Six ways to improve client relationships

I write articles for leading online creatives magazine Creative Boom - this post was originally published there - but I'm sharing it here in my blog as it gives a great insight into how I work.

Client management is a skill you master very quickly when you work for yourself. Get it right, and you’ll enjoy a productive, proactive and positive working life. Get it wrong and it’ll drain your time, creativity and resources, and at worst, lose you business.

Working in PR for over 20 years - most of which was spent at a PR agency managing multiple accounts - has given me valuable insight and skill into how to keep clients happy.

Here are six tips that will instantly transform your client relationships, that you can implement right now and that will make a genuine difference:

1. Weekly updates & Status Reports

You know all the hard work you’ve put in for a client this week. But do they? They are busy people, who don’t have the time to keep track of every single thing you do. And that’s why you get one of these phone calls or emails: “Where are we up to with this project? How are we doing with xxx?”

So finish a Friday off by sending them a positive ‘Weekly Update’ email that summaries all the activity you’ve done that week. This way, they know exactly where you’re up to. Remember, in most instances, they have to report internally as well. Your weekly emails make it easy for them to feedback progress to those higher up in the business that matter.

And whether you’ve got one client or many, status reports are time well invested, and should be attached to your Weekly Update email. No one likes doing admin, but you can’t afford to not have a status report. Job lists don’t cut it. Clients need to know what you’re working on, how it is progressing, whether there are any factors stalling progress beyond your control. A status report keeps everyone on the same page and tells a client where your time is being spent, what your priorities are for them and what’s coming up. Again –it’s all about making life easier for your client whilst you deliver your services. It’s why they’ve hired you after all.

2. Highlight successes

Don’t be shy when you’ve achieved something great for a client. Tell them. But don’t just send an email saying: ‘Hey, we got you coverage in xx magazine.’ That means nothing. By telling them: ‘Hey, we got you coverage in xx magazine and it’s read by over 700,000 people of your customer demographic’ then they’ve got something to shout about internally. Always position it to make it relevant and impressive.

3. Proactivity exceeds expectations

When you first win a client, you’re firing on all cylinders, fizzing with ideas and keen to impress. When you’ve been working for them for a while, this initial enthusiasm can fade as you concentrate on fulfilling current tasks and projects.

Not keeping things fresh can be dangerous if you want to keep a client long-term. Don’t lose sight of the fact that there will always be a competitor who thinks they can do a better job than you. And may well target your client with lots of new ideas. It only takes a little bit of razzle-dazzle and suddenly you’re being asked to re-pitch.

So make sure you always think outside your current remit. Regularly take a step back and look at your client with fresh eyes. Is there anything new they could and should be doing? Treat them as a brand new client all over again. They may not have the budget or inclination to go with your ideas, but the fact that you’re always thinking and being proactive with suggestions ensures they know you’re on the ball.

4. Learn your client’s industry

Make yourself completely indispensable by learning as much about your client’s industry as you can. Stay informed and abreast about any industry developments and news. Monitor their competitor activity. Share anything with your client that may be important or have direct impact. Be their eyes and ears. By being in the know, you’ll be the first person they come to when they need help or answers, and the first person to alert them to a potential issue. And that kind of knowledge and insight isn’t easy to replace.

5. Are you really accessible?

Are you there for when your clients really need you? Making yourself accessible reassures clients that you’re there when it counts and they can rely on you – not just during regular business hours. Do your clients have your contact numbers in case of emergency? Dependent upon the nature of your services, pricing ‘out-of-hours’ support separately may be a good idea to ensure clients don’t take advantage and contact you at all hours with non-emergencies that could wait until Monday morning.

6. Honesty breeds success

You know the saying ‘Don’t over promise and under deliver’? Clients trust you to do what you say. Not coming up with the goods when you say you will makes you appear unreliable. Always add contingency time to any deadlines. This means if you hit a problem, you have the time to rectify. If all goes smoothly, then you’ll meet your deadline ‘early’ in your client’s eyes, and they’ll see you as someone who pulls out all the stops. It’s a win-win.

And if you’re struggling to meet a current project deadline? Be honest. Explain why you need it extending and give them a realistic deadline you can meet, without fail. Most importantly, tell the client straight away, so they are prepared and can communicate this to anyone else involved in the project that is relying on your work. Don’t ever leave it until the day before something is due, to get in touch and say it’s not going to happen.