13 Jan Five Tips for Client Management as a Small BusinessReading Time: 4 minutes
Your existing clients and customers will be the source of a large proportion of your future business. However, if you’ve been around the block somewhat as a freelancer or small business, you’ll have already experienced that client management can be tough and is a skill in itself.
There will of course be those one-off and short-term projects you work on, and there will also be those extremely difficult customers whom you eventually choose to no longer work with. For the most part, though, you’re going to need to build strong relationships with your clients and be able to maintain them for the foreseeable future in order to sustain your business and grow those existing accounts.
Here are five tips for maintaining healthy relationships with your clients as a small business or freelancer:
1. Stick to your word
One of the greatest lessons I learned as an Account Manager was how important integrity is in order to build trust with customers. While being able to position your services effectively is very important to securing more business, establishing yourself as someone who can be relied upon and trusted to do the right thing by your clients is absolutely crucial. This can be achieved in small ways and on a regular basis. For example, If you say to a customer that you will send some information across by Thursday, make sure you send it by then or before. When you say you will call at a certain time, make sure you are punctual. If you offer them a discount or special deal, be sure to honour it. Little by little you can make it clear to the people you work with that, whatever the weather, you will always deliver on your promises.
2. Know when not to sell
People are clever, and that includes your clients. They will see through your attempts to sell things to them when all they need at that moment is a bit of help, or maybe even some good will. Their trust in you and your business will soon weaken if they begin to believe you are only interested in making money from them. Sometimes you just need to listen. If you can do that, your understanding of their situation will be much stronger and can often lead to a better-informed sales pitch further down the line when the time is right.
3. Set realistic expectations
Just as you should do your best to deliver on your promises (see tip #1), you also need to make sure that the promises you make have their basis in reality. Again, this can be done in small and regular ways. Using that same example of sending an email with information by Thursday – there’s no point in promising to send it by then if you already know that you’ll be completely immersed in another project until Friday, and therefore won’t have the time to get everything together. There’s nothing wrong with saying to a client that you won’t be able to get that email to them until, say, next Tuesday, just as long as you definitely can get it to them by then. In some cases they might be a little disappointed that it can’t be provided sooner, but the fact that you were honest and realistic with them will serve you (and them) much better in the long run.
4. Prioritise your accounts
Account prioritisation allows you to work out how you should split your time across all of your customers i.e. what makes the most sense economically for your business? As we said at the beginning, much of your revenue as a business will come from existing customers, so if you can work out which segment of those customers are most likely to be responsible for generating that revenue you’ll know where to focus an adequate proportion of your time. Ask yourself: Which customers are growing in size? Which customers have major transformative projects planned? Which customers have done a lot of business with you previously?
Regular contact with your clients is essential to help you work out where the potential new opportunities exist, and therefore how much of a priority each account is for you. However, do your best to help all of your customers feel that they are just as important to you as any of your other clients. If any of them sense that they are at the bottom of the pile, they might just decide to give more of their attention to one of your competitors.
5. Become indispensable to your clients
The point at which your role with your customers becomes that of a trusted advisor is when you’re able to begin to truly rely on recurring business from that customer. When they have a problem and they turn to you, that’s because you have proven yourself to be not only an expert in your field but also an honest and reliable member of their wider team. For the most part, those contractors and small businesses who are looking for the quick wins from their customers – as opposed to playing the long game – will not stand the test of time. It’s the long-term relationships with your clients that will keep your business afloat, more than any short-term gains will.
As you continue to build relationships with your clients and speak with them on a regular basis, remember to use good discovery questions in your conversations to get a deeper understanding of what their current situation is, what challenges they’re up against and how you can continue to help and do business with them.
To recap on asking discovery questions, read our recent article again here – Discover New Business Opportunities with Informative Questions
This article was written by Joe Ogden.
Joe is a copywriter and sales professional with a background in business development and technology sales. He is passionate about helping entrepreneurs, freelancers and small companies reach a wider audience and grow their business. Read more at Joe’s website.