise anything to get the work and then blame others for the delay. They will get the project and maybe a few more until a pattern surfaces, however it won't for the future and it certainly won't get you referrals, which is the best marketing you can have.
Of course, there will circumstances beyond your control, but take that into account and communicate it in the beginning...not after you've missed a deadline. If a client's needs are time-sensitive make them aware that final approval is required by a specified date. There is nothing emptier than an excuse, so be earnest and live by your word. You and your client will sleep better.
Make Friends First
This certainly won't be possible with every client, but it is worth exploring without being intrusive. Work is just like life; sometimes the chemistry is there and other times it is not. Offer to take them out for lunch or meet at their favorite coffee bar. Have a genuine interest in getting to know them outside the work environment.
Keep in mind that superficial efforts will do more harm than good, so if you're not a "people person" you may not want to venture down that road. Also, be sensitive in your approach if it is a male/female working relationship, so there are no misunderstandings about your interest. Some clients prefer the "just business" relationship and that's fine, so let it rise to a level that's comfortable for them.
As a designer you are privy to confidential information such as a new product or a change in a company's direction. Whatever it is you need to be discreet in what you relay to other colleagues or vendors. You have a trusted position that has taken time to acquire and breaching that can have disastrous effects. In all your dealings with them you should have the same protective attitude you have toward your own family.
Over the years I have seen many designers berate their clients over their lack of design knowledge or business practices. Speaking negatively to others in their company or those in the production chain will eventually get back to them and it can break a relationship permanently. At the very least you put yourself on the road to being "out" as soon as another design firm approaches them.
Additionally, you should never speak negatively about others to your client. It will cause them to think, "what are they saying about me behind my back?" Always apply the "Thumper Rule" to any business communications; if you haven't seen the movie "Bambi", there is a line in which Thumper tells Bambi, "if you can't say something nice don't say anything at all!"
Things change and so will your client's needs and wants. Resistance to deviate from normal procedures will reveal a preference for your needs over theirs. Everyone has dealt with business that elevates company policy over common sense. We've all felt the frustration from a store employee who says, "sorry ma'am that's our policy." You leave feeling mistreated and statistics show that you will tell a minimum of 10 people what happened to you. The client/designer relationship is no different.
Even if it costs you a little time and money, see the big picture and make every effort to meet your clients needs. If it is not too unreasonable just be friendly and mention that you are happy to make an exception in this one instance. Bending a little will go a long way in forming a lasting relationship.
Some clients do push and have unreasonable demands because their top criteria may be to see how much they can get for free or to exert control. Ultimately, they will never be happy with you or anyone else so it may be time to reevaluate the worthiness of keeping them.
Treat Their Money Like Yours
Put yourself in their position when it comes to money. Take into account everything you do concerning your client from the suggestions you make to the type of paper you specify; are you working in the most cost-effective manner possible? Without this attitude you may eventually be losing your own money when the client goes with someone else. If you save them money let them know it. They will appreciate the fact that you are out there watching over their budget and have their best interest at heart.
A client may say they will get back to you tomorrow, then you don't hear from them for several days. Remember that many things occur behind the scenes that you are not aware of. An don't expect your client to have the same level of design experience as you...that's why they hired you! Always be ready and willing to explain even the simplest of things, because what you take as common knowledge may not be to them. Educating your client should be considered part of the design process and, ultimately, it will make future projects easier for both of you. Communicate that you are an intelligent colleague who is there to serve them. Clients tend to have even less experience with printing due to its technical nature, so be prepared to have several options for them and explain each one.
Listen, Listen, Listen
Nothing frustrates me more than being interrupted in mid-sentence and the feeling that the other person is more interested in their own response than in what I have to say! Be clear and concise when you speak to a client and have a mental outline of what you want to convey in a phone call or a meeting.
I start a conversation by stating the purpose of my call. For example, I may say, "good morning Janet I have three areas of your project I need your input on." I explain the first one, then I listen to there response. This approach empowers and engages the client in the conversation and sets the tone and pace for gaining the information in a friendly and effective way.
Anything that involves a client directly or indirectly requires a "think before you speak or act" attitude. Never, never, never take things personally; it is business and it requires a business-like attitude. You are there to make recommendations based on your knowledge and experience. Design is a very subjective profession in its level of quality and value. Whatever opinion a client has is valid and it should be treated as such.
There certainly will be times when you are treated poorly; not everyone is as honest or mature as we would like them to be, but generally that is the exception not the rule. When it happens, maintain your professionalism, rise above it and make all your short-term decisions on maintaining the relationship. Remember, you always have the power to decline anyone's work.
Your position should always be one of honesty, courtesy, discretion and concern for your client's best interest. Someone once said, "the best manager is a slave to his employees." That's the same attitude you should have about your clients; serve them well and you will be rewarded not only financially, but in the relationships you build with them. You may even develop a new friendship and that's an added bonus.