Happy Clients

If you are a service based small business, chances are that you're working one-on-one with a handful of clients at any given time. And those same people are the ones that will help keep your business running (to a certain degree) through word of mouth and referrals. So today, I wanted to chat about keeping your clients happy in unexpected ways, because a little goes a long way ...

The whole idea of this post came to me a few days ago, when somebody that I've worked closely with in the past had a negative experience in working with someone else. Sadly, this happens, and is usually the result of two parties not being the right fit. I've gone through this myself a few times before, and although it's hard to swallow, these growing pains are insightful (if you allow them to be) and help point you in a better, more fitting direction. Here's a quote from a smart dude who sums this idea up quite nicely:

"Your most unhappy customers are your greatest sources of learning."
— Bill Gates

But this post is called "HAPPY clients," so why am I talking about bad experiences?? Because making sure that you and your clients are a good fit is the first step in managing those happy clients (as well as a happy you). This can be tough, especially if you're earlier on in your career, but it becomes much easier over time. You'll start noticing red flags before signing on someone new and will be able to make better judgement calls on whether or not somebody is a good fit. But that's a topic for another day. For now, let's circle back to those unexpected ways of making your current clients happy.

01. BE NICE This one seems so painfully obvious, but since communication is primarily handled through email these days, it's easy to dive into business mode without being human. Now, I don't mean that you need to tell your clients all about what's happening in your personal life or visa versa, just keep it simple. Sneak in a "Happy Friday" here and there. Or if they say something out of the blue that intrigues you, respond. For example, one of my clients just took a quick business trip to India, somewhere I'd like to visit someday (the food!!). So I asked her a little bit about it, sharing my excitement and deepening our connection in other ways than work.

02. BE SMOOTH Over the years, I've developed a very streamlined onboarding system for new clients, aiming to make everything as easy as possible for both parties. Because of this, I often receive emails that say things like "WOW, thank you for being so organized! This makes complete sense." Simply put, smart and intuitive systems help make your clients feel taken care of. And clients that feel taken care of tend to be happier with the process as a whole.

03. KEEP IT SIMPLE One of the best tips I've ever received was that "your clients are not in your head, so EXPLAIN how things work." If something made complete sense to me, I used to assume that my client would get it as well. But that's not always the case! Now, I make sure to clearly outline my thoughts as well as what's needed from the client at any given moment (via a task management app called ToDoist) so that everything is organized and everyone is on the same page. Clients are much happier when they know and understand what's going on, so make it easy for them. ;)

04. PRACTICE CAUTIOUS FLEXIBILITY Not all timelines stay on schedule during the life of a project, so cautious flexibility is key for the happiness of both parties. For example, I have two current clients who were originally going to write their own website copy, but eventually decided to hire that part out to a professional. As a result, their timeline was elongated by about two weeks. And while I could have been all bah-humbug about it, I wasn't. Life happens, things change, and as a service provider, I'm happy to adjust my schedule as long as it makes sense, isn't excessive, and comes with fair warning. This is where you also need to be careful, though, because the last thing you want is for someone to take advantage of you or your time. To avoid this, always set clear boundaries every step of the way.

05. BE A STICKLER, BUT ALSO DON'T BE I'm a big advocate of setting boundaries in the sense that they help facilitate healthy working relationships and discourage clients that may try to take advantage of you. For that reason, my contract is very thorough about how many designs I present, how many revisions my clients and I go through, and what happens when feedback is late or timelines are shifted. You could say I'm a stickler about these sort of things, but that doesn't mean that I can't be flexible, too. For example, sometimes clients need just a quick revision (or "tweak") after what was supposed to be their "final" revision. Technically, this would be out of scope, allowing me to charge my hourly rate for overages. But when it's super minimal and only takes a few minutes, I have no problem waving those extra fees. Not everyone will agree with me on this tip (and I wouldn't even suggest it unless it was something small), but my clients have always been very receptive and appreciative. A little extra happy!

Have any other tips or things you do? Leave them in the comments below! And if you're looking for more on this topic, head over to this Darn Good blog and see what Meg Lewis has to say about the same topic. She's got a good philosophy on the whole thing and it shows. :)