Putting Your Current Clients First (Duh)

May 8, 2013

When it comes to running a business, a lot of the discussion and effort goes towards getting new clients. Getting new clients is important, of course, especially when you’re just getting started, but I believe that many business and people don’t focus enough on the clients they already have. As happy as you are when you get a new project and client, how long is it before your eyes start to wander to that next possible job? This is natural, and certainly I’ve been guilty of it myself. But I would argue that you should put at least as much thought and effort into treating your current clients right as you put into getting new clients. Let’s look at the why’s and how’s…

Why You Should Prioritize Your Current Clients

I’d like to think that I shouldn’t have to argue for why you should prioritize the clients you already have, and yet, it seems to be necessary. Here, then, are three simple arguments for doing so:

  • It’s easy
  • It’s the right thing to do
  • It will pay off financially

Those are three different reasons with three different motivations. Let’s look at each.

It’s Easy (the “lazy” argument)

Getting new clients is hard! Really hard. You have to find them (or be fortunate enough that they find you). You have to engage in a conversation with them. You have to convince them to hire you instead of someone else. If you fail at any one of these steps, you don’t have a new client. And, statistically, you will fail in most of your attempts to get new clients.

Conversely, it’s very easy to take care of the clients you have. You’ve already connected with that client and established a relationship. In fact, you’ve already convinced them to hire you! You can now directly communicate with someone that pays you money for work. Hooray! Once you’ve gotten to that point, taking care of the client is easy, comparatively. You know what they want, what’s important to them, what they like, etc.

(This is normally the case. You will come across the occasional difficult client whom you can’t make happy, but you don’t really want that client in the long run anyway.)

It’s the Right Thing To Do (the “moral” argument)

Contractually, you have to live up to what you promise a client. But if you believe in the golden rule, then you ought to do more than just the bare minimum requirements.

It Will Pay Off Financially (the “good business” argument)

If neither of the other two arguments is sufficient for you, then here’s the kicker: you’ll make more money this way. Clients and jobs are too often thought of as just a financial arrangement: you do work for money. But if done right, you’ll get a lot more from a client and a job than just money:

  • Experience
  • A better portfolio
  • Marketing benefits
  • A potential future client

Experience and a strong portfolio can be as important as the money itself, especially when you’re just starting out. The same goes for the marketing benefit. If you treat your customer right, if you give them what they wanted and more, they will sing your praises, and you will likely get other clients because of that. A real, live recommendation or referral will do far more for you than any other type of advertising and promotion you attempt.

Finally, you ought to think of your current clients as potential future clients. I have two clients that I’ve continued to work with since 2001-2002. One just had me do another Web site for him last year. For the other client, I’ve probably done 5 Web sites over the decade. Clearly it’s better to have done 5 projects with one client than trying to find, work with, and manage 5 separate clients.

Your current clients are also potential future clients.

How to Prioritize Your Current Clients

So if you’re convinced of the need to put your current clients first, how exactly does one go about doing that? I’d recommend three steps:

  • Make sure the project gets done, on time, and correctly
  • Give the customer a bit more
  • Follow up with the customer after the fact to make sure they’re still happy

The first suggestion is a given, although despite our best intentions, it doesn’t always (or often enough) happen. As for doing the job “correctly”, sadly most customers won’t know how well something is programmed. But you’ll know, so do it right. At the very least, you’ll appreciate having done it right if you’re ever hired back to do more work on the project (which is, of course, a goal)!

The second suggestion is a way to truly shine and put yourself ahead of the competition. Undoubtedly, while you’re scoping and working on the project there will be things the customer would like to do, but can’t afford. So pick one or two of those and do it for them. The afternoon you spend giving the customer a little bit more will pay off in spades down the line.

Third, and finally, some period of time after the project has been completed, and you’ve been paid, follow up with the customer. How is it working? Is there anything that’s not working (through no fault of your own or otherwise)? Is there anything that they realize in hindsight should be done differently? If life’s not too hectic, and it’s not unreasonable, offer to tweak a thing or two for free. Or at a discount.

These little things will make a huge impression, and a huge, positive impression will be great for your business in the long run.

Those are my thoughts as to why and how you should put your existing clients first. It’s something I strongly believe and continue to remind myself day after day. And I think the fact that I’m still making money from clients I first connected with over 10 years ago is proof that it works.

For more ideas (although many are particular to designers), check out this article at DesignFestival.

What do you think?