Personal notes on how to build long-term relationships with clients
It is smarter to focus your energy on keeping clients than on finding new ones.
Good clients are pretty hard to come by, all things considered.
Let me define “Good Client” as a person or a business who:
- values my time
- knows and “owns” the problem she wishes me to solve
- trusts me to define the solution, not herself
- respects his/her engagements
- whose line of work is at least of some interest to me and is compatible with my work ethics.
So, how to keep your good clients ?
Advise 1 : 2 (Time + Quality + Niceness)/3
I read this awesome piece of advise somewhere (but cannot seem to find the original source). It went something like this:
In order to keep your job/customer, you need to meet at least two out of these three criteria:
1. produce quality work
2. deliver on time
3. be a nice person to work with
It is quite relevant : if you’re fun to work with and produce great work, most people won’t mind you being a little late. If you produce quality work and deliver on time, they’ll deal with your grumpiness. If you produce work that lacks refining but on time and the process of working with you was enjoyable, they may be okay with that.
Advise 2 : be pro-active.
Your client needs you to think proactively, beyond what she is capable of : she needs you to see what she cannot : risks, opportunities for her business, low-hanging fruits waiting for her to be harvested in the digital fields.
The main idea is to think about “after the golive” right from the start. Here are a few practical examples how to do that from various perspectives: marketing, design and development.
- Care about SEO & findability right from the start, when you explore the information architecture for example. Identify the right keywords to optimize for and use them to build up your stories, their urls and their content.
- Design: don’t just solve the current problem. What’s coming up next in the client’s business ? Investigate about future milestones in the customer’s business and look for opportunities to improve your solution. For instance: how could the website help this marketing action planned during this local business conference in 14 months ?
- Design: will the solution be effective? Identify and agree with the client on the project’s KPI right from the start. Then monitor them after the golive, so the client sees the value you brought her.
- Development: care about the maintenance process. Make it easy to test, deploy and rollback by setting up workflows (Gulp, Ansible…) linked to your code repository. If you use frameworks and external libraries, prefer tools to manage dependencies like Composer or Bower, Yarn over manual (and messy) updates.
- Development: dedicate enough time to write good documentation, allowing any developer to jump right in. And please 🙏🙏🙏 , keep it up to date.
Reversely, don’t go overboard. No one enjoys reading huge manuals : prefer conventions over configuration wherever possible and cut to the chase.
Documentation is like skirts: it should be long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to keep things interesting.
– Winston Churchill (well, almost)
- Development: set up a sound monitoring system, so you know before your client that her product is having a problem. And of course, set up a daily, weekly, monthly backup rotation.
- Stay on top of the relationship: Make it a habit to have written validation of each decision agreed by the customer, even if it was on a phone. A quick email is enough. Also, talk about a maintenance & assistance contract right from the beginning of the relationship.
- Keep the line open: don’t let too much time pass between you and the customer. A simple email or phone call asking how the website/application is doing for them and if they have any issue or idea will show that you care about them. Who doesn’t like that? At the very least, these contact points are an indirect way to make your client notice that the product you made runs smoothly and brings continuous value.
So that’s about all I got as tips on how to keep your clients for a long time :
- always deliver at least 2 out of the 3 qualities : be a nice person who delivers quality work on time;
- Be proactive in all aspects of your relationship: design, development, marketing, tech, client relationship management.
If you’ve plan ahead and beyond the golive, then, and only then, are you ready to take off. Farewell!