It's common for small business owners and independent consultants to focus their resources on gaining new business. However, new business doesn't always have to mean new clients. Building strong relationships with clients sets you up for repeat business. Even if clients don't return to you, they may recommend you to colleagues. Below are six tips that can help you build lasting relationships with your clients.
Make timely, efficient communication a priority. Of course, communication with a single client should not consistently and unreasonably encroach on your personal time or negatively affect your productivity. However, being available demonstrates that your client's project and satisfaction are important to you.
In addition to timely and thorough communication, it's also important to make your clients feel comfortable being open and honest with you, and that their ideas and concerns will be taken seriously.
As an independent consultant, you often carry a heavy burden of professional responsibilities. As stressed out or overwhelmed as you may feel, it's important to show a positive face to your clients. Exude the energy and confidence that you want your clients to feel about your work. Enthusiasm and zeal are attractive personality traits that people enjoy being around, and that clients enjoy working with.
While your relationship with your client is of a professional nature, acknowledging that you see them as a person - and more than a paycheck - can go a long way. The extent to which this personal connection is appropriate will vary depending on your industry, client type, and the individual client's personality. If you know your client is a parent, you may simply ask how their children are doing. If you have a closer relationship with your client, something more personal such as emailing them a news article about their favorite musician might be appropriate and appreciated.
If your client doesn't understand your area of expertise, they may feel ignorant about the intricacies of the process and therefore disconnected from the development of the project. This is your opportunity to share information that will help the client understand what you do, which will build trust and confidence in the process. Explaining to the client what you did, why you did it, and how you made your decisions will help them feel knowledgeable and in-the-loop.
In order to build a strong and lasting relationship with clients, they must be able to trust and rely on you as an expert. That's why it's crucial that you maintain a policy of openness when it comes to your professional opinions and point of view regarding the best interests of the project. It can be tempting to want to appear agreeable and avoid uncomfortable confrontation by telling the client what you think they want to hear or withholding your true opinion about their project. However, these practices are not only counterproductive, but can also damage your reputation with the client, decreasing the chances of a lasting relationship. By confidently expressing your honest opinions, clients will respect your initiative and desire for excellence.
One of the best ways to help build a strong relationship with a client is to develop a reputation as an independent consultant who delivers exceptional results. Make sure that you don't oversell yourself and promise unrealistic results. By setting reasonable expectations, you give yourself the opportunity to completely impress the client with the final project and position yourself as someone they would like to continue to work with.
Consider your client and determine what would be valuable to them. It could be as simple as delivering the project in an aesthetically pleasing format, hand-delivering the materials and giving an in-depth walkthrough or demonstration, or including a small value-adding feature that enhances the finished results. For loyal clients, a token of appreciation and thanks after key business milestones or around the holidays can be an unexpected pleasure that strengthens your professional relationship. The key is to find the opportunity to go above and beyond in a manner that your clients will appreciate.
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