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How do you retain your design clients?

As a designer, you know how much work goes into acquiring new design clients. However, you also need to put some effort into retaining your existing design clients, or they may be taken away from you.

The design industry is not like the retail market where people walk into a store, browse around and then decide if they want to make a purchase.

Nor are we like other service businesses such as plumbers or auto mechanics. In those businesses, their clients call upon them whenever they have a problem that needs fixing like a leaky toilet or a car that won't start.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the design industry, things are not so cut and dry. There are many businesses that would benefit from working with a designer, but they don’t because they don’t see the value in hiring a professional like you. They don't understand how a professional designer can help boost their business.

Even worse, they do know the value of good design, but they are either misled to believe that cheep crowd designed alternatives are just as good as working one on one with a professional designer. Or they think their branding and marketing material is something they can handle themselves.

I wish there was an easy way to show these businesses the benefits professional designers bring to the table and how hiring you could help their bottom line. But, there isn’t.

That’s why it’s so important that when you start working with a new client, you do everything you can to retain that client once the project is over.

In this episode of the Resourceful Designer podcast, I share tips and tricks to increase your chances of retaining those design clients. Here's an overview of what I talk about but for the full story be sure to listen to the episode. Better yet, subscribe to the podcast and never miss a single episode.

Retaining your design clients requires effort.

Just like any business It takes a bit of marketing to ensure your existing clients remain your clients. In essence, you need to stay in contact with your clients even when you are not working on projects for them. Because if you are not staying in touch, you are opening the door for someone else to step in and sway those design clients away from you.

Think of it this way… Do you always bring your car to the same place for service? Most people do. They find a service shop they like, and they stick with it. They go there for minor things like oil changes and tire rotations as well as bigger things like transmission problems and engine issues.

But what if another shop offers you a more convenient option for oil changes? Maybe they are less expensive. Maybe they offer a faster turnaround; Maybe they don't require an appointment so you can go whenever you have 30 minutes to spare as opposed to your current garage that tells you when it's convenient for them to take you. Would any of these options entice you to go to this new place? It's only an oil change after all. You can still get your other services done at your normal garage.

What has your garage done AFTER you've left their establishment to maintain your loyalty? Chances are they haven't done anything. They just expect you to keep coming back time after time because you always have. But without their even realizing it, you've found a new place to have your car's oil changed. And now that you've made that first step it will be much easier for you to go elsewhere when another shop offers you a convenient option for a different service.

The same can happen with your design business. Just because you’ve done multiple jobs for a client doesn’t necessarily mean they will bring their next job to you. You have to stay in touch and keep working on retaining those clients if you want them to keep coming back to you.

How to retain your existing design clients.

Open communication

Encourage open communication with your clients by requesting feedback and suggestions from them. Reach out to them after each project and ask them what they thought. Ask them if there were any steps in the process that could have been handled better?

Establishing a communication like this will make the client feel closer to you and make it harder for them to leave you for someone new.

Send follow-up notes

Shortly after a project is finished you should reach out to your client with an email or better yet, a handwritten thank you note thanking them for allowing you to work on their job.

Be sure to mention what you liked about working on that project and with them. If you learned a new skill along the way be sure to mention it. Clients love knowing how they helped contribute to you and your businesses growth.

Don't forget to take this opportunity to offer related services you could do for them. Mention a few other things they could get from you or services you offer that they might not know about. Trust me; most clients don't know all the services you can offer them.

Feature your clients

Did you design something really good for a client? Make sure you share it on your social media and be sure to tag your client in the post. There's a really good chance the client will see it and either respond and/or repost it themselves. This creates great social proof of what you are capable of doing and could lead to even more clients in the future.

You could also share any client testimonials you receive or any success stories your client has that comes from something you designed for them.

Reach out on special occasions.

If you know your clients birthday, their work anniversary or the month their business was established, send them a note or greeting card congratulating them. This is such a simple thing to do, but it is huge when it comes to building relationships with your clients.

Add any special dates to your calendar and set reminders a few weeks ahead of time, so you know when to mail things out.

Create a newsletter

You're probably thinking “who has time to send out newsletters?”. The real question is who can afford not to send out newsletters. You, that's who. A newsletter is a very simple way to stay in contact with your clients. Even if they don't take the time to read it, the fact that you are reaching out to them will keep you front of mind when they next need a designer.

Newsletters don't have to be complicated. Yes, they are a great way to showcase your design skills, but even a plain and simple divided email will suffice.

In your newsletter, you should include a “useful news you can use” section with tips and tricks to make your client's life easier. Perhaps advice on how to create better social media posts or a unique way to promote their website.

You should also pick one or two recent projects to showcase. Talk about what you did for a client and the results. The client being showcased will appreciate the exposure and your other clients may get ideas from it and contact you with more work.

Don't forget also to mention services you offer such as trade show banners or Facebook ads. Remember what I said earlier, there's a good chance your clients have no idea what you do other than what they hired you for. So mention unique things that may interest them.

Start a retainer program

Working with a business on retainer is almost a guaranteed way of retaining them as a client. Why would they shop around for design services if they are already paying you up front?

A great way to get clients to sign up for a retainer is to offer them a discount on their first-time sign-up. You can then keep enticing them by offering a similar discount if they renew the agreement before the current one expires. I talk more about retainer agreements in episode 32 of the podcast.

Socialize with your clients

I'm not saying you should take your design clients out for drinks, although it wouldn't hurt. What I'm suggesting is for you to attend trade shows and events where your clients are, Just by being there you are showing your client that you care about them.

Follow and interact with your client on social media

Social media is a great way to build relationships with your clients. Commenting on and sharing their posts is sure to be noticed and appreciated by your client. They will be less likely to use someone else's design services if they see you interacting with them online.

It's all about the relationship

Retaining your design clients is all part of building relationships with them. The closer they feel to you, the less likely they are to wander off and find a new designer.

In my example above, the auto repair shop could have retained their client if they had just put a bit of effort to make that client feel important to them.

I want you to make an extra effort this year to keep in touch with your design clients and build relationships with them. They’ll thank you for it by remaining loyal to you.

What do you do to retain your design clients?

There are so many more ways to build client relationships and ensure client loyalty. What methods do you use? Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Questions of the Week

I don't have a question this week, but I would love to answer one of yours in an upcoming episode of the podcast. You can submit one by visiting the feedback page and then keeping an ear out for my answer.

Tip of the week Set a goal for your design business.

It's January as I write this, so it's the perfect time of the year to set goals. I'm not talking about losing those extra pounds you need to get rid of, I'm talking about goals for your design business. Ways to help you grow and prosper. Without goals, there's no way to measure your achievements. In episode 55 of the podcast I talked about setting goals for your design business, you may want to go back and listen to that one. But the simple matter is if you want to succeed you should be setting goals.

  • Are you in the “I'm thinking of it” stage of starting a design business? Set a goal to have something up and running by a certain date.
  • Are you a new and growing design business? Set a goal to gain X number of clients by a certain date.
  • Are you an established design business? Set a goal to expand into new markets and start working towards achieving it.
  • Are you losing focus? Fine a niche you are passionate about and focus on it.

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I want to help you.

Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business, please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at feedback@resourcefuldesigner.com