Finding new clients is hard, so most of us prefer to build long-term relationships with clients that give us ongoing work rather than constantly searching for new work. The art of building up a base of long-term clients comes down to two main things: finding the right clients and keeping them.
Finding The Right Clients
Effective marketing requires knowing (really knowing) who your target market is and figuring out how to reach them. Both of these things will depend on what area of design you focus on and the target market you’ve chosen to work with, but regardless of those, the traits of a long-term client are the same.
Ongoing Design Needs
Obviously, for a client to become a long-term client, they need to have ongoing needs for your services. Businesses who do ongoing advertising, frequently release new products that need packaging/promotion, or provide customized point-of-sale materials for their retailers are all great examples of businesses who need a designer on a regular basis.
In A Position To Choose Their Designer
Some large companies have staff designers that they use for all their work, while others allow each department to hire their own. For example, a company that imports wines might hire their designers regionally and retail chains may use local designers for some of their promotions. There’s no point in wasting your efforts pursuing clients who aren’t in a position to make the decision to hire you.
Some clients will find a designer they work well with and stick with them, while others will go to whoever is offering to work cheapest that week. There are plenty of signs that a potential client is not the loyal type. If they ask you to get materials from other designers, they tell you they’ll only hire you if you beat a competitor’s rate, or they seem indifferent to anything but satisfying their own interests, there’s a good chance that they wouldn’t think twice about dropping you for even the smallest reason.
Keeping Those Clients
Once you’ve been hired by a client with the traits above, you obviously want to ensure you keep them. Some clients are so loyal will stay with you unless you really screw up, but others will be tempted if another designer comes courting when you’ve let your service slip a little. Here are some tips for keeping them with you.
Maintain Consistent Quality Of Work And Service
Many of us have fallen into the habit of courting new clients at the expense of neglecting out existing ones. This is a dangerous game and can cost you valuable clients that you’ve worked hard to build a long-term relationship with. Remember that they’re your bread and butter and treat them accordingly.
Throw In The Occasional Freebie
When you’ve worked with a client for a while you’re bound to get the occasional request that only takes a few moments, such as “Can you please change X on this existing piece and send it back to me?”. It’s hardly worth billing for these little jobs because you’ll spend as long on the invoicing and accounting as on the job itself. Making little requests like this complimentary builds loyalty and gives the client a good reason not to even consider starting over with a new designer.
We all like to feel appreciated. Taking the time to say thank you at the end of your projects is a tiny gesture, but it can have a huge effect. On top of that, showing your appreciation a couple of times per year by sending your clients a card or small gift will do wonders for their satisfaction and increases your chances of getting referrals from them.