How to build a thriving studio

Discover how to hang on to your clients and stop them defecting to rival companies.

01. Create a sense of trust

Beyond quality work, delivered in a timely manner, the main thing that will keep clients on side is trust and understanding. When you only have a small number of employees, that can be easier to achieve than in a huge, impersonal organisation, so make the most of it, says Wade. "Predominantly, it's about a shared sense of what the brand needs, its trajectory, its future and becoming a genuine partner. Pursue that, as we did at SteadyGo, and you'll end up with a lot of long-term clients as a result." 

02. Provide consistency

Clients like consistency, and that's another thing you should be better positioned to provide as a small business. "In a big company, a client may get shifted through four designers through the progress of the work," points out Cecere. "Or they may have an account director for six months, and then get a new one all of a sudden. In contrast, at Little & Company, you get a dedicated team that stay with you. We have decades-long relationships because of those strong bonds." 

03. Recognise you both want the same things

Just as you want a long-term relationship with a client, remember that they also want a long-term relationship with you. This came into sharp focus for Giansante this year when BGN was launched. He made it clear to each client that cashflow was crucial in these early days. "And everyone's responded well and paid on the dot," he says. "They were all saying: 'We want to help you through it.' So it's always important to remember that these relationships work both ways."

04. Be a good listener

Often, a client will come to a small agency because they feel that bigger companies don't listen to them, or have time for them. So don't disappoint. "At 50,000feet, great communication begins by listening," says Misener. "Then, we focus on executing on clients' specific challenges – quickly and beautifully. We approach every client interaction from a service-minded standpoint: what insight can we share, what inspiration can we offer, what confidence can we instill and what trust can we build."

05. Be personable

One thing people like about small creative businesses is that they're generally more easy-going and personable than big companies, so use that to your advantage, says John Spencer, founder of Middlesex agency Offthetopofmyhead. "I think you dramatically improve your chances by being approachable and friendly," he explains. "Nobody wants to deal with an agency if they're full of their own importance – and there are plenty of these agencies around. Clients want to enjoy the experience, and it's up to us to make sure they do."

06. Manage expectations

Even if you do everything possible right, don't expect every client to stay with you forever, says Utber. "There's natural attrition as well. When you work on a project basis, once the brand is developed, the client will often find someone in-house or a less expensive agency to handle things. That's very much a fact of life." So build in that expectation to your projection and if it happens, don't dwell too much on it. If you're always finding new clients, then losing old ones shouldn't hurt as much. 

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