Client Management: How to win, keep, and satisfy clients every time

For anyone in a service-based business, client management is a crucial part of your company’s success equation.

Have you ever wondered why some companies seem to have more clients than they know what to do with while others (maybe yours) constantly churns through clients, always on the hunt for the next job?

Without proper client management, any service company will be stuck in the never-ending feast/famine cycle—always begging for new clients and never able to maintain client relations in the long-term.

What is client management?

Before we get too deep into the how-to portion, it’s important to understand what client management actually is.

Client management is a company’s method of working with, acquiring, and satisfying current or potential customers and clients.

Companies with effective, well-thought out client management strategies are likely to grow more quickly and stay in business longer because they understand what it takes to find, nurture, close, and satisfy clients on a long-term basis.

Companies or freelancers who fail to understand the power of client management may find they’re always struggling to keep their heads above water.

Our goal with this article is to equip you with a collection of tools and knowledge that will improve your client management strategy and help you create better client relations.

Let’s dive in!

The primary goal of client management: retention

While your client management strategy should also address issues such as finding new clients or reactivating old clients, the primary goal of client management should always be retention.

That’s because it can cost as much as 5 times the amount of money and resources to find a new client than it does to retain a current one.

Five times!

In addition, if you can boost your client retention rates by just 5%, it’s estimated you’ll increase your profit 25% to 95%, according to research.

You work hard to find the right clients to work with. What a shame it would be if you simply let them slip through the cracks once they’re working with you due to poor client management.

With that in mind, let’s discuss important client retention tactics you can add to your own client management strategy:

5 Simple ways to drastically improve client retention

Increasing client retention doesn’t have to be difficult. But it can make a quick, noticeable difference in your quality of client management. Here are a few proven (and simple) ways to improve client retention:

1. Get organized with client management software

Before anything else, you simply have get yourself organized.

A freelancer or company who neglects this first step will never have the important information they need in order to improve client relations.

Start by using simple, but powerful software like Airtable to manage all the fine details of your client relations.

Airtable allows freelancers and companies to build their own completely custom apps—regardless of your technical expertise (or lack thereof). Which means, even if you can’t code (or don’t want to learn) you can still build your own client management app that you can customize over and over again!

Airtable also has a free client management template you can download as a starting point.

Once you’ve set it up how you want, Airtable can also auto-generate things like invoices or other important client relations documents.

(PS: Here’s where you can get a $50 Airtable credit to try it out.)

2. Understand how your clients define success

The second step in a successful client retention strategy is to understand clearly exactly how your clients define success.

The reason is simple. When working in client management, you #1 goal is client retention. And the #1 way to convince a client to stay with you or your company is to give them the success they seek when hiring you.

You might offer them night-and-day support with the friendliest staff and most beautiful deliverables ever made.

But if their goal is to increase sales by 30% through your campaign and they fail to do that, convincing them to stay with you will be next to impossible.

The easiest way to identify how your client defines success is to simply ask. This is most helpful in the onboarding process of your client management strategy (more on that later) but can realistically be done at any time.

Once you’ve identified their measuring stick for success, add it to Airtable or your client management software of choice so that you can refer back to it regularly.

3. Align your actions with your client’s goals

Once you understand how your client defines success your client management strategy should become 100% focused on how to help them achieve their goals.

Any bit of work you do that falls outside of helping your clients achieve their goals can be potentially detrimental to the success of your client management process.

4. Track successes and report them to clients regularly

Next on our mission to improve client retention is to be meticulous about tracking and reporting the successes you have for your client.

Use Airtable to set up important milestones, check-in dates, and other details. And then be meticulous. Stick to your schedule and check-in weekly. Where it makes sense, reach out to report additional “wins.”

Building a client management strategy that incorporates tracking successes and reporting them to your client might look like this:

  • I check in every Tuesday with my client to gauge their overall satisfaction and report any metrics resulting from our efforts from the prior week.
  • I send my client an email (or call them on the phone) every time we see a spike in results to congratulate them on the success.

It can be as simple or complex as you like.

The important part is remembering this: a client is more likely to stay with you if they feel like you’re improving their results. And even more likely if they feel like the money they’re spending on you is providing rich dividends.

Some freelancers or businesses make the common client management mistake of staying silent in hopes that a client will just keep paying their monthly dues without checking in too often.

That’s a fool’s way of going about client management. Be proactive and positive.

5. Be open and honest about issues, problems, and setbacks

Not only should you be active in reporting the wins and successes you and your client have together, you should also be vigilant in reporting any problems that arise.

According to one study, 60% of all customers stop dealing with a company because of what they perceive as indifference.

Meaning, they figured you just didn’t care.

It wasn’t that results were bad. It wasn’t that service was poor. You simply didn’t CARE enough.

Build a client management strategy that shows you care—and that your on the same team as your client—by checking in regularly about the struggles in addition to the major victories.

Client retention only works if you’re onboarding clients in the first place

I started this article on client management by focusing first on retaining client relations.

That’s simply because retention is the quickest, easiest and most effective way to improve your client management.

But if you or your company aren’t any good at onboarding clients in the first place, then its possible the first section was of little value.

So let’s circle back.

What is client onboarding?

Before we get too far, let’s clarify one piece of the client management puzzle. What does it actually mean to onboard a client?

Client onboarding is the process in which you invite new clients into your business, help them sign-on, get set up, address their concerns and questions, and begin the journey of helping them succeed at their business goals.

With that in mind, you can see why client onboarding can be such a crucial element of a winning client management strategy.

Companies who sloppily welcome new customers and clients will find they often lose those customer or clients weeks or months down the road.

