Other than selling your work for higher rates, nothing will increase your profit margins as a writer as much more work from existing clients. That’s why I was thrilled to get this question from Tom Mangan on LinkedIn:
What is the key to getting repeat business from clients?
This is an important question, because repeat business is profitable business–and it’s better for your clients, too, as we’ll explore below. Statistics vary, but most sources say it costs between six and eight times more to get a new customer than to keep an existing customer.
For solo entrepreneurs, that means it takes between six and eight times longer to get new customers than to sell a new service to an existing customer. While I haven’t timed it precisely, I can attest that this is roughly true for me. To get one new customer, I have to market myself, meet with multiple prospects, expend time and energy building trust, answer questions, negotiate contracts, etc. etc. etc… just to get one new project. And because there is always risk with a new client (some turn out to be difficult–a topic for another day), this is an exhausting and, though necessary, not terribly profitable exercise.
Now compare that to working with an existing client, when it goes like this:
- They or I become aware of a need
- We determine that I can help with that need
- We define the scope of the solution
- I send an updated contract and invoice
- I get paid
- I deliver the work
(Pro Tip: In the case of existing trusted clients, you can begin the work immediately, knowing that you will get paid in a timely fashion. With new clients, never begin work until after you are paid the 50% up front. If they’re in a rush, they can rush the payment. Learn more about getting paid fast here and about what to charge here.)
Repeat business is better for your client, as well. They get more of their problems solved, while working with a known, trusted relationship. Furthermore, the more work you do for a given client, the faster and better you get at it. Win win win. I love win win wins.
All right. So you know you want that repeat business. Here’s how to get it.
Step One: Provide Remarkable Value
Hands down, this is absolutely the most important task in front of you if you want repeat business. When you’re providing remarkable value, your clients will naturally want to do business with you again. If you’re not providing value? You’re not going to get the repeat business. Simple.
What does it mean to provide remarkable value? Let’s start with a couple things it does NOT mean:
- NOT more work for less money.
- NOT more work for less money.
- NOT more work for less money.
Value has little to do with the amount of work you put in and everything to do with whether your contribution helps the client meet their goals. So, to provide more value, you must understand your client’s goals.
To do that, start every project with these questions:
- What is the larger business goal this content will serve? This question will be answered in big picture terms such as revenue, profit, more customers, or a faster sales cycle.
- Where in the customer/audience journey will this piece of content be used? This answer may be something like research, evaluation, decision-making, etc. A good resource for understanding the customer journey is the Hubspot Academy Inbound certification training.
- What does the customer/audience need to get out of this piece? This answer will be from the audience’s perspective.
- What do we want the customer/audience to do when they are done with this piece? This answer will be from your client’s perspective.
Simply asking those four questions will place you high in your client’s estimation. They have probably never been asked those questions by a writer before. The answers will inform the work you do so that it can serve the purpose it’s designed for, and thus provide remarkable value. The answers will also help you with step two.
Step Two: Look for Opportunities to Provide More Value
Even if your clients love working with you, that doesn’t mean they will work with you again unless they see an opportunity. And they may not see the opportunity, but you can. The key here is to listen closely during every conversation, always with the aim of helping. Go back to the questions in step one, and see if there are opportunities to provide additional value elsewhere in the sales or marketing system.
The best place to find opportunity is where there is pain. Listen carefully to your client when she speaks. When she expresses pain or frustration, slow down and let her talk about it. Ask her more questions about the pain. If you can make her feel that pain, then (and only then) demonstrate that you can make the pain go away, or reduce the pain, you will probably win some new business.
Now, be careful here. Your relationship with your client is one of your most valuable assets, so you don’t ever want to be pushy. The best remedy for this danger is to always think of yourself as a consultant, aimed at helping the client, rather than a salesperson aimed at making more sales.
Step Three: Don’t Do It For Free
Admit it. You’ve been here.
You’ve written a white paper for the client, and they say, “Now we need to get this out to our readers. How should we do that?”
You put on your best consulting hat and you say, “Well, you should definitely send it out via email. Also, have your sales team post it to their LinkedIn accounts. And maybe write a blog entry (or six–more on that in a future entry) to announce it.”
The client says, “That sounds good. Can you write up that email for us real quick?”
And you think (to yourself), “Gosh, this client has done so much for me. It really won’t take very long. And I want to keep their business and make them happy and I want them to love me so I will feel worthwhile and justify my existence on this earth.”
And then you say…
NO. YOU DON’T. YOU DON’T SAY THE THING YOU WANT TO SAY.
Your existence on this earth is already justified because you are here and you belong. You don’t need anybody’s slavish adoration. What you need, is to get paid what you’re worth, so you can pursue your dreams.
So, what do you say instead of “yes, whatever you want, master, I love you”?
Memorize these words: “Sure! I’ll be glad to help with that. Let’s talk scope.”
And then you work with them to figure out everything they need in order to promote the content in the way that makes sense for their goals, and then you say:
“Great. I’ll review this and send you a quote in the morning. Do you have a timeline in mind?”
Step Four: Lather, Rinse, Repeat, Retainer
Keep paying attention, keep listening. Occasionally remind your clients of additional services you offer. Follow these steps, and you will get repeat business. But let’s take it up a notch and talk about the holy grail: Retainers.
Retainers are the bomb.
Most of my income is retainer-based, and it’s marvelous because:
- I don’t have to go out looking for income every month.
- I can actually make a budget and stick with it.
- I have more time for me.
- I have more time to focus on my clients.
- I can get in deep with those clients and really know their audience and their market.
- Retainer clients frequently ask for extra work which is extra income without extra marketing.
- The clients love it because we don’t have to renegotiate constantly, we just do the work. We have regular meetings, the deliveries come like clockwork, it’s no-hassle, and no stress.
So, how do you get your clients on retainer? Do all of the steps above, and then simply make the suggestion. Depending on your client’s goals, think about what you could do on a repeating basis that would provide value. Blogging is the obvious one (most of my retainers have a blogging component), but press releases, case studies, white papers, ebooks, and other items can be produced on a regular schedule too with great results, depending on the goals and resources of your client.
When you present the idea to your client, remember to focus on the benefits to them. You can also let them know that they’ll get some package savings by committing to a monthly amount, as well as priority treatment. For instance, my standard turn-around on most deliverables is about three weeks from when I have everything I need (interviews, etc.). Retainer clients get priority treatment, with a turn-around of about two weeks. They also get moved into earlier slots in the week when I have them, so that if someone is going to get a deliverable early, it’ll be a retainer client. I’m also able to move my schedule around more to accommodate their needs, because I know the work is coming, so I leave slots in my schedule for it.
Do these things, and your profits will increase and your stress will decrease. Do it, and let me hear about your results.