New clients are critical to any freelance business. But the process of finding, selling to, and winning these clients takes a lot of time and energy.
And no matter how sophisticated your marketing is, dry spells can happen where the right projects just don't seem to come in, or those proposals just don't seem to close.
So when you have put your heart and soul and energy into winning a new client, wouldn't you want to work with them for as long as possible?
Personally, generating new projects from existing clients have been critical to my web agency's stability and success.
But if you have ever tried to email all of your clients and simply ask if they have more work for you, your results have probably been mixed at best.
The problem is that most clients have no idea how your services can actually help them achieve their goals, even if tonnes of opportunities exist to do so. And no one likes spending money for the sake of it. So inevitably most clients will say that they have nothing needing done, or will have minor work for you.
Fortunately there's a much better approach, where you can immediately deliver value to your clients, and at the same time, uncover opportunities to do a whole heck of a lot more work for them. The trick is to create a deeper conversation about their needs, instead of asking them what they need.
The Solution to Creating this Conversation: Strategy Calls
Strategy calls are simply a phone call or coffee meeting that you book with each of your clients (ideally regularly like once a quarter).
The purpose of the call is to have a candid conversation about what your client is trying to accomplish through the work that you do for them, how things have performed so far, and how the client can reach their goals.
Unlike a sales call, clients will usually take you up on these. Nobody likes to be sold to, but most of us are very happy to have a professional share their expertise.
I love these calls because it's an opportunity to learn what my clients are truly struggling with, and to help them get past the struggles. And often times, revealing these struggles also reveals huge opportunities to do more work for the client by solving these struggles.
As a web agency owner, here are some examples of the types of challenges that get revealed at these meetings and the corresponding opportunities to work more with the client:
- Challenge: when asked about their goals for the next year, client wants to increase the sales of their products online.
Opportunity: lots of opportunities to optimize the website itself to boost conversions. Or find new ways of bringing traffic to the site. Or improve client's existing marketing campaigns. Or so on.
- Challenge: after reviewing client's analytics together, we've noticed that bounce rates for mobile traffic are high (which means less sales/leads from mobile).
Opportunity: analyze and redesign the mobile experience to make purchasing through mobile easier.
- Challenge: client's admin staff can't keep up with the huge amount of data entry that is resulting from clients placing orders online.
- Opportunity: automate the transfer of order data from website to whatever business system they need the data in (hint to programmers: clients rarely understand just how much can be automated and the tremendous savings on staff costs this can create).
All of these are examples of the kinds of issues that clients bring up when you take the time to have a candid conversation about their business and what challenges they face.
Of course depending on the services you provide and who your clients are, the sets of challenges that come up can be completely different. But as long as the client is bringing up important goals or struggles that they have, you're in business.
Tips for a Successful Strategy Call
Take a diagnostic approach to the conversation:
The key to a successful strategy call is the same as when speaking to a prospective client: taking lots of time to listen.
Imagine going to a doctor's office. Before recommending any course of action, the doctor's first job is to listen to the patient and to prompt them with the right questions. They are performing a diagnosis, so that they can advise the patient accordingly.
You too want to listen to your client, and prompt them with the right questions. Except instead of discussing the regularity of their bowel movements, you are interested in their business, and especially the part of their business that's impacted by your services.
A good starting point to conversation is the original business problem that drove your client to hire you in the first place.
For example clients normally hire me because they want a new website (this is the service I provide). And they want a new website, because they want to get more customers (this is the business problem they are trying to solve).
So in that scenario I would frame the conversation around how the website is doing with helping them find customers. We may go through some sales numbers (this is where research ahead of time pays off). We may compare expectations to present reality. We may look at their next year's goals in this area.
Through asking lots of questions, and taking the time to listen, we could uncover any number of opportunities to help the client meet or exceed their goal of getting customers (all tied back to the website).
Always the goal is listening and asking deeper questions, to find out where the big struggles are, and where the client can make changes that can have a big win.
Like anything, this takes practice, especially if you are used to having the client simply tell you what they want, and you execute the orders. But learning to take a diagnostic approach is worth your while: it's the difference between being a technician who simply does what they are told (relatively low rates) to being the consultant that advises on what needs to be done (much higher rates).
It's definitely possible to "wing" these calls and rely purely on the conversation above to make the appropriate recommendations. But why put that kind of pressure on yourself?
By investing an hour or two into research beforehand, you can walk into the meeting already armed with a couple takeaways for the client that you can pull out at the right time.
For example: as a web developer, I make sure that we get access to every client's Google Analytics account when we setup the site (they are almost always happy to provide that access). A properly setup analytics account that tracks goals and (if applicable sales) is a treasure trove of data and a couple wins can be found just by digging into the data.
Of course Analytics isn't the only way to get useful information. If you're a marketer, you probably have access to information such as the client's email list growth, SEO rankings, sales data, pay-per-click campaigns, and so on. If you're an app developer, you have hopefully setup various tools to get information on the user experience, error reports, and other feedback.
External research is extremely helpful too (and a substitute for internal data if you don't have access to it). What are the client's major competitors doing? What sort of industry trends are happening that are relevant to the client and to your work? What sorts of new tools are available?
In every profession there are countless publications and conferences where your peers are sharing what's working for them and their clients today. It's your professional duty to steal these ideas liberally for the benefit of your clients (hopefully one day you too will be sharing and giving back and so the cycle will continue).
In my line of work I'm always paying attention to:
- New ideas and studies on conversions and user experience.
- New tools and services that may be relevant to clients.
- Trends in my clients' industries and what their competition is doing.
- Changes in technology or the legal landscape that can have a major impact on my clients' business (eg. HTML 5, accessibility laws, Canada's new anti-spam laws, etc).
Being an expert doesn't mean having to invent everything yourself. It's just as valuable to understand your field and know what ideas you can bring in to help your clients.
Focus on delivering value to the client through the call:
Your top priority should be to deliver value to the client through the call and to act in their best interest.
All the value in these calls for you and your client comes from you putting on your hat as a professional who is here to understand the client's problem and provide your professional opinion and guidance on how to solve it.
Taking that approach will uncover things that your clients can and should implement, which might not necessarily involve your services.
For example I have helped clients make crucial tweaks to improve their approaches to sales, to getting local reviews, even to getting their data into QuickBooks more effectively. None of which involved my agency providing services me getting paid, but all of which were big wins for my clients so that is why I shared them.
But other times, the challenges that your clients face can be solved by your services and will leave you both better off!
Some of these calls have immediately resulted in $10,000 to $40,000 in new projects, and these were opportunities that the client would have never known to bring up on their own!
Get Started: How to Book the Strategy Call and Get a "Yes"
Again, the beauty of the strategy call is that it's not a sales meetings. Most of your clients want to sit down with you and have a chance to tap your expertise. All you have to do is ask.
Here's a dead simple word-for-word script that you can adopt for your own business:
The above is the general structure, but personalize as much as possible to each individual client. There is no need to try to automate or mass e-mail these. If you have time to meet with this person, you have time to compose a proper invite.
If they reply in the affirmative get the call booked and you're on your way!