Keeping your clients happy is as easy as delivering your work on time—right?
In some cases, that may be true. But in my experience, most clients need a little more TLC. When you’re working at a small agency and trying to meet several deadlines at once, however, it’s easy to forget to give clients the reassurance they need.
Luckily, there are some simple ways to improve your communication, your workflow, and even your work itself to earn the trust and satisfaction of your clients.
Below are my four foundational tips to building a successful relationship with any client, which is really the same as building a successful agency.
Is your team practicing these basics?
1. Throw away the first idea.
Creativity is what they pay you for. It’s why businesses seek out your agency over, well, the other guy. So, how do you build work habits around being more creative?
I’ve worked on the creative side of marketing for several years, but before that I taught creative writing workshops. Through these experiences, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to lead groups to produce more creative results. And—good news! —one of my biggest takeaways is quite simple, and will probably sound very familiar.
The main thing is this: iterate, iterate, iterate.
The “lightning strikes” metaphor to describe how good ideas arise is, generally, a whole lot of bull. A good idea may seem to come to mind suddenly, but only after you’ve let your brain loiter around with the problem it’s trying to solve. So give your creative team time to brainstorm, free associate, and then put ideas down. Iterate again and again, walk away from the project and return with a fresh perspective. Then get some more ideas on the board.
Maybe that goes without saying in the creative business, but quality can easily be sacrificed for quantity at a young agency working hard to acquire new business. I’ve definitely seen agencies take on too many clients, try to handle too much volume, and churn out sloppy, uninspired work. It’s a shame for the business that’s invested time and money in your talent, but it could mean the end your small agency or freelance job.
The first idea is probably not the best idea; always assume you’ll throw it out, and your clients will love the insightful work you deliver.
2. Keep track—transparently.
When you and your team are fully immersed in a creative process, it’s hard to keep time tracking top of mind. But when it comes down to it, getting paid depends upon it! Figuring out a simple, painless way to track your billable hours is critical for managers and team leads.
I recommend trying out a few different time tracking apps and time management methods, and then using your favorite when working for clients. Some useful apps out there include TimeBoxed, Timey, and RescueTime, most of which have default settings designed around the Pomodoro Technique of time management.
These apps can help you learn about your own work habits, decide if you have bandwidth for the next big project, and bill your clients fairly for the number of hours you’ve put in.
Calculating billable hours should never be guesswork.
3. Communicate often.
This might be the single most important thing you can do for both your client and for your agency. Communication builds trust, and trust is foundational to any good relationship.
Most likely, your clients are sweating the big stuff. They’re working toward an upcoming launch date, a company rebranding, or some other critical milestone. So give them one less thing to worry about when it comes to your piece of their world. Keep them in the loop—whether that’s on stuff like billable hours or the evolving vision of your design, the scope of an assignment, or your deliverables.
Striking the right balance is important, though. Imagine your own inbox: most likely, it’s filling up faster than you can respond to inbound requests. So how to deliver those updates is another important management decision.
Try finding a simple, user-friendly way to communicate with your clients by means other than email. They will thank you for unburdening their inboxes!
4. Be flexible.
Having worked to develop branding for a number of startups, I’ve learned the following: flexible = valuable.
That is, if you can wear many hats (say, pinch hit on art direction when you’ve been hired to write content), awesome. If you can pivot with the company and rework your design or messaging to reach a new target demographic, great. And if you can make time to accommodate a last-minute deadline every so often by burning the proverbial midnight oil, you’re golden.
Being flexible means being there when a business really needs you. It’s good PR, and you’ll also get the personal satisfaction of having been truly helpful. Even more importantly for your agency, you’ll be well on your way to building a loyal (and happy!) client base.
Rachel Jenkins, Dear American Creative