It’s easy to start taking long-term relationships for granted. Over time, we lose sight of people’s good qualities and focus more on the facets that annoy us.
Long-term client relationships can be the same way. At a certain point, you no longer notice the value that that person provides – giving you meaningful work, having faith in your output, introducing you to other prospects. Meanwhile, the ways that they frustrate you become clearer with every passing day.
Maybe he starts a project going down one path and then changes course halfway through. Maybe she micro-manages elements that ultimately make little difference to the end result. There are many ways to be a frustrating client.
Like all long-term relationships, metaphorically showing up for clients for months or years requires intention. Long after the need to make a good first impression has passed, you need to continue feeling invested and doing your A+ work.
As the client, it’s easy to tell when a vendor’s love is waning. Their frustration with a request becomes palpable. They start letting deadlines slide a little. Eventually, their work can get uninspired, rote or downright sloppy.
As the vendor, you figure that it’s okay if this project didn’t go perfectly, you’ve built up equity. Here’s the thing, though – many clients don’t express their dissatisfaction with a series of small issues. They simply opt to go elsewhere at a certain point, leaving you with a significant hole in your income.
Client retention is not nearly as sexy a topic as acquisition. We all invest far more time and attention in wooing new clients than in impressing older clients. But in today’s uncertain times, it’s more important than ever to show appreciation for long-term relationships. If that feels challenging, try imagining those clients leaving and what that would mean to your bottom line, not to mention your ego.
There are simple things that you can do to continue making a client feel appreciated. Express enthusiasm for new projects and tell them what you learned when it’s finished. Continue to be innovated and inspired when approaching their work. Ask them what challenges they’re currently facing and keep this in mind when doing projects. Send them articles or posts you think might interest them. Stay conscientious with deadlines, even if you feel that you could get away with stretching it.
A successful freelance practice is often based on repeat business. In a personal relationship, we are told to continue dating our spouse throughout the marriage. I would advocate doing the same (metaphorically) with your clients. Your job is to make them feel as appreciated as they did during the first project. The more long-term client relationships you have, the more stable your freelance practice will be.
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