4 Secrets to making your clients stick for years

It takes a lot of work to get clients. Once you get them though, you have to know how to keep them, or all that hard work is lost.

This is what my own agency has done to keep clients for years.

#1: Tell it to them straight.

We tell clients “no” all the time. They ask for certain things or changes or strategies, and many times it’s not the best way to go. So we tell them that, and we advise them on what they should do instead.

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With more stubborn clients, this has led to many heated, tense discussions. But I can’t sleep at night if I don’t express in full everything I think and feel. If I think they’re about to walk off a cliff, I do everything in my power to stop them.

In the moment, they might not like me very much. They might even think they hate me.

But when the dust settles, they realize we just really care about them, and we’re trying to do everything we can to help them succeed.

Once they realize that’s our #1 goal, they trust us. And once you’ve really earned a client’s trust, they’ll stick with you for life.

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Remember: You’re the expert. They came to you for help. Sometimes that means saying “no” and telling it to them straight.

#2: Respond to everything, fast.

Now, when I say this, I don’t mean every email or phone call (you should do that too!). I mean everything INSIDE every email and phone call. One of the biggest frustrations people have with customer service is if you ask 5 questions…you get an email back answering just one of them.

If you want 5 answers, you have to send 5 emails until they all get answered.

Don’t do that! Take time to fully understand every question or concern your clients have, and respond to each of them in full.

Over-answer the questions if you have to. It’s better to over-explain than not explain enough. When you don’t respond in full to people’s inquiries, they walk away from the conversation feeling unheard and frustrated.

Over time, this leads them to try out other designers.

This is an easy frustration to prevent. Just respond promptly, and respond in full. That’s it.

#3: Be a genius at customer service, design, or both.

If you’re a total rockstar-genius-Einstein of design, you can have terrible service and still make bank. If you have customer service skills that would put Mother Teresa to shame, you can suck at design and still get clients (I’m not advocating this, as when I see poor design that people paid money for it really “grinds my gears,” but it’s the truth).

And if you’re a genius at both, the sky isn’t even the limit. There are no limits.

Chances are, like me, you have room for improvement in both areas.

So be honest with yourself about where you are on this spectrum. That’s the only way to know how much you can improve. A good way to do this is to have a “hero” for each category. Have a designer in mind who’s your “design hero,” and gauge your own skills in comparison to theirs. Have a company in mind to be your “customer service hero,” and gauge your own client interactions against theirs.

As a result, both your customer service and design skills will keep improving, and your clients will notice and appreciate it. As you get better, they get more value, and they respond with more loyalty.

In my mind, I have healthy competitions going against other businesses and individuals. They keep me on my toes and keep me growing.

#4: Be on a mission.

Here’s an example of what I mean: To us, design / copy comes with a lot of responsibility. After all, you have the ability to influence people to make decisions. That has to be handled with care. (Insert Spiderman clip of “with great power comes great responsibility.”)

So we only take on clients whose products and services we feel really help the world.

That’s why we don’t work with fast food chains, soda companies, or junk food companies in general. And we also don’t work with companies who are just trying to make a buck in anyway they can instead of trying to make the world a better place.

Our mission is to help our clients grow and flourish because they make the world a better place and really help people. In doing so, we bring more light to the world too, through them, and through the emotional experience we give people when they interact with our work.

As a result, we attract people who are also on a mission. Because of this, we tend to bond on a deep level. The relationship is often very personal. Once that bond is formed, it’s not easily broken. In fact, to end the relationship, we’d have to really screw up big time, multiple times, and even then I think they’d want to give us another chance.

So what’s your mission? Why are you a designer? What does it really mean to you? 

Figure that out, inject it into everything that you do, and your clients will stick for years.

Have thoughts, questions, objections?

Or your own tips for keeping clients? I’d love to hear them! Share them in the comments.

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  1. Lovely article!

    Agree with all the points and am happy to say that I use them all as much as I can. I think this is the best way to go when you work alone. Let the client see why one person is better than a big company 😉

  2. As my marketing teacher says: “Getting customer is easy, retaining customer is an art”

    “And once you’ve really earned a client’s trust, they’ll stick with you for life.” This is the real secret to long term relationship with client. Earn their trust.

    Great tips!

  3. Wonderful post! I especially agree with your last point to “be on a mission.” It’s hard to get excited helping a client if you don’t believe in their product/service!

  4. Nice post. Especially love #4 – Be on a Mission working with clients who want to make the world a better place 🙂

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