Every business owner knows a great client when we find one.
Great clients stand out from the crowd. They respect the work we do. They pay on time. They show up for planned calls and meetings. They know what they do know and what they don’t know — and understand they’re hiring you for your input and direction. They are all about managing expectations or having their own expectations managed. And most of all, they’re polite, personable, and a joy to work with.
If we are in the services industry, we’ve undoubtedly worked with clients that are the opposite of great clients, and we know it’s an unpleasant experience for all parties involved.
So what is it that separates a client that’s great from one that’s not-so-great? And what’s the impact of working with great clients (and not-so-great clients) on the business itself?
The key to running a long-term, successful, profitable business is client compatibility.
The better you get at spotting and attracting who you know will be your ideal clients, and simultaneously taking action to avoid working with difficult ones…
The happier you will be.
The happier your team members will be (which will increase employee retention).
The more successful your business will become.
The more profit you will generate as a result.
And, as a cherry on top, the more likely your great clients are to recommend their friends (other great clients) to be your clients too.
The big question is “How?”
Here’s how you can attract and keep more of the right clients:
1. Only work with people whose mission and values align with your own.
When you are first starting out, especially if you’re building any sort of agency, you may feel like you have to say yes to any and every client that walks through your door (or, in today’s digital economy, sends you an email and asks for you to hop on a Zoom call).
And while this might be true to a certain extent, you end up learning sooner or later that whatever you gain in saying “Yes” to certain client engagements, you’re making a sacrifice by potentially closing the door on other clients and opportunities. So eventually, you have to decide where you want to draw the line in the sand, and who is going to be worth your time. Every “no” can actually be a “yes” to something that’s a better fit and more aligned.
In our case, my PR agency Stanton & Company works primarily with companies in the healthy, active living space. Many of the brands we work with are startups, making incredible products and spreading health and good things in the world. As much as I would love to work with big brands with big budgets, if something out of alignment with our values approached us — even with a huge budget — I would assume this would be a difficult relationship. When I started my career in advertising, I worked on huge brands like Pizza Hut and Zantac75, and while these were great brands for learning the ropes of a big ad agency and developing huge ad campaigns, these brands weren’t personally aligned for me.
Particularly in PR, we need to believe in what we’re doing to get the best results. I’ve spent years building a company culture and ethos and attracting clients that know we are the best at what we do. And part of the reason for this is because we fully believe in our clients.
Your job as a business owner becomes a lot easier as soon as you make the decision to only work with people whose values align with yours.
2. Be clear about expectations upfront to ensure you’re a good fit for them, and they’re a good fit for you.
Nothing crushes business relationships more than mismanaged expectations.
The more you can ask questions in the beginning, the better you will learn what a client is looking for. They will tell you what their expectations are, and if those expectations align with what you feel you can realistically achieve, then it’s probably going to be a good fit for both of you. But if their expectations are far above and beyond what you expect to happen, or think you’ll realistically be able to deliver, then you’re setting yourself up for failure.
In addition, asking questions upfront will give you a good sense of what sort of engagement this will be. If the way they talk about results is very short-sighted, immediate, and without a clear understanding of how the process actually works, and they don’t seem very open to being educated based on what you’ve learned in the past, it’s usually a recipe for disaster.
People who want the world overnight tend to be difficult clients for all types of businesses. On the flip side, clients that are open to learning and growing together, are often the best clients, both in the short and long term.
3. Notice how they communicate with you from the very beginning.
There’s a famous quote that says something like, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.”
The moment you start communicating with a potential client, pay attention. Observe the way they treat you, the thoughtfulness of emails, how responsive they are, how decisive they are…and so much more. If they constantly forget to respond to emails, expect that pattern to continue well into your working relationship. If they show up to calls late or ask you to re-send the same documents a dozen times, you can assume this will be the norm moving forward.
This is “who they are.” Which means, if you were to work together, this is what you can expect.
The truth is, no client relationship is perfect 100 percent of the time.
The best clients are the ones that view you as a partner and treat you that way. And when there are problems (in the relationship or in the business or in the world), they jump in both feet first so the problem-solving becomes a true team effort.
Those are relationships worth fighting for.