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Sales - 9 min READ

Need to build client relationships? Here's how.

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Author photo: Michelle Lee

Michelle Lee

Customer Enablement Manager

Relationship-building with a new client starts on Day 0.

From the very beginning––before a client even thinks about signing on to work with you––you need to be laying the foundation for a strong relationship.

But when you’re limited on time and resources (as most small business owners are), it can be challenging to know where to focus your energy for stronger client relationships. Building these client relationships takes time, and when your to-do list is already miles long, you need to put in the effort where it matters most.

For service-based small businesses, strong client relationships are especially important. As a freelancer or small agency owner, you rely on your clients sticking around to make consistent revenue.

See how this creative agency / production company builds client relationships and gets jobs done with a CRM.

Unfortunately, there’s no shortcut to building and maintaining a strong client relationship––but we do have tips on how you can create those connections as efficiently as possible.

Here are some best practices for every stage of the relationship. Let’s start at the beginning of your client relationship.

Set the tone of your relationship.

The first few days or weeks after connecting with a potential customer can be crucial. Because the relationship is still fresh, it’s quite fragile.

Think about your first connection like a first date. You may end the evening excited about who you just met, which can lead to a good relationship, but if they take too long to follow up or reconnect, you might lose interest. Eventually, in turn, you may move on to someone else.

The same applies to client relationships. In the early days, you need to establish your relationship by setting the right tone. Here’s how.

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1. Take detailed notes.

Leads and prospects can tell if you’re trying to push a cookie-cutter sales approach on them. To set the relationship off to a good start, prove you were listening to their needs from the very beginning, which can lead to client satisfaction.

Take clear, detailed notes you can refer back to later. Record any professional needs, such as milestones or challenges you discuss with the client, as well as personal details, such as a client’s hometown or favorite sports team. Anything to help build that initial connection.

Store your notes in a CRM. Having a central tool like a CRM creates an easy log of information on each client that you can refer back to throughout the development of your relationship. A CRM also makes it easy for you and your team to swap notes so everyone is always on the same page.

Copper allows you to easily create and store notes on clients and prospects, making it easier to have stronger client relationships and consistently meaningful conversations:

Try to make a point of adding a new note each time you connect with your client. This makes sure your information is always up to date and you’re always addressing the most relevant questions or concerns for existing clients.

2. Follow up first.

Have you ever talked with a potential client, things were going great, they agreed to follow up, and then… nothing?

Clients ghosting in the early stages of a business relationship isn’t all that uncommon––especially if they’re talking with your competitors too.

Taking the initiative to follow up can put you back in control of the conversation, and is a big step towards building client relationships. It also shows you’re serious about getting their business.

At the end of every client call or meeting, lay out the next steps. Your client may have items or ideas they’d like to think over or steps they need to complete before you can move forward, and they might say they’ll reconnect when those are finished. In these cases, propose a time they can expect to hear from you if no connection has been made, to build towards strong client relationships.

For example, a prospect says they want to review proposals and will get back to you at the end of the week. While this is perfectly fine, you can preemptively follow up by letting them know you’ll reach out on Monday if you haven’t heard anything to set that expectation.

Create a calendar reminder in your CRM to follow up on a certain date or time or add it as a task to make sure that you don't forget.

For example, in Copper, you can automate this process so that when certain events occur (like an opportunity has just closed—yay new client!), they'll trigger reminders letting you know to follow up:

You could also set up Copper to remind you to reconnect a certain number of days after an event, or to send you an alert if it's been a long time since you spoke to a client.

When you’re connecting with hundreds or even thousands of prospects and clients at once, automating these tasks can become a real lifesaver.

3. Let “bad” fits go.

It’s unrealistic to assume every prospect you connect with will be a perfect client fit. It’s also unrealistic to think you can offer the right solution to each client you talk to. Knowing when to go your separate ways, even with existing clients, is important for both of your happiness.

If you come across a client who you’re not a good fit for, be ready to refer them to another freelancer or agency. While it might seem counterintuitive to end a relationship with a client before even getting started, it can actually help build trust—which can pay off later on.

Clients know it isn’t easy to turn away potential business, so it’s respectable when you can admit you’re not the right fit. It also shows that you’re interested in ensuring they get the best work possible––even if it’s not coming from you.

If the client does end up needing your services, or they run into someone in their network who does, that trust will already be established so they’ll be more likely to come back or refer friends, family, and business partners to you.

Establish a referral relationship with other service-based small businesses in your area that have similar yet different offerings. Have high-quality recommendations ready to go whenever you talk to a new potential client.

Build your client connection.

Just because you’ve landed a new client doesn’t mean you’re done developing the relationship.