But those who do it the right way find their customers stick around longer and their client management plan is far more successful.

3 Client onboarding tips that keep clients around for a long time

Client onboarding is an ever-changing client management process that you should update regularly.

Above all else, the goal of your onboarding is to convert a new client or customer into a fan who plans to stick around for a long time. Here are a few ways you can begin to do that.

1. Start with a simple onboarding process, and add to it later

As with any project centered on improving your client management and client relations, you should start with a simple onboarding plan and then add to it later.

This can be as simple as an Airtable project that tracks the current status of each new client and ultimately feeds into your client management project we mentioned earlier in the post.

If you need a simple foundational starting point, I recommend you try modifying Airtable’s free employee onboarding template—making the edits necessary to fit client needs.

Or, as a reminder, you can download the client success template which has small bits of onboarding mixed in.

With some slight modifications, either one will work great for client management and onboarding.

(PS: Here’s a link where you can get a $50 Airtable credit to try it out.)

2. Identify crucial milestones for your new clients

Experts in client management will tell you that one key element that contributes to successful client onboarding is to identify milestones that impact the likelihood of long-term success with a client.

For some clients it might be having an in-depth meeting to discuss their goals and your strategy in working with them.

For others, seeing quick results from working with you could be the final piece of information they need to go from casual client to raging fan.

Yet another may be more unorthodox or less-expected such as paying their first invoice or recommending you to their colleagues in the industry.

Identifying these milestones over time will help you increase the likelihood that you’ll develop long-term client relations that will propel your business into stability and success.

3. Quickly prove your value to the client

Part of client management is helping clients understand why you and your work are so valuable to them.

With that understanding, you’ll want to make an effort to show your value quickly when onboarding a client.

While you may not be able to achieve your client’s end-goal before your next check-in with them, having something to show at your follow-up meeting (or call) is always a huge step up.

If your client got really excited about a certain aspect of the plan laid out in your first meetings together, part of effective client management is to make noticeable (reportable) progress on those elements. If they were concerned about ROI, bring in a few numbers.

Not only will this help you build long-term client relations, but down the line you’ll find you can charge your clients more for the value that you bring them.

4. Remain in close contact with your client

There’s no worse feeling your client can have then to receive endless attention during the sales phase only to feel neglected once they finally pull the trigger and hire you.

Your client management will be most professional when you remember that a client becomes MORE important after agreeing to work with you, not less.

To that end, make every effort necessary to be in close contact with your client on a regular basis. Review the “retention” section above to see more.

To onboard clients, first you have to find them

The glaring “issue” you may have noticed with this article is that it feels a bit backward.

I assure you: that was intentional.

But I’m not ignorant to the fact that—in the client management process—there’s no point in learning how to retain clients or onboard clients (both which we’ve covered up to this point) if you can’t seem to find clients in the first place.

There are a few reasons I’ve left this piece until the end of the article.

First, this article is about client management. Not necessarily finding clients.

Second, as was mentioned earlier, if you can get better at onboarding and retaining clients you find, soon you’ll realize the amount of time you spend finding new clients starts to diminish.

If you’re doing client management right, you should have more regular clients and fewer new ones.

Lastly, we’ve spent the better part of a decade publishing expert tutorials and editorials on the subject of finding clients. We’ve made lists of freelance job sites and have rallied dozens of fellow freelancers to help us master the subject of finding freelance work.

You can dig really deep here.

But if you need a few ideas more specific to client management, here are just a few:

2 Client management ideas for finding better clients

There are a few tips and tricks from the world of client management that we can use to improve the caliber of clients that we bring into our business in the first place.

Such a focus will help you increase retention rates, reduce time and resource waste, and be more satisfied with your client portfolio overall.

1. Automate outreach and gatekeeping

When you’re running a small business who relies on clients to pay the bills, automation can be your best friend.

As you reach out to potential new clients using software like Reply.io, you’ll also want to track your progress using some sort of business development tool.

I recommend you try Airtable. Sure, you could build your own business development system from scratch in a messy spreadsheet environment that’s always breaking.

But I have a better idea: Even if you’re not a developer or don’t feel really techy at all, you can download the Airtable Business Development Template and then add any other features you need. It’s really simple.

I’m all about quick and effective business development (especially now that I’m a full-time entrepreneur) and trust me: biz dev can get messy FAST.

But what I like about Airtable is it can literally handle anything you throw at it: attachments, long text notes, checkboxes, and so much more.

Readers of this blog can get a $50 Airtable credit to try it out.

2. Look for clients in the RIGHT places

So many small businesses spend way too much time hunting for clients in all the wrong places. While browsing sites like Upwork or digging for opportunities on Craigslist aren’t the absolute worst ways of finding clients, you can probably do better.

Start by identifying where your clients already spend their time. What companies do they use? What events to they attend? What podcasts to they listen to? Who do they already trust.

Then find organic ways to work yourself into the conversations your potential clients are already engaging in. You’ll find trust comes much more quickly this way.

Client management comes down to priorities

The whole of the matter is this: if you want your service-based business to succeed, you HAVE to give client management priority in your business.

No more phoning it in. No more handing it off to the intern. No more ignoring it completely.

Client management—when done right—can mean insane amounts of growth and stability in your small business.

The only question that remains is if you will make client management a priority in your business.

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About Preston D Lee

Preston Lee is the founder of Millo where he and his team have been helping freelancers thrive for over a decade. His advice has been featured by Entrepreneur, Inc, Forbes, Adobe, and many more. Connect with Preston on Twitter.

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