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How to maintain long-term client relationships

How, exactly, do you go about ensuring that your long-term relationships tock along nicely? Well, it’s not easy. But we’ve put together a list of some of the most successful (and simple) ways to do it.

Do great work
Okay, let’s start with the most obvious tip – keep your client happy by doing good work for them. Now, that might seem like a straightforward thing to do. But often, people will put retained work lower on their list of priorities that winning a lucrative new contract. That way, ruin lies.

Make sure that your current clients are serviced with the same enthusiasm and commitment as your potential ones. Use every new brief or project as a chance to show afresh just how good you are.

Deliver to deadline
There should never be an excuse for missing a deadline. You only need to be late on delivering a project once or twice, and you will have potentially eroded your reputation with your client.

Your client might not show it, but somewhere in their subconscious, it will be noted that you don’t care enough about them to get stuff done on time.

Communication is key
As with so many other aspects of running a business, successful relationships grow naturally with those who communicate well. Being able to make your point clearly and concisely, without boring or frustrating your client, is a skill well worth perfecting.

Great communication needn’t be complicated. Simple things like providing regular progress updates and picking up the phone as soon as there is an issue will all help your client view you as professional and competent.

Build trust
It’s an absolute fact that a relationship without trust is doomed to failure. And if your client doesn’t trust you, then you might as well kiss that contract goodbye.

Of course, building trust is no mean feat in itself. It takes time, and it takes dedication to the work and your client. But, a client relationship that has a real two-way trust is rare and should be valued above superfluous stuff like potential new business or the allure of rapid growth.

Be more than a supplier
At the start of a new project or contract, it’s highly likely that your client will view you as another freelancer paid to get the job done. And that’s completely normal. But, to cultivate something a bit longer lasting, you’ll need to become seen as more than just a supplier.

There are a few ways that you can ingratiate yourself into your customer’s business. Offering advice and sharing knowledge will work, as will getting under the bonnet of their business. If you’re a web developer, for example, why not offer to run a free one hour workshop with your client’s senior team on website trends in their sector?

Stay positive
During a stressful project when you’re under pressure to perform, it’s easy to become negative about a client. You might question their processes or their feedback. It’s okay to feel this way, but be sure to keep a positive spin on things for the client.

If you do feel that you need to raise an issue (and, let’s face it, you need to be cruel to be kind), make sure you do it in a constructive, positive way. Berating your client’s work or strategy is a surefire way to burn the potential for a longer term relationship.

Do the social thing
For those of us who enjoy the more solitary aspects of a freelance lifestyle, the idea of being social with clients outside work can be unnerving. But, if you want to build a long-lasting partnership with them, it’s a good idea to get involved in the out-of-hours side of the business.

Now, we’re not suggesting that you turn up at every post-work drinks gathering. But, say you get invited to the staff Christmas party, you should see it as a sign of respect and accept. Just remember that you’re still representing your brand, so take it easy on the tequila slammers.

Building relationships that last usually takes time and effort. But that’s what makes them strong. And, in business, a strong relationship is a profitable one.

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