You’ve made it through the awkward first conversations and determined you’re right for each other, but your potential client still isn’t ready to commit long-term. You might be in a trial phase or have a short-term contract with your client.

At this point in your client relationship, you need to focus on building up trust and improving your communication for client satisfaction. Here’s how.

4. Refer to your conversation history.

When a client relationship is still this fresh, you most likely won’t remember every little detail about what their company does or what they’re trying to accomplish––but it should feel like you do.

Clients want to know you’re listening. If they need to constantly repeat facts about their business or the hurdles they’re struggling to get over, it can feel like they’re not a priority. This frustration may push them to end their relationship early and move on to someone new.

Before each meeting with a client (especially a new client), give yourself a refresher by reviewing your conversation history. When building client relationships, check your notes and make a quick list of points to address during the next conversation.

This might mean answering questions they had asked in a previous meeting or even following up on an event in your client’s personal life, such as a vacation or other events.

If you're using a CRM like Copper, just open your customer's contact records:

Copper keeps a record of all your interactions and even emails to help you stay informed about your relationships.

Your CRM is the perfect place to log your conversation history—it can store and pull important information from you, from emails to phone calls to in-person meetings, so you and your team can easily remember where to pick up the conversation again.

5. Set reminders to reconnect.

When you have a packed schedule, working days can fly by. Soon you might check your calendar to see you haven’t connected with a new client in weeks––or worse, months.

A lot can happen when you lose touch with a client:

  • They may find other solutions to their problem.
  • They might start working with a competitor.
  • Reconnecting after too long also means you have to rebuild the relationship from scratch, essentially wasting the time and resources you put in initially.

Pro-tip: Keep your client relationship strong by setting reminders to reconnect. A set communication schedule ensures that the conversation never dies down.

As we already mentioned, you should be giving clients an idea of when they should expect to hear from you next. Don't forget to set these reminders to catch up with current clients on your calendar.

Using a CRM can help you track the last conversation you had with a client more easily. Rather than relying on your own notes and memory, the CRM records the date of your last contact and reminds you when to reach out again, even if it's just to make sure everything is going well and maintain positive client relations.

Within your Copper dashboard, you can search for people who haven't been contacted for a certain amount of time. Filter your list of contacts based on these criteria to identify who you need to follow up with.

This works for both clients and leads:

In Copper, you can filter your contacts to find people you haven’t connected with in a specific number of days.

You can then pull these contacts into a list of leads to follow up with. Using Zapier or a similar integration tool, set your CRM to automatically send reminders after a certain number of days has passed, preventing any leads and current clients from flying under the radar.

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Know thy client 🔍

Download this handbook to learn how to build strong relationships using customer data.

6. Get to the pain point first.

Communication isn’t the only important factor in building a strong relationship with a new client. While it’s great to be available whenever you’re needed, you also need to continuously prove that you’re able to provide the right solution to the client’s problems or needs.

Using your understanding of the client to identify client pain points (before they even realize the problem exists) can build trust and position you as a resource they can’t go without.

To identify pain points and problems, read into the conversations you’re having with each client and the questions they're asking you to identify the root of their business challenges.

While you don’t want to overstep boundaries and you always want to remain respectful, going above your client’s expectations can show you’re dedicated to helping them improve.

For example, if you’re working with a client to improve their content marketing plan but their website is outdated, you might want to suggest making improvements to their page. Explain how a well-designed blog can improve content traction and help them reach their marketing goals faster.

Pro-tip: When presenting ideas or solutions, know when to step back, and not cross the line with client relations. If it seems like you’re trying to sell them something they don’t need right now, it will ruin your client relationship. This is the time to be a consultant and advisor, not a salesperson.

7. Figure out your client’s communication style.

Whether it’s an in-person meeting or communicating through text messages, we all have our personal preferences for connecting with clients and other business partners. But when it comes to building a strong relationship with your clients, their needs should come first.

Get to know how your clients like to connect and fit their preferences––do they prefer video chatting, or is emailing less time-consuming for them?

Knowing your client’s communication styles can make it easier for you to get in touch with them when something urgent comes up. For example, if you know a particular client never checks their email, it might be more beneficial for you to give them a quick call if you have any questions.

On the other hand, if a client is constantly traveling or attending meetings, sending an email might be the best way to connect:

This client prefers email and Slack. In Copper, you can record that preference—and send an email in the same screen.

Nurture a long-term relationship.

Getting a new client relationship off the ground can take a lot of time and investment. But you don’t get to stop putting in work just because you’ve established some trust and understanding.

Think about an old friend you haven’t seen in a while. Although you may have enough history that you can call them up at any time, you still need to put in the effort to know what is going on in their life, what challenges they’re dealing with, and what they need from your relationship.

