You’ve just successfully completed an entire rebrand for a new client. Despite the long hours, the constant back and forth, the super-early (pre-coffee!) meetings, the ridiculously tight timeframes, plenty of sweat (the occasional tear) and much hair-tearing, all your hard work and perseverance has paid off. Of course you can’t wait to show the world the awesome work you’ve done, so you promptly put together a beautifully crafted case study for your website.
You pour yourself some champagne (the fancy stuff), sit back and wait for the calls to come in.
And you wait...
And you wait…
One week later, panic sets in. What are you doing wrong?
Unfortunately, just because you’ve completed one awesome project doesn’t mean you’ll be inundated with client requests. Here are some of the common mistakes you might be making, and what to do about them:
Mistake 01: You’re waiting for clients to come to you
I can see you put down that champagne cautiously. Good, because this is important: Yes, you’ve done some amazing, high profile work recently. It was shortlisted in New Zealand’s Best Awards, and you’ve got an interview lined up for Idealog next week. But that doesn’t mean you can afford to wait for business to come knocking – because everywhere you turn your competitors are emerging, luring potential clients away with shiny portfolios and smooth talking. And the truth is, clients are fickle. They don’t care about you. Until they’ve met you and built up a good relationship with you – they couldn’t really care less about you. They’re shopping around for the best deal. If you want their business, you’re going to have to be proactive about getting it.
So what can you do?
- Build your reputation. all your brand touchpoints. This way, you’ll be more likely to attract like-minded clients.
- Focus on becoming a thought leader in your industry. Write to express your views on current topics or trends in your industry. Reach out to industry publications to get published, or just DIY it on your blog or channels like Medium (discussed later). Volunteer to be a CreativeMornings speaker (global), talk at local events in your community or university.
- Offer even more value; You want to surprise and delight your clients so they feel special, and going above and beyond expected is a good way to stand out from your competitors. You could send out a bi-monthly bulletin of trends and insights specific to the client’s industry. If you want to keep it generic however, try making a weekly 5 minute video log on one critical customer pain point, using quick and easy online channels like Periscope, YouTube or even Facebook Live.
- Re-engage old contacts; If you’re using a client management software, it’s relatively straightforward to find inactive clients. Think about the best way to re-engage them (the same channel/method may not apply to all of them). For example, through a personalised email, a free 30 minute consultation or walk-through of the new service offers you have, or even by offering incentives for continuing work with your agency.
“I don’t think you should wait for referrals to come to you sporadically - you should instead proactively seek them, no matter what industry you’re in.” – Rick Roberge
- Ask for referrals; If you’ve done work you’re proud of, asking for referrals is totally reasonable. When the opportunity arises, you should give one right back, for example referring out a particular part of a project to a more specialised practice. You’ll not only have your clients’ best interests at heart, but will quickly build a good relationship within your industry.
Your clients are busy and time poor, so make the referral process super easy for them. Put together a basic email template they can forward on, explaining the reason why you’re doing this, the mutual benefit, and don’t forget to thank them!
Mistake 02: Your marketing is out-of-date
I cringe every time I see businesses brandishing old flyers displaying information and stats from like 3 years ago. The problem with printed material is it becomes out of date super quickly and then what are you going to use those 500 extras you printed “just in case” for? While having something tangible like a brochure might be a great leave-behind after a client meeting, it’s worth thinking about more sustainable channels you can use to market your business. For example:
- Podcasts. We love podcasts so much we wrote an entire post about them: The Best Productivity Podcasts of 2016. Carefully curated by Joel, our email marketing specialist and serial podcast listener, the post has some great recommends specific to the topic of productivity. The more you explore the podcast world, the more ideas you’ll glean on how other people have structured their podcasts and built up their communities. Check out Xero’s channel Xero Gravity for more ideas too. Podcasts can be a great way to keep clients in the loop with what you’re doing, discuss trends in your industry, bring on other experts and it’s a cool channel to profile your client’s stories too!
