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Do you want to build a client base that grows organically?
While how to get more clients is always top of mind, a lot of agency owners and freelancers don’t put as much effort into existing client relationships.
Of course, providing consistent work and excellent results is fundamental. But, simply doing the job clients hired you to do is not enough to gain their loyalty — or referrals.
Here are some tried-and-true tips for how to build a client base that sticks with your agency and grows right along with you.
Reward Loyal Clients
Culture and how you treat customers go a long way in encouraging long-term relationships. It’s important to establish norms for both how you treat your team and how you treat your clients.
There is a cascading effect there (how you treat your team impacts how they treat your clients, and so on). As much as you value your employees and your clients, you most likely aren’t telling them enough, or showing it in concrete ways.
Bottom line? Loyalty should be rewarded.
Some of these specific ideas may sound cheesy but, let’s face it, we’ve all gone an extra block to get a sandwich because we had an almost-full punch card. So don’t knock flagrant loyalty reward ploys.
Here are some you can use:
- Points: Clients can earn points with upgrades, subscriptions, and buying special services. These may be redeemable for a freebie or an additional service.
- Bonuses: At different levels (say, time on contract), clients can get bonus services at no additional fee. This may look like an extra or maybe an hour of consulting with a senior staff member.
- Prizes: Everyone loves a good raffle or unexpected win. Loyal customers can be automatically entered to win a gift card or other prize.
If you have higher-end clients paying a big monthly retainer, you may need to think bigger than points and prizes. Instead, make note of your clients’ preferences as you get to know them. When the occasion calls for it, like a contract renewal, send a small luxury you know they’ll like.
Loyal clients should feel special. Treating them to regular rewards is a way to do that, ensuring they keep renewing their contract year after year.
Diversify Communication Channels
Communication breakdowns don’t just end dating relationships and Zoom calls. They are enormously detrimental to your business.
If you want to have a consistent customer base for your agency, you need to be sure that customers can choose how to receive and send communication. It’s important that you have multiple ways to communicate and clear standards for response times.
You may have varying degrees of integration with a client’s company and operational processes. As an agency, people on your team may be added to the company’s Teams or Slack channel, but may not have a branded email address.
All of that is up to you, but keep in mind that communicating with you (inside or outside your system) should be effortless for a client. They should know exactly how to reach you, and when they can expect a response.
Lay out your communication channels and standard response times when you write a business proposal. This way everyone is on the same page with what to expect.
Here are some of the communication channels you need to have and keep wide open:
Yes, many clients in many industries are still going to want to pick up the phone and give you a call. You have to know your client base to know if this applies to your industry.
If you need to be reachable by phone, missed or unreturned calls at the wrong time can cost you clients. On the other hand, a prompt response to an urgent request can build a loyal client base.
It will be super important to work out the logistics of this, especially if you run a remote agency. There are plenty of phone services for small businesses, so you should never have to hand out your personal cell phone number.
Just make sure you have something in place so you know who called, when they called, and how to get back in touch right away.
It goes without saying that you should be available via email to clients. This goes for your team, too.
Get everyone on your team set up with a branded email address and a branded signature — you can do this through Google Workspace or your hosting provider. This provides immediate coherence (no, “who is this from?”) and professionalism.
You should have a standard for email response times, and make sure you stick to it.
As an agency, you may be completely remote and geographically distant from most of your clients. It’s important that you have a streamlined system to quickly grab a “face-to-face.”
You can pick one of the major players (Google Meets, Zoom, Skype, etc.). Anything works as long as it has a calendar integration. Speaking of which…
Calendars and meetings
It should be easy for clients to schedule a meeting with you. The back and forth of “here are 3 times that work for me in this time zone on this day” with groups of more than 2 people is excruciating.
Make it easier. Get a calendar scheduler that clients can jump on and grab a few minutes of your time. Calendly isn’t the only service that does it but it is one of the best known.
Deliver Excellent Service
As an agency owner, you may wear a lot of hats. Amidst the busyness of running an agency, you can’t forget that clients come first.
Every system you implement, every communication device you activate, every offer you issue should be done with the customer in mind.
This customer-centricity isn’t just something that you “should” do; it’s something you must do. Business leaders and individuals are more conditioned than ever to expect respect and conscientiousness from service providers.
If you don’t commit to this, and let it be part of the lifeblood of your operations, you will lose clients to agencies that have made customers a priority.
Here are some examples of how you can deliver excellent service:
- Back up the timeline of project delivery so that you are always ready a day ahead.
- Implement quality assurance measures so everything is checked at last once before it is ever delivered to a client.
- Reach out for no reason. Seriously: reach out and ask if you can help with anything, not as a response to an issue or complaint, but just because.
It boils down to this: treat clients how you want to be treated as a customer. Don’t let chatbots run the show. Get personal. Clients on the receiving end of this kind of treatment will stick around.
