Building and maintaining strong client relationships are important for sustainable business growth. It’s common for business owners to focus their resources on gaining new business. However, you don’t need to rely on gaining new clients to get new projects. Continuing to work with existing clients can keep your project pipeline full and lead to referrals to other clients.
Once on board, it’s easier for companies to re-engage the same independent talent. Building a strong relationship with your clients earns their trust and re-engaging you will save them time and money. Once a client knows that you are dependable and can successfully perform the tasks required for a project, they will be more likely to engage you on future projects.
Here are 11 proven ways to build and maintain strong and positive business relationships with your clients:
- Focus on communication
- Be positive
- Treat your client as an individual
- Share knowledge
- Be open-minded
- Exceed expectations
- Understand your client’s goals
- Speak your client’s language
- Stay humble
- Use project delivery tools
- Develop appreciation
1. Focus on Communication
Timely, efficient communication should be a priority. When everyone is busy focusing on getting work done, communication can fall by the wayside. That’s why it’s important to clearly and consistently communicate throughout the project. Make it clear from the beginning that you will work with your client to develop value statements that align with their business goals and that you will evaluate progress against these agreed-upon value statements as the project progresses.
Of course, communication with a single client should not consistently and unreasonably encroach on your personal time or negatively affect your productivity. However, being available demonstrates that your client’s project and satisfaction are important to you.
In addition to timely and thorough communication, you can also build a strong client relationship by making your clients feel comfortable being open and honest with you. They should feel that their ideas and concerns will be taken seriously.
2. Be Positive
As an independent professional, you carry a number of responsibilities. As stressed out or overwhelmed as you may feel, it’s important to show a positive face to your clients. Exude the energy and confidence that you want your clients to feel about your work. Enthusiasm and zeal are attractive personality traits that people enjoy being around and that clients enjoy working with.
3. Treat Your Client as an Individual
While your relationship with your client is of a professional nature, acknowledging that you see them as a person—that is, more than just a paycheck—can go a long way. The extent to which this personal connection is appropriate will vary depending on your industry, client type, and the individual client’s personality. If you know your client is a parent, you may simply ask how their children are doing. If you have a closer relationship with your client, something more personal such as emailing them a news article about their favorite musician might be appropriate and appreciated.
4. Share Knowledge
If your client doesn’t understand your area of expertise, they may feel ignorant about the intricacies of the process and therefore disconnected from the development of the project. This is your opportunity to share information that will help the client understand what you do, which will build trust and confidence in the process. Explaining to your client what you did, why you did it, and how you came to your decision will help them feel knowledgeable and in the loop.
5. Be Open-Minded
In order to build strong and lasting client relationships, they must be able to trust and rely on you as an expert. That’s why it’s crucial to maintain a policy of openness when it comes to your professional opinions and point of view regarding the best interests of the project. It can be tempting to want to appear agreeable and avoid uncomfortable confrontation by telling a client what you think they want to hear or withholding your true opinion about their project.
However, these practices are not only counterproductive but can also damage your reputation, decreasing your chances of a lasting relationship. By confidently expressing your honest opinions, clients will respect your initiative and desire for excellence.
6. Exceed Expectations
One of the best ways to help build strong client relationships is to develop a reputation as an independent professional who delivers exceptional results. Make sure that you don’t oversell yourself and promise unrealistic results. By setting reasonable expectations, you give yourself the opportunity to completely impress the client with the final project and position yourself as someone they would like to continue to work with.
7. Understand Your Client’s Goals
To succeed, you’ll need to understand your client on both a micro and macro level. On the micro level, you’ll want to understand the goals and objectives for the project at hand. But on the macro level, you’ll want to understand how this project fits into the organization as a whole, as well as any key details about the client’s culture that might help you in your engagement. The ability to understand your client’s goals will help to build a relationship of trust and mutual respect.
8. Speak Your Client’s Language
Successful consultants can adapt to their client’s style, formality, and preferred method of communication, instead of sticking only with the tools where they may feel most comfortable. For example, your client may prefer video meetings or choose to text message instead of email.
As Matthew Small, Customer Experience Specialist, put it, “Every interaction needs to be modified to accommodate that particular person—everyone communicates differently! Some individuals just want facts, while others are more conversational. The key is flexibility: don’t go into a conversation with a pre-determined dialogue, but have a set strategy of what you hope to learn in the interaction.”
Tap into your emotional intelligence by getting a feel for why the customer feels and/or approaches situations in a certain way, and try to tailor your communications and engagement accordingly.
9. Stay Humble
You were hired for your expertise, but any good consultant knows that the client is the expert on their specific business. Maybe they know the best way to approach a key stakeholder or have a specific insight into their market positioning that can help you achieve your project’s objectives.
Defer to your client as the expert on their specific company and line of business, remaining humble in your line of inquiry about how to best approach the problem and the solution in a way that will work for their company.
10. Use Project Delivery Tools
Organizing project delivery is key to making a positive impression on clients. Use tools that help you deliver your work professionally from beginning to ends, such as a project proposal, contract, SOW, client reports, and a professional invoice. These tools can help increase your level of professionalism and business skills as well as provide transparency and tracking of your project.
Consider your client and determine what would be valuable to them. It could be as simple as delivering the project in an aesthetically pleasing format, hand-delivering the materials and giving an in-depth walkthrough or demonstration, or including a small value-adding feature that enhances the finished results. For loyal clients, a token of appreciation and thanks after key business milestones or around the holidays can be an unexpected pleasure that strengthens your professional relationship. The key is to find the opportunity to go above and beyond in a manner that your clients will appreciate.
11. Develop Appreciation
While establishing client boundaries is important, there are times when going above and beyond can help your business. Keep limits in place, but be on the lookout for moments when you can go the extra mile.
If you’ve been in the business for years, it can be easy to get stuck with old habits. Instead, consider each client situation individually, and don’t be afraid to adjust your work processes. Some clients may really value hands-on access and want to be included in each stage of your process, whereas others may simply prefer a written, detailed weekly summary of what you’ve accomplished.
Remember, communication is key to establishing a trustworthy relationship; talk to your clients to get a feel for what they value most and then incorporate their preferences into your workflow. A little bit of thoughtful listening can go far in building respect and appreciation.