- Blog posts. Okay, I’m a writer so I might be a bit biased here, but blogging is a great way of reaching out to potential customers with quality content, sharing your expertise or simply writing about something you love. Leading New Zealand architectural practice Jasmax does this really well. Your blogging platform is a great place to share the inner workings of your agency and your awesome culture too. Don’t want to start a blog and worry about maintaining the backend? Simply use a pre-existing platform like Medium. I feel like it’s the classier version of Reddit, and offers a contemporary voice of what our community is thinking about, intelligent and opinionated.
- Social media. Great you have a Twitter page and Facebook page, and you even have 100 fans. But are you using those channels to just blast about work you’ve done? It has a lot more potential for brand engagement than that! Tailor your message to the channel, and stay up to date with new features like Instagram stories, heck even Snapchat if it’s appropriate for your brand. For more info check out Which Social Media Channel is Best for My Small Business?
- Customer testimonials and case studies. Try to package the request in benefit-driven language, that shows your clients how they’ll get exposure from the case study. As with the referrals, when asking for a testimonial make it easy for your clients – give them a framework or guiding bullet points to answer your questions.
Mistake 03: You’ve recently expanded your capabilities, but no one knows.
In the last twelve months you’ve added an entire interactive and motion department to your service offering, but you spend so much time and effort on your client’s projects chasing billable hours that you haven’t found the time to tell anyone, let alone update your website. Any internal/non billable work is pushed to the side, time and time again. New work is uploaded on a robotic basis (the last update was six months old). “Maybe the intern can have a go,” you think distractedly, or maybe you’ll deal with it when you’re less busy. But if you don’t invest that time, effort and energy into your business and it’s marketing right now, that busy period might well fizzle out. What should you do?
- Re-package your service offering; While you should be careful of using buzzwords that are trending (remember every agency you came across promising to deliver “omnichannel retail experiences”?) you definitely want to use terminology that accurately reflects the full strength of your capabilities. For example, is a shift from “digital marketing agency” to an “integrated digital communications agency” more accurate?
Bruce Mau Design shows their team members in a colourful & interesting way
- Use a visual approach to illustrate your offering. On the WorkflowMax feature page for example, we find it’s easier to talk about what we do when we can have a robust diagram that illustrates the end-to-end online project management capability. If you have different departments, have you ‘humanised’ it by showing your awesome team or examples of recent projects?
Mistake 04: Your lead management process sucks
Do you even have a system to capture and manage your leads? That coffee-stained pile of papers on the edge of your desk isn’t really efficient. You probably spend more time looking for critical lead information than getting any work done. And while long hours may be a staple of agency life, working extra hours or overtime doesn’t mean you’re working efficiently.
So what should you do?
- Use a cloud-based system. All your information is in one easily accessible place (you don't have to worry about getting muffin crumbs or grubby fingerprints on their precious account details), making collaboration across your team a breeze.
WorkflowMax offers a great Lead Manager feature as an optional add-on. You’re able to see lead status in real-time from a central dashboard and to make your life easy (we’re all about working smarter, not harder!) you can enter information once and it flows through the entire process from quoting and job management right through to invoicing. No more double entry.
- Make lead management everyone’s responsibility. Sure, your sales or account team might be the ones managing new clients on a day to day basis, but everyone plays a part in winning over a new client or customer. Some ideas to think about:
- Build a kick-ass proactive culture! Culture is one of those tricky things – often fluid and organic, ever-changing. But you CAN influence its direction, by creating some initiatives that help bring everyone on the same page. For instance, here at WorkflowMax we love featuring our customers in Customer Stories on the website. Internally this means we can connect our work with our customers, speak to “real people” and see the impact we’re having. Xero does a great job of doing this too – just check out their Instagram page featuring awesome small business owners around the world.
- Give staff ownership to #champion customers – for example, assign a designated customer champion in weekly meetings, who can be “the voice of the customer”.
- Encourage taking the initiative; If you know the “official process” is going to take forever and that you may risk losing the client altogether, reach out before it’s too late, because one person can make a big difference!