A client is the same.

Of course, nurturing long-term relationships with clients usually don’t require the same level of investment as you would with a partner or close friend, but they absolutely shouldn’t be ignored. Here are some tips for maintaining a healthy client relationship.

8. Set common goals.

Goal-setting is important for moving your business forward. But when used correctly, it can also improve your client relationships. Through establishing common goals that both you and your client can work towards, you can develop long-term bonds that make you more invested in one another.

When a client comes to you with a challenge or project, think beyond just solving that immediate problem. To create a valuable long-term relationship, consider how you both can continuously improve and work together to further improve their business.

Pro-tip: Start by setting short-term goals related to the specific issue the client is looking to solve. This should be a process that involves both you and your client.

Talk about what they hope to accomplish through working with you. Ask what results they want to see one month, six months, or one year out. Don't worry if these goals sound lofty right now; it can give you an idea of where they’d like to take their company––and how you can help make those dreams a reality.

Listen to your client and share ideas. Set clear, and more importantly, measurable objectives together and discuss expectations for both parties. Then discuss how you’re going to achieve each goal.

As you start checking things off your mutual to-do list, follow the same process to add new tasks and goals. If you’re able to grow together, your service-based small business can become an integral part of your client’s success.

9. Make client tasks as easy as possible.

Although your clients might be hiring you to complete a project, they shouldn’t be entirely hands-off. To get the best results, they should be involved in your business processes.

Let clients know as soon as possible that they’ll need to complete a certain task. If you need some information or if they need to upload something to their website, give them more than enough time to work these items into their schedules.

You’ll also want to simplify the process of completing tasks as much as you can. If clients need to share documents or other information with you, have a Dropbox or Google Drive account ready.

Likewise, see if you can work with your clients to see what tools or apps they’re already using. Can you accommodate their existing processes? This might not always be realistic, but if the tasks are easy for them to complete, they're more likely to get done.

Pro-tip: When you don’t need to chase after clients to finish a task or to get you the information you need, it's easier to maintain a healthy working relationship with them.

10. Establish clear payment processes.

Payment is crucial to any small business, but as a freelancer or consultant, an overdue invoice could mean being unable to pay a bill. When a client ignores your calls or forgets to pay, it can be tempting to get pushy.

Unfortunately, this rarely ends well. While a threatening letter from your attorney’s office might be what you need to get an invoice paid, it will almost always end the relationship.

Instead, establishing a clear invoicing and payment process can ensure you’re paid in full and on-time.

Talk to your clients early on about your payment requirements as well as their invoicing needs to set those expectations. Some companies have well-established terms to follow when paying independent contractors and vendors. It goes without saying that you should do your best to meet these requirements if they're reasonable.

Keeping solid records of your invoices and payments can also help you stay organized and know exactly who owes you what. A tool like AND CO can help you better manage your invoices and get paid on-time:

Get invoice payment alerts on your desktop, mobile phone or even Slack.

AND CO manages the entire invoice process and give you quick updates about your outstanding invoices and any upcoming due dates.

It also sends automatic payment reminders for both parties, letting you know when an invoice is overdue—and lets your clients know they still need to process their payment.

Clients can even pay invoices through the AND CO app. This makes things super easy for your clients and is much smoother than, say, setting up a bank transfer. Not to mention it'll make your Finance team happy.

11. Schedule regular feedback meetings.

Building a strong client relationship is a never-ending learning process. Because both you and your client are running dynamic businesses with changing needs, challenges, and goals, you need to remain in consistent contact to ensure you’re always on the same page.

Scheduling regular meetings or feedback calls is a great way to keep a long-term relationship with a client going.

This provides both parties with an opportunity to discuss what is going well and what might need improvement, as well as ideas for how the partnership should move forward.

How frequently your meetings or calls happen will probably depend on each client relationship. If some partnerships are newer, you might want to talk monthly or even weekly just to make sure you’re both meeting each other’s expectations. However, if you’ve been working with the same client for years, you may only need to reconnect once a quarter.

Try to keep your meetings on the calendar even if you don’t have any current projects or milestones on your plate. This keeps you and your business top-of-mind for the client and further strengthens your connection. If new work or projects pop up, you’re already there.

There’s no one-size-fits-all to client relationships.

Each client is unique and needs individual attention to build a long-term, trusting relationship. If you’re a service-based small business owner, it’s up to you to listen, understand, and provide what they need.

These best practices should be used as a launchpad for building relationships with prospects and clients. However, to build strong connections, don’t try to force your client to fit a standardized process.

Each client you work with will likely have their own expectations and business needs. Work with them to find a system that works for both of you, remain authentic, and prioritize building a long-term relationship that will help both of your businesses grow.

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