Provide Long-Term Value for Clients
In the first sprint of any agency, nailing down your value proposition and your core services feels like scaling a mountain. What you may not know is that this is just the beginning of your journey.
Think about how many times your phone software updates, or how many times Starbucks changes its cups, or how many new chip flavors there have been in the past two years. Successful businesses innovate.
What a client hired you for initially may be great… initially. But, in the long-run, you will need to always be growing and expanding to meet ever-evolving needs in the market.
This is where you have to go from survival mode to growth mode. Clients who recognize the value of your forward-thinking will stay with you long enough to see your vision come to life.
It’s important that you pay attention to what clients need over time and develop services that address those needs. Don’t stay on auto-pilot while your customer base outgrows you.
Implement a Referral-Bonus System
Everyone knows someone. And even if your agency is just starting out and you’ve only got 10 “someones,” their networks are vast.
Referrals will grow your client base organically if your clients love the work you do. Satisfied clients will naturally mention you when the topic comes up. But you can’t always wait for the topic to come up. People do need to be asked, and sometimes they need to be incentivized.
A referral-bonus system is a pretty risk-free set up. Usually it’s worded like this:
“Tell your friends about us! We’d love your referral to clients who are as awesome as you! For every referral who closes a [duration] contract with us, we will give you [award money/prize].”
As long as you stipulate the nature by which the referred party has to actually spend money with you, the cost of rewarding the referrer can easily be recovered.
Regularly Ask Clients for Feedback
You don’t know what you don’t know. And if you don’t ever ask for feedback, your blind spots could erode your client base.
Even early on in your agency’s life, implement a system for gathering client feedback. Ask things like,
- What do you enjoy most about working with us?
- What do you find challenging about working with us?
- Is there any way we can improve your experience with us?
- On a scale of 0-10, how happy are you with our agency?
- Do you regularly feel your expectations are met?
- Do you have any feedback that could help us improve our service to you?
Don’t forget, too, that asking a first-time client how they heard about you, or asking for feedback specifically about the onboarding and buying experience can improve your processes. Include “How did you hear about us?” in your onboarding questionnaire.
Build Partnerships With Other Businesses
Building a network is one of the best things you can do for your agency. Other businesses, even those with similar services to yours, can be a basis not only for relationships but for future hiring and referrals.
Nowadays, agencies are often collaborating in collectives. For instance, a graphic design agency may join up with a marketing agency, who also has access to an agency that does coding. All three of these together can offer significantly more to their respective client bases than they could alone.
That may not be the model for you, but keep in mind that anyone who is like-minded about business has their own network. These relationships will help your agency grow and could become a valuable source of lead generation. A sales mindset includes developing relationships and being helpful — even when it’s not going to result in an immediate sale.
Share Your Success Over Social Media
As an agency, social media isn’t just about social proof or about top of funnel leads. In fact, your current client base may gain a huge trust boost if they see you flexing your wins on social media.
Post about client reviews, post about client success stories, post about the great things you are doing. This celebration goes a long way in communicating the ethos and competence of your brand.
Clients will love to maintain long-term relationships if they feel proud to be a part of something. Don’t be afraid to strut a little.
Offer Different Payment Plans
Offering different levels of service and pricing models can act as an on-ramp for new clients to eventually join your long-term client base.
Depending on what your agency offers, you may have project-based pricing, hourly pricing, or monthly retainer pricing. You might have a few different service levels, based on the size or budget of the client.
It may be beneficial for your clients to take their pick. As their needs grow, you can grow with them by upgrading their plan, negotiating a new rate, or moving up to the next tier of service.
For example, after trying a short-term project, a client may decide to sign on for a longer term project or even a monthly retainer. And after scheduling a few hours of your time here and there, a client may decide to buy a monthly package for consistent access.
Having these options available, priced out and presented at the right time, can help you build a client base sustainably without a lot of extra effort.
Of course, you will want clearly defined parameters on whatever you offer and a solid system to avoid unpaid invoices.
If a client’s contract is up, or nearly up, you want to get ahead of that by celebrating their time with you. Loyal clients are worth their weight in gold. Treat them as such. Express your gratitude. Send flowers or cookies or corporate gifts. Write handwritten letters.
Find ways to make meaningful gestures so a client is most pleased to re-sign on the dotted line. Even if they don’t stay on as clients, they will have you in mind for future projects or referrals.
How to Build a Client Base: Evolving Your Strategies Over Time
Learning how to build a client base is a set of skills that will grow and develop over time, as you navigate the marketplace and learn what works best for your particular agency.
Over time, you’ll find the right tactics and strategies to keep your agency going strong as it continues to prosper and to grow.
For more ways to transition from freelancing to running a thriving agency with a loyal and growing client base, sign up below!