If your small business depends on client projects, its long-term success will likely require you to build strong, ongoing relationships that encourage people to continue giving you new assignments.
Here are some suggestions for turning one-time jobs into steady work.
Meet Present and Future Needs
Strive to recognize and meet — even exceed — a client’s needs on your initial project, after which you can consider whether you’d like to do similar work going forward. Does the client have other projects coming up that you could work on? If not, perhaps the client could refer you to colleagues who do?
To mine these opportunities, you need to accomplish two things:
- Complete the current project on time, to specifications, and at or under budget. The closer to the bull’s-eye you hit, the higher you’ll rank in your client’s estimation.
- Tell the client that you’re ready, willing, and able to work with him or her again. Sometimes it’s as simple as saying, “I had fun working with you on this.” In other cases, you may want to offer the client a written list of your services or a discount on their next project. However you go about it, make sure your client knows you’re eager and available to take on more work.
One approach to communicating all of this is to inquire, perhaps during a lull in the project, how often the client has projects like this one. Another is to express your delight with this type of work. Yet another is to share your professional history of similar projects, highlighting any awards you’ve won and communicating the full range of jobs you can do, even if some skills are far afield from the project at hand.
All else being equal, people like to work with people they personally like. It’s as simple as that. So, in addition to doing an excellent job, go out of your way to make your collaboration an enjoyable experience for the client. This might mean serving cappuccino, telling jokes, taking your client out for a celebratory drink or dinner, assuaging project-related concerns and fears, or something else.
Whatever you do, be genuine. Emphasize your most likable traits, such as being someone who your clients can confide in, who understands their needs, or who makes them feel appreciated.
Communicating clearly is crucial to working well with a client. Making this happen isn’t your client’s responsibility; it’s yours.
Learn to exchange ideas with any type of client, even those who are extremely closed, silent, or difficult. You’ll obtain better results and win more appreciation for what you do. Recognize that, in many ways, effectively sharing your thoughts, needs, and expectations is as important as your specific project knowledge, skill, and experience.
Don’t Let Grass Grow
As busy as you may be, you can’t afford to take a long time to respond to any client or temporarily disappear during a portion of the project engagement. To encourage your client to send you more work, you must respond as quickly as you can to every call, email, or other message.
For example, acknowledge every client question or request as soon as it reaches you, even if you say only, “I’m on this and will get back to you in greater detail by tomorrow.” By responding quickly to client communications, you work your way onto the client’s go-to team, which puts you at the head of the line when more work turns up.
Help your client understand the engagement process, the timeline, his or her part in it, and what’s going to happen next. Think of yourself as a friendly, helpful guide.
Be explicit about key elements, such as:
- How the client can best share their ideas, information, opinions, and feedback with you
- What the stages of the project are and how you will wrap it up
- What your billing rates and procedures are
By providing full guidance, you’ll reduce the potential for problems, misunderstandings, and frustrations — and greatly increase the chances a client will assign you additional projects in the future.