Building Relationships with Quality Clients
Quality clients appreciate what you do, value your time, and respect your boundaries. But how do you build those relationships and weed out the ones who want to micromanage or bully you about rates? -- Connect with me on your favorite platform: https://pods.link/aardvarkgirl -- We had a great chat on Clubhouse a few weeks ago about finding quality clients. Specifically, how do you find good clients who are willing to pay appropriate rates? This is something I feel like everyone in business deals with, no matter how long they’ve been doing it. It can be particularly challenging for those whose businesses are new but their experience is not. What makes clients quality? They appreciate what you do and let you know it. They understand that all the time you’ve spent developing your skills has value and are happy to pay for it. They trust your workflow and know you’ll get the job done. They make you a priority whenever they have a new job for you. Sometimes they put you on retainer because they know they need you. When is a client not quality? When they are demanding and inconsiderate. When they try to bully you into charging less. When they want to micromanage everything you do and make comments like “I don’t understand why that would take so long” when they don’t even know how to do it themselves. When they don’t respect your boundaries and expect you to be available whenever it’s convenient for them. I’m fortunate to only have quality clients now, because I won’t accept anything less. But it took some time to establish my process and to learn how to weed out the undesirables more quickly. All of that comes with time and experience. There isn’t any way to guarantee a new client is going to be a good one. You don’t really know until you start working with them. What you can guarantee is that you are not willing to put up with any behavior that doesn’t live up to the standards you have set for yourself. Only you can define what is quality and what is not for you. I think it’s helpful to define your business rules so you are clear about what’s important to you. I have rules about time, rate, and location. I have set office hours when I am available to clients that are based around my own personal schedule. I don’t work past a certain time, usually 4pm or 5pm depending on the day. I don’t work weekends (and working means responding to emails, calls and texts as well). There are always exceptions and if something is urgent I’ll make myself available to help, but I prioritize my down time. I also stand by my rates. I feel that it’s important to be flexible to a degree, but I have a minimum and I won’t take any job that pays less than that because I don’t feel it’s worth my time. I’m always polite when I have to say no, but sometimes budgets just don’t align and that’s okay. I don’t do in person meetings unless there’s a solid reason for it, and when I do, I charge a higher rate and include my commute time. My whole business is formulated on flexibility. I’m able to hop between clients and projects as needed because I’m at home and can prioritize and shift things around. When I’m somewhere in person, that client is essentially paying for my exclusivity during those hours, which costs me time I could be using elsewhere. When you have clarity about your own rules, it’s easy to identify when someone isn’t being respectful of them. If, of course, you’ve communicated with the client about expectations – yours and theirs. You can’t expect anyone to read your mind, so you can’t really get mad if they aren’t respecting a boundary they don’t know you have, so keep that in mind. It’s important to talk about these things up front. Another thing to keep in mind is to not concern yourself with others. I see a lot of posts in business groups, and hear from a fair amount of people, about everything that is problematic with people undercharging. It’s an epidemic and I don’t like it, but we can’t prevent people from offering services on Fiver for an insanely low rate or deciding to design their own social media posts in Canva instead of hiring a professional. That’s just going to frustrate you with no resolution. In most cases, there are going to be people who charge more than you and less than you. There will be people with more experience and less experience. You can’t worry about what they’re doing. You do you. There’s plenty of work out there for everyone, and you don’t want those clients who are paying peanuts anyway. Stand firm when it comes to your rates. Be flexible when it makes sense, but don’t be afraid to say it doesn’t work for you and you’re going to have to pass on the job. I could go on about that for a long time, but that is a decision that’s made when you’re already having the conversation with a potential client. But how do you find those clients in the first place? There are a lot of different ways and it’s all up to you. We all have our own comfort zones when it comes to reaching out to new people and you have to do what feels good to you, although sometimes you might have to put yourself out there a little more than you care to. Many people rely on good old fashioned cold calling. Or emailing, which is more accurate these days. It’s when you reach out to a complete stranger to talk about your services. A lot of people rely on LinkedIn for this because of the access to so many different people in different positions. With the right research, you might be able to reach out to someone directly involved in the hiring process instead of sending a message to the generic info@ email address. Here’s where I find tact is important. Be strategic in who you reach out to and how you do it. I accept almost all LinkedIn requests. I’m not as selective there as on other platforms. But if someone sends me a request and then immediately follows up with a pitch, I’m instantly turned off from that. I understand that they have a business and are doing what they need to do, but I’m interested in building relationships, not just hiring vendors. I want to know who the people are, why they want to work with me, how we’re a good fit for each other. All those things. It goes back to what John Masse said in his episode about selling who you are before what you do. Let me know