Do you think of a particular client as a temporary aspect of your business? When you finish the project, fulfill the obligations, and send the deliverables off… is it over?
In many cases it might be, but why is this the default mindset?
I was guilty of this myself. I’m not sure why I followed this pattern. Perhaps it’s just the common normality that comes along with creative freelance. A client comes to you for a specific service, you provide that deliverable, then you both part ways. But just because the project ends, why does the relationship have to end too?
Your work with a client doesn’t have to end when a contract does — and there are plenty of reasons why it shouldn’t.
Establish Trust And Provide Free Value
What if right now, you picked one of your most profitable projects and followed up with that old client? Ask them how they’re doing and how business is going. Tell them that you saw something that reminded you of them and that you wanted to check in.
There’s no harm that can come from sparking up a conversation with someone you subconsciously assumed you’d would never cross paths with again.
Find a way to provide some free value. Perhaps your client is marketing a product on a social channel. What if you knew about a different social channel that might have better engagement for their product? If there’s a chance you can offer some advice that could potentially increase their sales, then let them know!
Your client will appreciate this more than you could imagine. It wasn’t a selfish cold call trying to get new work — you’ve reached out to them with their best interest in mind.
Perhaps your client is actually in need of some new work. But even if they’re not, this can still be a very beneficial gesture. You’ve reaffirmed that you’re reliable, available, and objective-thinking. And when the need arises for some new creative — who do you think the first person that comes to their mind will be?
The Rule of Reciprocity
The idea behind reciprocity is that when you do a favor for someone, they feel obligated to repay the favor. Sometimes, we might even feel obligated to repay the favor and then some. As humans, we want to be equal and free of obligation.
If we’re out for drinks and you buy me a round, I’ll be grateful — but I would feel in debt to you.
You’ve opened a reciprocity loop. Therefore, I’d buy you a round so that I no longer feel in debt to you. This closes the reciprocity loop. In fact, I might even want to buy the next two rounds.
This rule happens subconsciously at all scales and in all walks of life — even client work. When you engage with a client in a way that provides them value, you open up a reciprocity loop. A good client will feel the subconscious obligation to close the loop.
Reward Your Loyal Clients the Most
Providing free value to your clients requires a lot of work on your part, but think of it as an investment. But don’t spend all of your energy trying to win over everyone you’ve ever worked. Be selective.
The reciprocity principle can be a good way to determine how much your client values you. If you keep on giving for free and continue to get nothing back, then it’s definitely worth refocusing your effort on a client that appreciates what you have to offer.
This isn’t to say that you should go around selfishly opening up reciprocity loops. It doesn’t work like that. It’s just something to keep in mind when you’re Genuinely engaging with someone you value.
Switching to a Long-Term Mentality
We’ve talked about approaching previous clients to rekindle relationships. But primary the goal of this post is to challenge the norm of the creative industry’s tendency to treat new clients as one-off opportunities.
The best way to build a foundation for a long-term client relationship is to think about their needs beyond your first deliverable.
Get yourself into this mindset. And when new clients come about, figure out what they really need. Then consider what they will eventually need even if they don’t need it right now.
Asking about the long-term goals of their company can uncover all sorts of opportunities in the future.
Perhaps the client only has one product now and they’ve hired you to brand it. But their 5 year plan is to eventually add more products to the line. You could then brand this product in a way that is eventually going to lend itself to a cohesive body of products. Show the client how you’ve thought ahead and future-proofed the product line’s aesthetic branding. The work beyond your current deliverable then becomes an ongoing topic of conversation. This proves to your client that you’re planning ahead with their best interests — which is beneficial to them. And it can also set you up for more work down the line.
Not every client that you work with is going to be one that you’ll want to have a long-term relationship with. But approaching them with that mentality will still make the project more successful than if you were to treat it like a one-off contract.
Your clients hire you for a service, but they deserve someone who thinks long-term. Don’t be another face in an industry where people do a disservice to themselves and their clients by being short-sighted.