Do you ever feel like you are stuck on a constant treadmill of having to constantly find new clients just to keep the lights on and bills paid?
For years I devoted tremendous time, effort, and worry to constantly chasing new clients for my little website agency, and I felt like I was getting nowhere.
I’d win a new client, we’d build a fantastic new website for them, maybe also sell a support package, and, that would be the it for that client relationship.
Then I’d jump right back on the treadmill of writing proposals and closing sales just to keep the current volume of working flowing and food on the table. It was stressful and draining and left me feeling stuck – if I stopped then everything would crumble, but my current path didn’t really create growth.
Like most of us, I had read the usual business books that preached the importance of selling more to existing customers as the path to growth. They talked about “customer lifetime value”, adding new services, selling more frequently, and so on.
But it wasn’t making sense for my business! Yes, I could try to upsell “add-ons” such as extra features or plugins, but that was small potatoes compared to the original project.
Clearly in my line of work winning a new client was worth way more than serving an existing client, right? …right?
The three-step approach that allowed me to turn $15,000 projects into $100,000+ relationships and allowed me to stop constantly selling.
Even as I struggled to understand how to “sell more”, a few of my client relationships didn’t follow the usual pattern of going into “maintenance” mode once the project was built.
Instead the clients actually kept coming back for more work. They were happy and eager to keep expanding the project and spending more with us, sometimes several times that of the initial project!
The website we delivered wasn’t a “nice to have” for these clients. It solved important business challenges for them, and they stood to gain even more from continuing to invest in it.
When I did the analysis, this small group of “high rollers” was responsible for all the real growth and profit in my agency. And better yet, selling to them took far less time than new clients since they had already worked with us, and they wanted to buy.
Suddenly the business books made a lot more sense. Serving my existing clients was not about finding ways to sell a little more code to them the way you would upsell fries and a drink at McDonald’s.
It meant finding clients that I could deliver vastly more solutions to after the initial project and whom I could keep working with for years. And rather than waiting for these clients to come to me for these solutions, I could change the relationship and be the one that proactively proposes them.
Fast forward a few years and I was looking at a very different business. I actually had less clients (by choice), but most were constantly growing relationships. Some had transformed from a $15,000 website to well over $100,000 in website services.
These results came from what became a seemingly-simple three step approach:
- #1 Target clients that stand to gain a lot from your services
- #2 Take the time to learn your client’s goals
- #3 Proactively use your skills to help them reach their goals
This may seem like very foreign thinking if you aren’t used to it, so in the rest of this article I will break down how these steps work.
Step #1: Target Clients That Stand to Gain a Lot From Your Services
Everything starts with finding the clients who are going to be far better off working with you. Your services aren’t just things their business “should have”, but solutions to really important problems that they desperately want to solve.
These are the clients that kept coming back to me, even before I knew to look for them. They realized on their own that continuing to work with us could create even bigger wins for their business.
So what did these business wins look like?
- Increasing the sales of online stores through conversion optimization and new functionality (such as easy ways to repeat orders).
- Saving substantial employee time through online software we built that automated or reduced many repetitive business processes.
- Implementing custom membership website features that allowed my clients to charge their members premium prices.
- Increasing the amounts of prospective customers contacting my clients by designing websites with that goal in mind.
These are the types of clients that you want to attract. When their investment in working with you generates a return on investment for them and their business, it makes hiring you a mathematical no-brainer.
Now before you start doubting yourself: YES, you are capable of achieving results like this for your clients too! Let me show you how.
The simple trick is figuring out where your existing skillsets can be applied to create outsized results for your clients.
Let’s look at “business process automation” as an example. This idea sounds very fancy when you use words like “business”, “process” and “automation”.
But on multiple occasions we have saved five figures per year for our clients just by eliminating the need to manually re-enter online orders from their website into their order fulfillment software.
That’s business process automation that saved clients tens of hours per week! Keep in mind, anyone with 6 months of experience in a web language like PHP could have written the same automation code.
Value doesn’t come from a solution being particularly advanced or taking a long time to implement. Value comes from solving business problems, and knowing what solution to apply.
If it doesn’t sound obvious how to solve expensive problems with your skillset, or you aren’t sure how to measure what’s expensive, I provide loads of examples in my free guide on Multiplying the Value of Your Clients.
This idea works in reverse as well. We all receive requests from prospects who would like our services but don’t actually stand to gain massively from hiring us.
For example, an online store or membership site would do well by working with my agency because we can help drive sales.
But if we took that same effort and applied it to the website of a local church that just needs to post events and information, the value created would be much much lower.
The path to success is clear: go out of your way to find the clients who will gain a lot from working with you for the long haul, and turn down or refer elsewhere the clients that will not.
Step #2: Take the Time to Learn Your Client’s Business and Their Goals
This second step comes down to a very simple skill, and one that most of us were taught in kindergarten.
It’s time to go back in time and remind ourselves how to listen to our clients.
If you’ve ever been an employee, you probably got very used to your boss coming to you and telling you what needs to be done. Occasionally you may have taken your own initiative of course, but by and large your tasks were defined by your boss. Asking why these tasks were assigned wasn’t standard procedure.
It’s very tempting to carry this employee mindset over into your freelancing practice. Your clients are now your boss(es), and you still expect them to tell you what they want done.
But what if change your approach?
What if instead of accepting tasks and completing them, you ask what the client is trying to achieve in their business by hiring you to complete these tasks?