why you connected. Why would we work well together? How do our values align? What do we have in common? Why would we make a good team? All of that is important to me. And, it has to be authentic. I have received my share of messages that are pretending to be relationship-building but are so obviously leading to a pitch and I see right through that, too. For me, a quick way to get me to rule you out is to make an assumption about me or my needs. I got one from an accounting team that was something along the lines of how they could relieve all the stress I have from managing my books and running my business. Well, I don’t stress about bookkeeping because it’s something I’ve been doing the majority of my career and it wouldn’t make any sense for me to outsource it. I am also triggered by certain words like “struggle.” If you send me a message asking what’s the number one thing I’m struggling with, or what’s holding me back, in my business because you think you can help, you’re making an assumption that I’m struggling, or being held back, and that’s not okay to me. If I hire someone it’s going to be because I am succeeding and need extra help. But that might just be a personal thing for me. The point is, don’t just reach out and pitch. That rarely seems to work. The most important way for me to find clients is through referrals from my own network. Almost all of my business happens this way. My clients have friends who need my services and they recommend me. Then that expands my network even further. Even if you’re just starting out and you don’t have any clients yet, you can use your connections to put the word out there. You have experience of some sort, even if it’s from previous jobs. Talk to people you worked with there, or clients you used to have, if that’s appropriate. Let people know what you’re doing, what kind of work you’re looking for, and ask them to spread the word for you or to at least keep you in mind if they hear of anyone needing your services. Create a social media post and ask some people if they’d share it for you. You never know when someone is going to see it at exactly the right time. Social media on its own is another way to find clients. This isn’t an area in which I am an expert, as I’m sure you know, but many people use it as an effective marketing tool. Think about your audience when you post. Share content that shows off what you do and also speaks to your ideal client. And there are differing opinions about this, but I think it’s important to share some personal bits on your business pages too. Not your whole life drama, but show people who you are in addition to what you do. And let them know what you need. It’s called a call to action and it’s important because people don’t always know what you’re asking for. Also, engage with potential clients and start building those relationships. Those are what will maintain steady success. This doesn’t always work, but sometimes you can use trade for services to get a client relationship started. This only makes sense when both sides are getting something they value. An example of a time I did this is when I needed photos taken for my marketing purposes. One of my clients is an incredible photographer, so I wanted to hire him. I also do bookkeeping for two of his companies. So we made a deal and traded equal hours of each other’s time. I got some great photos and he got some free bookkeeping. Win win. It also makes me think to back in the day when the Vegas nightclubs would offer bar tabs in exchange for production services. That would never make sense for me because I have no use for food & drinks at a club. For some people, though, that was a bargain. It all depends on who is involved in the trade. But sometimes that’s a way where you can save some cash costs and still get something you need. One situation that came up during our Clubhouse chat was someone working with an existing client but offering an additional service. The client didn’t want to pay extra for that service, which is pretty annoying. If she couldn’t offer that service, they would have to pay someone else for it. It was something they needed and it was convenient that she could do it, but they weren’t budging about the pay. Some people advised her to walk away, because that’s not a quality client. Others thought she should push back and be okay if that meant she wasn’t hired at all. Now, of course, that all depends on the person’s situation. There are times when you might not want to walk away from a job because you need the income. And that’s okay, but I also believe that by doing that, you’re giving someone permission to undervalue you, so I’d exercise caution there and make sure you’re stipulating that you’re making a one-time exception and it won’t be the norm. In this person’s case, since she works the main role at a day rate, I suggested increasing her day rate to include what she’d charge for the additional work. Sometimes with clients it’s a psychological thing and they don’t want to pay when they see a line item but if it’s bundled in with the project, it’s not a big deal. It’s not unusual for someone to increase rates as the economy changes and cost of living increases, so that was something else she could try. Hopefully it works out, but in any case, I’m guessing she’s now looking at that client differently. Maybe it was a quality client but no longer is. Working relationships change just as personal ones do, and sometimes you have to part ways. When you start working with someone new, be open-minded and optimistic. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Do your research before agreeing to work with them, get references from other vendors if you can, talk to them on the phone or in person to get a sense of who they are and listen to what your instincts say. If you have a bad feeling about them or are seeing too many red flags up front, walk away. If you get a good feeling and start working with them just to find out it’s not a good fit and you don’t want to continue, finish up the project, give them notice, and part ways. Don’t stay in a bad situation longer than you need to. It’s not worth it. But if you’re lucky, that first job will turn into many and you’ll have a long-lasting relationship with the quality client you deserve.