- Listen, learn and reassess. When a “lead” goes cold, what do you do? Your customers will more than likely let you know when something isn’t working, so monitor your communication channels and look out for what they’re saying. And if they do give you feedback, thank them for their time and try and see where you could tweak your processes.
Mistake 05: You still don’t really understand your target audience
If you’re thinking “But...who wouldn’t want to take advantage of the amazing work we do?” you’re probably guilty of this rookie mistake. While you don’t want to limit your client base by going too specific with your market positioning, going too wide presents it’s own set of challenges. And if the closest you’ve come to customer research is the quick email survey you did a few years ago of your existing clients (half of which didn’t even reply) it’s time to re-assess.
So what should you do?
Update your information gathering mechanism! Google Analytics (free!) will give you insight into your website traffic e.g. referral sources, channel breakdown, geography of visitors (all insights which you can plug back into your website to make it more optimised). Hotjar lets you run little surveys on your website, or use heatmaps to understand visitor activity across your website. Try VWO to A/B test versions of your site to different audiences, or SumoMe to grow your website traffic with a range of innovative tools. The advantage of all of the above is that you’re in control and can tweak, test and optimise as you go, rather than investing heaps in extensive qualitative research studies.
Mistake 06: You’re not building trust
“Emotions are crucial for building long-term relationships with your customers” – Neil Patel
Trust takes time, effort, and yes, sometimes small talk. You want to connect with your clients on an emotional level. They’re fighting off attention from your competitors left right and center – sure they want to be liked, but they can see through empty flattery too. So what can you do?
- Be honest. Don’t be afraid to have an opinion or disagree with your clients. Remember when we talked about standing for something? Well, this is your chance! Also, honesty is respected and more valued than if you mindlessly followed whatever they tell you to do!
- Keep your commitments; Possibly one of the worst thing you can do is to keep missing deadlines. So use an online project management software to stay on top of your projects, track your milestones and tick them off as you meet them.
- Debrief your clients; It’s tempting to move on when a project is complete, but remember to host a quick de-brief with your clients about what was accomplished, what went well, and yes, what could have gone better. It’s a learning process for everyone involved. Encourage your clients to join your community too (those social channels you’re now using more appropriately!)
Mistake 07: You think ROI is immediate
“No immediate return on investment” is NOT the same thing as “not worth your time.” – Gary Vaynerchuk
Architectural practice Jasmax's blog
ROI or “Return on Investment” is one of those words marketers love to throw around to show their ideas are brilliant. Stakeholders love it and senior management love it too, eager to know “what the numbers say”, what “measurable impact” the project had, whether you stayed within the budget and if not, where exactly you overshot and by how much. But the truth is, ROI is not an immediate measure. When it comes to finding and managing clients, ROI is a long-term game. So, what should you do?
- Focus on building a kickass foundation. Nothing awesome was ever built on a shaky platform. So invest the initial time in your website, your marketing collateral and in building your reputation and trust that customer choice, revenue, and profit will follow.
- Budget for a loss (initially). In the wise words of business.govt.nz “It’s not uncommon for businesses to operate at a loss, especially those still finding their feet.” When you’re starting out, you’re busy creating brand awareness and presence in the market which means you won’t necessarily have business streaming in, but as long as you plan for this, you should be okay.
- Celebrate small victories along the way. Winning new clients can often feel like a climb track in your spin class that never friggin’ ends. But even though it’s a long journey, you should take some time out to reflect on small wins. Client base over 30? Awesome. Tell your team you adore them, have a heart-to-heart over too much wine and indulge in silly team-bonding activities like the Escape Room Game or paintball. It’ll do wonders for your workplace culture.
- Keep doing great work. Finally, you’re in business because you have a passion. You’re lucky you have the opportunity to realise it day in and day out. So stay present in the moment, do good work that challenges yourself and your clients and trust in the process.
Finding new clients and keeping them for the long haul will take time but avoid these 7 common mistakes with the tips outlined above and with perseverance you'll be able to pop that champagne guilt free.