The success of any creative agency — regardless of how bleeding edge or traditional their design work — depends largely on our ability to sign on clients and then maintain symbiotic relationships with them. A strong portfolio, a mention in Communication Arts, and a post-modern office interior will make you look good, but they won’t pay the bills. You need clients for that. Once you have signed on a few clients, how do you keep them? Having worked with over 100 clients at our Web design and development agency, Pelago, we’ve learned a few tips for developing lasting client relationships.
- Develop an intimate knowledge of their target market
Every discipline that has emerged from graphic design — print design, web design, motion graphics — they all have the same measure of success; how well are you communicating your client’s message? Successful creatives are those most disciplined in solving visual problems in the context of the targeted market. Clients want to know that you ‘get’ their business. If you don’t, they would be wise to go elsewhere.
- Find common ground outside the scope of the project
Clients are people, too. We all have interests outside our work. Toss a few out at a client meeting and see if any stick. We’ve developed great relationships with some of our clients based on our shared love of baseball, beer, sci-fi, cycling, and other miscellaneous pursuits and hobbies.
- Draw and enforce boundaries
Learning how to say ‘no’ to a client is one of the most difficult lessons to learn, especially when a creative agency is just starting out. Boundaries need to be drawn and enforced. Without boundaries, projects go beyond scope, deadline, and budget. It’s not easy, but if done right your clients will reward your diligence with a greater respect for your creative authority.
- Track everything, but don’t bill everything
Proper billing requires a solid system for tracking time, tasks and projects. It’s also indispensable for productivity — knowing what your creative team has accomplished will help estimate future projects more precisely. Whether you are doing flat-bid projects or billing by the hour, track all of your time and report it to the client. But don’t necessarily bill the client for all of it. Showing an initiative to do some tasks outside of the project budget goes a long way in earning good faith from a client.
- Treat them as if they were your only client
Every client is going to want to feel like they are your highest priority. So make them feel that way. This doesn’t mean drop everything the second they call. It means don’t multitask during meetings, don’t get preoccupied with other, more interesting projects, and don’t waste their time or yours with half-assed creative work. Emphasize focus, clarity and quality when working on each client’s project.
- Protect your client from predatory vendors
There are vendors out there with ill intentions, who are lazy and want to make a quick buck off your client in return for a product of poor quality (think SEO and Social Media ‘Experts’). Use your position and knowledge in and of the creative community to guide your clients to other reputable vendors. Steer them away from predatory vendors by referring them to businesses with upstanding reputations.
- Treat your client as a person, not a faceless corporation
Doing creative work for a larger business does not mean you are interacting with humanoids or two-legged cogs. It doesn’t matter what company’s name appears on your paycheck, you are working with people who have a genuine desire to see this project succeed. Take a personal interest in them and their creative project, regardless of the size of the company they represent.
While most of these tips are simply common sense, you’d be surprised how many creative agencies neglect their clients. Don’t be one of them. Treat your clients well and not only will they continue bringing you work, they’ll consistently refer potential clients to your creative agency.
Photo credit: JD Hancock