This is where magic starts to happen. Immediately the relationship begins to shift away from you as a contract employee, and transforms into you as the expert advisor: the consultant.
Take the time to really listen to what the client responds with. Find out what their real goals are. Is it to increase sales? Save money? Deliver an amazing new product to their customers?
This does take practice. You yourself might not have really thought too much about how specifically your services drive business results. But the great news is that you can learn just by asking the right questions and letting the client do the talking.
Simple questions that yield important answers:
- What prompted you to decide to go ahead with <work client is looking for>?
- What are you hoping to achieve for your business with <work client is looking for>?
- Why is <above answer> important?
As you build trust with your client and learn how to have these conversations you will soon be discussing their strategic plans, marketing goals, and other information relevant to how this projects affect their business – that’s important information!
Once you understand what a client is actually trying to achieve, you can now move from simply following what they think the solution is, to proposing a solution that may actually serve them a lot better:
Step #3 Use Your Skills to Help Your Clients Reach Their Goals
With this one shift you can move from a reactive relationship (waiting the client to come to you) to a proactive relationship (where you define your own work).
By understanding of your clients’ goals, you can continuously determine how your own set of skills can help your client reach their goals – not just on the initial project, but by constantly staying in touch with the client and taking the time to listen to how things are going, and advising on what to do about it.
This may sound intimidating at first. The idea of being an expert or a consultant might cause you to break out in sweat. You might be tempted to close this browser tab and retreat to safety.
But you are an expert! It’s easy to forget that the skills that we have trained in will seem almost magical to anyone without that training.
Most people are not programmers, designers, or copywriters. Ideas that may seem embarrassingly basic people in those fields can actually create tremendous business value for our clients, if only they knew about them!
I’ve had multiple clients spend tens of hours a week on manually transferring orders from their ecommerce site to their fulfillment system. We fixed this with relatively simple programming. But had I not kept in touch with these clients to learn about these struggles, they would still be re-entering orders manually to this day.
Other clients have seen their sales grow by six figures because I took the time to suggest and implement what experts in my field would consider “the basics”, but which meant huge sales wins for clients. These things include writing a sales page that actually sells, making sure calls to action exist in the right spots, and adding newsletter opt-ins that actually convert.
When you take this proactive approach, continuously listen and advise your clients, everything changes:
- Instead of waiting for work to come your way, you can now take charge of your income just by connecting your clients’ business goals with the skills you have to offer.
- As you earn trust and the client relationship grows, the work done can grow to many times the size of that initial project.
- Work gets a lot more interesting because you are implementing what you know needs to be done, in the way that it needs to be done, rather than fighting client ideas that might not be so great.
- The client may start asking to meet with you to discuss business problems. Always make time for those calls/meetings, they are gold!
Getting Started Today: Start Earning More From the Clients That You Already Have
The ideas here involve some long-term shifts in thinking, and may even completely change what clients you target and take on.
But you can start this project today, even with the clients that you already have, with this simple process:
1) Review the complete list of your active and past clients. Identify any that you would be happy to keep working with AND who you feel may have a lot more to gain from your services. This list might end up being very small and that’s perfectly fine.
2) Draft a personal email to each client asking for a call or even a casual meeting to catch up on how the results of this project have been going. This is an easy request to make because it’s great customer service and a refreshing change from people you provide the service then run away.
If you have worked with a client recently, your email can be as simple as:
It was great working with you on <project that you recently completed>.
I’d like to set a call with you next week for a little bit of post-project wrap-up and review. I want to discuss how everything is working out for you, check if any tweaks are needed, and just make sure we’ve delivered 100%.
Please let me know what times work for you, or grab a time on my calendar: <calendar link>
If you haven’t contacted this person in a few months or more, they might not be expecting to hear from you. That’s OK, you just need word it a little differently:
How is everything going with <project you have worked on>?
Since it’s been some time now, I’d love to jump on the phone <or suggest buying them a coffee> to make sure everything is going well and to see if there are any opportunities to improve.
Please let me know what times work for you or grab a time on my calendar <calendar link>
Each email should be personalized, not just copy-paste.
3) During this call, take the time to not only learn how the project went, but move the conversation over to what they are trying to accomplish through it. Listen and learn about your client’s business and challenges. If you’ve never done this before this may feel weird and new, but be genuinely curious and focus on learning (rather than selling anything), and you will know vastly more about your client.
IMPORTANT: This is not a sales call and you shouldn’t act like it’s one. Put yourself in the mindset of giving advice to a friend or colleague instead. As counterintuitive as it sounds, you should be thinking of how you can help and advise this person, not about how you can sell more.
4) Follow up 1-3 days later with recommendations
During these conversations it’s very likely that you will pick up on challenges that your client is seeking to solve and which you have the answers to! It is also very likely that there is work that you could do for your client that would genuinely help them move forward with that goal.
Once you’ve started these relationships, keep going by staying in touch and maintaining an open dialogue with your client about their goals. I try to stay in touch with most of my clients at least every month or two. These follow-ups might be as simple as checking in on how the work we created is performing, or bring information or ideas that the client might find valuable.
Eventually when you gain the role of being a trusted part of your client’s team, it will become easy and natural to simply take them out for coffee every quarter and they will jump at the opportunity.
The process I have shared today completely changed my agency and my life. Thanks to constantly selling to my existing clients and building those relationships, I don’t need to take on nearly as many new clients each year.
This gives me the breathing room to choose the clients I work with carefully, and only get involved in projects that I want to be involved in. It quite literally made web development fun and interesting again.