The transition from freelancers to agency has not been without a learning curve, and at times, that curve has been pretty big. One of the biggest pitfalls we’ve learned to overcome, and hopefully even avoid is working with clients that just aren’t the right fit. In fact, maybe our biggest take away from the past few years has been figuring out why we don’t want clients at all.
We want partners.
Let me elaborate. Since first starting out, we’ve gone through certain categories of clients. We found that in each category, clients perceived us differently, treated us differently, and most importantly, paid us differently. We still have some long time clients that fall into the various categories, but we’ve learned to identify what those are, and we’ve also learned what type of clients don’t really work with our model anymore. With this information in hand, we can effectively price our services, and prioritize whether or not we feel a potential customer will be a good fit for our growing team. Ultimately, we realized that the most lucrative client category is that of a long-term partnership. When we reached that point with some of our clients, we found that we experienced more financial stability, emotional stability, and gained mutual respect with the client. All in all, the partnership is a win-win.
So how did we figure this out in the first place? How did we know what these client categories were? Through experience and hindsight. I’ll walk you through the three different client categories and how we realized “clients” aren’t really our jam.
This type of client is generally the type you’ll get when you’re first starting out and still learning your craft. They tell you what they want and simply expect you to execute. This client treats you like a commodity, likening you to a craftsman or technician. Essentially, your client is your “boss.”
While this type of client relationship is sometimes necessary to get your foot in the door, it’s not really sustainable to stay with clients that fit into this category. Not only is it emotionally draining to feel like you have 8 or 10 mini “bosses” telling you what to do, but you and the client know that the services you’re offering are a dime a dozen, and you can be replaced by anyone.
If you find yourself in this phase, don’t worry. Recognize where you are, and if you’re still cutting your teeth in your industry, it’s not necessarily a bad place to be. This is your best classroom, so make sure you perfect your skills while the stakes are relatively low.
However, be forewarned that it can be easy to stay with this type of client longer than you should. I suggest that once you hone your skill, get out of there as quickly as you can. You deserve to work with clients that respect your expertise, and you deserve to work in a more sustainable environment. This is when you’ll naturally move on to the next client category.
At this point, you’ve developed a strong skill set in your field, and you now offer consultation. You can provide strategy as well as implementation, so your services are way more valuable to your clients. This is a great place to be as you are doing more substantive and thoughtful work that you can charge more for.
However, not everyone likes to work with an expert, and some will want to behave like a boss. Don’t allow yourself to revert to this stage. Put your clients through a strong vetting process with your initial forms, sales copy, offers, conversion paths, and proposals. Make sure your clients perceive you as an expert by demonstrating how you can add value to them with your specialized skills.
For example, we offer digital marketing strategy and website maintenance when we build a client’s website because there is more to succeeding online than simply existing. Not only does the client get our signature service, but we’ve now educated them that there’s more to the picture than they thought. Most people are happy to know there are more ways we can help them succeed online, and are more inclined to trust us once we’ve inform them of this.
Most of our clients fall in this patron category, and that’s great! We all come to the table with the correct expectations and almost always everyone leaves the project satisfied. However, we’ve cultivated some long-term relationships that we very highly value and that have taken us to the next level of client category.
This type of client relationship is what we strive for and we think you should too. Long term partnerships are where you and the client work together to succeed. If they make money; you make money. At this point, the client trusts your skills and instincts, and seeks out projects that your services are fundamental to. You gain mutual respect, repeat services, and emotional and financial improvement in your business.
I’ll show you how this partnership works on the example of one of our own clients.
The client operates a web application software-as-a-service with subscribers and partners across different industries. Our relationship started like most others. We were hired to update an existing product and deliver some functionality in a given time frame. However, at their level, they need consistent maintenance, so our relationship evolved. Every time they roll out new features we do the development. That means we have ongoing work and have cultivated a rapport with the client so we can better anticipate their needs.
Not every client will turn into a partner. This relationship requires lots of trust and must evolve. However, you only need a few partnerships to substantially increase your financial stability allowing you to pursue or work on other projects.
What category do your clients fall in? Are you looking for meaningful partnerships? Let us know in the comments and click here to see if we could partner with you!