What’s their secret? Certain Web designers in your field of vision have hardly skipped a beat during the post-dotcom downturn. Meanwhile, you’re sweating a bit more than you enjoy about where the next project will come from. How did this happen?
Take a close look at some of your neighborhood service firms to see how well they’re prospering. Doubtless everyone has cut back in the last year or two — that’s just common sense. But there might be another reason why some companies are surviving while others shrink.
In good times and bad, savvy business people have but one focus — the customer. They know it’s much more cost-effective to sell more services to an existing client than to fund new customer acquisition. Their client list is their most valuable asset, but more than that, they develop long-lasting relationships by keeping in touch — in good times and bad.
Relationship marketing delivers many benefits to a design firm, big or small. Slowly but surely, as you build your client and prospect list, you’ll be able to reduce marketing expenses, build referrals, and grow your business in step with your clients’ needs.
1. Change your Perspective from "Here’s what I do" to "What do you need?"
The cornerstone of successful relationships is to discover precisely what your clients need and want.
Your clients say they need a Website. But what they mean is they need to increase sales revenue. You can develop the right kind of site to do that, but only if you understand your client’s basic needs. You find those out by asking questions: lots and lots of questions!
2. Recognize your Vulnerability
In the midst of a project, you might be in touch with your client several times a week. But it’s the time between projects that is crucial to relationship-building. Once the work is done, you drop out of that enviable top-of-mind awareness position. Over time, your client isn’t as likely to think of you as their first port of call for a solution to their problem. This is when you’re most vulnerable to replacement by a competitor.
Fortunately, an affordable solution can help you retain those clients you worked so hard to acquire.
3. Keep in touch
It’s such a simple concept, but keeping in touch often sinks to the bottom of the ‘to do’ list. The single easiest way to keep in touch is to publish an email newsletter. Ask clients to subscribe and insert a subscription box on your site to capture email addresses of prospects who like the look of what you’re doing.
The secret to a good newsletter is to avoid blatant self-promotion, and instead offer valuable information to your subscribers. With their permission, you have the opportunity to drop into their email boxes every month with news, tips, case-studies, FAQs, and other relevant info that subtly promotes your services, reinforces your brand, educates your clients, and builds trust.
4. Position Yourself as an Expert
So many Web designer sites are elegant portfolios, and while they look great, they don’t say anything.
Words matter. Prospective clients are looking for more than thumbnail images of sites you’ve built. Your job is to tell them how you can meet their needs. Your Website is the perfect place to start, but the focus must be on the client, not on you.
Include white papers on design issues, special reports, case-studies, and links to other resources that will educate your clients on the inner workings of design. Be careful to avoid jargon, overly technical concepts and acronyms. If you’re publishing an email newsletter, use it to introduce this new content and bring subscribers back to your site.
When you are perceived as an expert, you become attractive to prospects who use the Web to research. They see you as someone who has answers to their questions, and who can help solve their problems. Not only that, the added site content should also improve your search engine rankings.
5. Grow to Meet Client Needs
Websites are hardly stand-alone entities that need an occasional tweak. For most businesses, they’re but one tool amidst many that are used to build brand, inease revenues or minimize costs. And by offering more tools that help your clients reach their goals, you become more valuable. Build affiliations or strategic relationships with copywriters, photographers, search engine marketers, and other specialists whose talents will benefit your clients.
The benefits of a relationship marketing approach go both ways. Your client views you as a valuable consultant, rather than a cost center. Your potential for increased revenues and a long-lasting relationship is real.
There’s payoff for you, too, including reduced marketing expenses measured in both time and money. If you can retain more clients for longer periods, you’ll trim costly space advertising and other marketing costs.
If you ask, you’ll get more referrals from your clients. Priceless word-of-mouth endorsements from satisfied customers will result in new business which magically walks in the door.
You won’t even have to request client testimonials. You do include several on your Website… right? Start by recognizing when you receive a spontaneous testimonial, whether it’s in an email, thank-you letter, or a conversation. Ask your client if you may use his words and name in your brochure and on your site, with a link to his business. Most often, the answer is yes. Testimonials are a critical piece of successful service marketing and worth their weight in whatever precious metal you value.
Case-studies will be a breeze and add a powerful marketing tool – perfect for your Website or for inclusion in printed marketing materials. Follow a ‘situation — problem — solution — benefits’ flow to highlight how you solved the client’s problem, stressing the benefits the client now enjoys as a result of your work. Use a handful of client case studies in industries you’re targeting for new business development. Examples of "just like me" situations help prospective clients understand exactly how useful your services are.
Relationship-focused marketing isn’t something that will happen overnight. It requires a change in thinking and some discipline along the way. Your email newsletter won’t do much good unless you publish it regularly and the content is valued by your subscribers. But the rewards can be significant. And the truth is that no matter how wonderful you are, clients go away. Their businesses close down, change focus, or are sold.
But if your objective is to build relationships instead of Websites, you’ll be one of the designers in business for the long run.