Tiger In Watercolor
Interview with Jessica Douglas
Video Game Designer Envy
The Important Bit -- KEEPING Clientsby Amy Edwards
So! As a follow up to my previous post about finding clients, this is an explanation of how I go about keeping them. Something I'm much better at than actually finding them in the first place -- of all the clients I've finished a project for, I'd guess maybe 80%... more?... have come back again a second time. Or a third. Or even more in some cases.
This is good. You want that. Finding clients can be hard.
Having people who know what you do, like the way you do it, and want you to do it over and over is much, much easier.
For me, my usual first point of contact with a potential client is an email asking about what I do, can I do this, how much does it cost. First point of contact is when you win or lose them. I almost always win them. It's ridiculously easy but somehow most people and companies still don't do this:
Answer their questions.
Quickly, accurately and personally.
Here's what I mean -- let's say I get an email from somebody wanting to know if I can paint a picture for them to use on a business card for their garden business. They want to know how much it'd cost, and if I do the printing of if they have to take it elsewhere or what and can I help explain it all to them? They've never done this before but they like my work.
There are a few steps I then take to do my best to turn these people from potential clients into actual clients. Firstly, I check my email and answer any emails from clients RIGHT AWAY when possible. If I can't (say I need to research something), I do that right away and answer the email ASAP.
Think of times you've sent emails to companies and had a person answer right away, and compare the was you felt about that to how you feel about places that never got back to you.
The great failing on the Internet in things like this is that conversation happens too slowly, where as if they were to approach you in a shop or studio, you could sit and chat for half an hour and deal with everything in one go.
Also, you can bet with a lot of clients that they've sent a few emails to a few people to compare prices and service. Since my prices aren't the cheapest prices, I make damned sure I give the BEST service. Right from the start. I want them to see right from the first email what they're paying for -- somebody who'll communicate well, give great service and satisfaction and do the job they want.
In practical terms, this translates to sending a friendly email back (as soon as possible, as we've mentioned) written directly to the client -- NOT a form letter. They're real people who have taken the time to possibly offer me work, and that deserves my time and respect.
I say hello, use their name, thank them for contacting me. I explain my prices, my terms and that I offer payment plans. Usually I offer one or two options here (for instance, I keep copyright and it's this amount, you keep it and it's this amount, blah blah blah) that I feel would be best for their situation, and explain each.
Then I explain what I would intend to do for their individual project, to show I understand where they're coming from.
Let's say for instance here that they want one of my paintings for their business card, but they don't know what they want me to paint. I'd make some suggestions, given what they've told me about their business in conjunction with my personal style.
For instance: You mention your business is a garden shop -- perhaps we could do something in lush, rich greens with some foliage in the background. How about a greenman? Or a cluster of mushrooms? Or a frog? Or some celtic knotwork? Something that we can make punchy and eye-catching at a small size on a card, but could scale up if you want to hang the image in the shop. I also explain that I can have them all printed and shipped to their doorstep in a tidy little box and that they need not worry about it -- I take care of it all.
My goal here: have them get my email, have me answer all the questions they asked, have me answer some that they forgot to ask but now that they think of it is a good point, make them feel that their project is in good hands (that I know what I'm talking about, that I'm reassuring and inspire confidence), that I get that they're individuals and I'm listening to them and that they get my email before anybody else's, thus setting a benchmark that the other responses will be measured against. Then, while they're still waiting on other emails, they're turning everything I said over in their head, considering working with me.
Usually they come back because I've made them feel confident in my ability to handle their project. I've hooked them with one email.
After this project, you want these clients to come back time and time again. You also want them to tell their friends how great you were. The only way to do this is to make them very, very happy.
This means going above and beyond their expectations. Often without extra pay, often in your own time.
I'm not talking about selling yourself short here -- I charge a higher rate for my better service. I can't afford to do a week of unpaid extras, and I wouldn't suggest anybody do so, unless they want to wind up poor and hungry and making a stew from the innersoles of their shoes to stave off starvation. I'm talking only little extras from you, but things that really matter to a client.
Here's what I mean:
Let's say I did the painting that the hypothetical company above wanted for their business cards. I wasn't the cheapest quote they got, but I won them over with my good service on top of my painting skills. They tell me the text they want over the top of the image (business details), and I have them printed as promised. Then, instead of that being the end of it, I might do something extra -- maybe a larger print of the same (minus the text) to hang in their shop. Costs me little, since I've already painting the thing, but it's a nice touch that they probably weren't expecting, and it's the sort of thing that has them tell their friends how happy they were.
I have gotten new work from this kind of word of mouth, on top of the original client becoming a repeat customer.
Things I've personally done in the past include sending a matching greeting card of paintings done as gifts, gift wrapping something beautifully, throwing in some extra little prints and odds and ends, as well as bigger extras like doing serious touching up on all the product images for a site because a photographer fluffed the job and my client was unhappy, re-shooting photos, staying up super late to rush pictures to have them arrive before birthdays, delivering stuff in person (a fair way out of my way) to save my client expensive shipping.
Gift wrap, tie a bow around it, use hand-written thankyous, throw in discount vouchers.
Essentially, do everything within your power to leave your client feeling inspired and empowered at the end of a project. They will come back.
And don't be stingy -- if you're the type who likes everything budgeted to three decimal places written down on paper, figure extras in as an advertising cost. That's what it is. Only more effective than most other types of advertisement.
I've had some clients return after a long time not hearing from them. Don't forget them in this time. Welcome them back, tell them it's great to hear from them, ask them how stuff is going, are they still enjoying the painting/website/business cards you did for them? How was the holiday they were talking about going on all that time ago? How is their business going these days?
Do your best to maintain a good relationship with these people. They matter. They're extremely, extremely important to you.
Essentially, don't stop the good service when the final balance is paid.
If a client is emailing because they accidentally turned website text green instead of brown and it can take me less than 10 seconds to re-upload the original file I have? No charge. Client needs another run of the business cards I designed for them? Discounted charge. You still need to make money (rent and food is expensive, I know!), but reward loyalty with generosity.
Even if it's only by knocking $5 off a price, or throwing in a few extra cards, or just being a bit more generous with your time.
Yes, clients are very important to you, as I just said, but sometimes you'll get a client from hell who has NO respect for you, your work or your time. You'll never be able to figure out why they even hired you, since nothing you do makes them happy.
In cases like this, I've learned that there's a time to politely and respectfully say that the working relationship is obviously not working for either of you, and recommend they go elsewhere. What amount of fees you keep is up to you, and dependent on how much work you've already done, etc.
It sounds bad, but honestly, it's better to cut your losses. They're never going to be happy with what you do, so you'll never earn good word of mouth from them. In fact, they'll probably bad-mouth you and take advantage of you any way they can. You're better off just being professional and polite, but pulling the plug.
Remember you're not a puppet, but a skilled worker. Be fiercely loyal to clients who respect this, and don't let yourself be dragged down by people who want to take advantage of you.
You want a reputation as a great person to hire, not a great person to take advantage of.
There are times when you'll have to both stand up for yourself AND for your good clients (some people will take advantage and rip-off whenever they can), that's just the nature of working for yourself.
Just remember to respect your clients and yourself.
That all said, luckily that type of customer doesn't come along too often, but, by god, you'll know when they do!
And that's pretty much it in terms of how I go about keeping my clients. I really can't stress how much this has gotten me by -- I've worked for very few clients overall, really, but most of them have come back and come back and really kept me afloat when I needed it most.
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