by Rose Hill
Repeat business from your existing clients is the foundation of a successful solopreneur. Here's how to make sure you keep your existing clients coming back for more!
1. Accurately reflect what you can do for your clients in all your conversations and promotional materials.
Your clients have the right to expect that you know what you're doing. And you are the one who sets the expectations about what you can and can't do. Always err on the side of
under-promising. Over-promising can kill your business. Never take a job for a service that you aren't totally
qualified to provide.
Clients can sometimes want you to take on a job that is beyond the range of your expertise because you did "such a fine job" on XYZ. This is a sucker bet you can't win. Don't think that just because you told the client up front that you didn't have the experience of knowledge necessary for this additional service that the client will remember and acknowledge that at the conclusion of the project when you deliver a less-than-stellar performance. No, when you've failed, you've failed. And you've then lost the client even for those services which you have successful provided to him in the past.
2. Obtain clear agreements.
Before you accept a client or a job, make sure you have clear legal agreements about the work to be provided. Details should include the scope of work to be provided, the time to be covered, the amount to be billed, and the quality of the deliverables to be created. If you are working on a project basis, be particularly careful to avoid scope creep. Pass all your agreements pass your lawyer before signing them.
3. Don't enter into any conflicts of interest.
If you're in doubt as to whether a particular job or client represents a conflict of interest, stay away from it. Refer it to a competitor who can honestly and satisfactorily provide the service without incurring a conflict of interest. (This is why you have those referral agreements in place, remember?)
4. Don't gossip. Ever! Be discrete.
Don't talk about Client A to Client B. Ever. Instead, talk about the services you provided or the projects you delivered to Client A. Your clients' business is just that -- their business, not yours. This applies to your competitors, too -- don't bad-mouth them. Remember the adage "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything." Derogatory remarks about anyone to anyone are unprofessional and will cost you business.
5. Cultivate a reputation for being a leader in your field.
Clients love to hire professionals who are on the cutting edge of their field. Work on staying fresh -- budget the time and the resources for it. One way to be perceived as a leader in your
field is by doing research that measures an interesting trend, or that describes an important new advance. Be sure to share all such research with your clients.
6. Let your clients know everything you do for them.
Just because you know everything you're doing for your clients, doesn't mean they do. All too often solopreneurs hide the work they do, thinking that if they make it appear that what they do is effortless that the client will appreciate them more. Nothing could be further from the truth. Your clients need to know about the research you do for them, the project management activities you partake in, the phone calls and meetings you attend on their behalf, and the reports you create -- and how all of that contributes to the value you add to your service and deliverables.
7. Be easily accessible.
Don't make it difficult for your clients to reach you. Include your contact information in all emails (in the signature), on all reports, and in all voice mail messages you leave on their answering machines. Don't make your clients look up how to reach you. However, you need to walk a fine line here. You don't want to appear needy or too flexible to your clients. Set your business policies and stick to them, including when you are available and working -- and when you aren't.
8. Over-respond to everything.
Respond to all messages and communications in an exceptionally timely manner. This speedy response creates an image of you as one who handles hr business with speed and reliability. Remember, clients rarely plan ahead. When they want to discuss something with you, they want you now!
Over-responding includes double- and triple-checking all correspondence, reports, and deliverables before they leave your office. Even items that you have clearly marked as drafts of "for review only" contribute to your clients'
perception of you as a professional.
Proactively take responsibility to close all communication loops with your clients. Don't assume anything in your communications. Have at least 2 ways available to connect with your clients at all times. And then use them. For example, if you leave a phone message, follow-up immediately with an email message.
9. Correct your own mistakes.
Everybody makes mistakes -- expect them. Be willing to admit your mistakes and errors to your client. Then arrange to correct any damage that may have been experienced by the client due to your mistake. And, no, you can't charge the client for your expenses and time required to fix your mistake.
10. Learn to accept praise gracefully.
Learn to express a simple and sincere "Thank You" when your work is complimented or praised. When you refuse to accept acknowledgment when it is given, you leave the impression that you and your work are undeserving of it, raising questions and doubts about you as a professional.
11. Adhere to all laws and regulations incumbent upon your business.
Don't risk having a client pull out or having the local city government shut you down. Make sure you are operating in the clear with all regulations and laws that are applicable to your business as a solopreneur. This includes keeping all licensing and certifications up-to-date.
12. Don't surprise your clients.
Don't go over the project budget without your client's permission. To avoid this situation, keep a running tally of where you are in expending the budget, and notify your client when you have expended 75% of it.
If for any reason you suspect you can't deliver on-time and to the level of quality agreed upon, notify your client immediately. Suggest ways in which the project can be brought back on schedule or up to standards.
If your work methods, hours, or processes have changed and will affect a client, tell him immediately.
What can you do to surprise and delight your customers?
How can you
add value, surprise your customers with it, and do it at
practically no cost to you? Even if there is a cost
involved, maybe it's worth it. Only you can decide that,
but think about it! How do others do this?
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