How to find better clients

A few months ago, Khoi Vinh wrote an article declaring the end of client services. I'll be the first to admit Khoi is a super-smart guy who has done a lot for the industry. I'll also say I agree with Khoi that for a lot of people, both clients and web professionals, client services is not the best option. In fact, there is very little I take issue with except Khoi's conclusion. I don't think that the client service model is dead. I think rather that it has to evolve. For those of us running digital agencies, the first step in this evolution is about understanding who we want to work with.

Defining better clients

Before you can find better clients you have to define “better.” To do that, you have to get real about who you are and who you want to be. For some, helping that local Italian restaurant create an awesome website that brings hungry customers in for all-you-can-eat pasta is heaven. Others want that huge name brand, or to work in a certain industry. Picking the type of project you want is certainly one way to go, but I'd walk lightly on this path.

Instead, figure out the type of people you want to work with. Are they fun and playful or no-nonsense? Are they always running around in a panic or are they calm and collected? Take a moment to think back on the best working relationship of your life. Not necessarily the best project, but a client whose characteristics made you excited to get to work every time. What made that experience so positive? What was their personality? Their work style? How did they deal with the inevitable issues that come up? Build a profile using that good client's characteristics based on your working relationship, not the end product of that relationship.

So now we know who we're looking for. But who are they looking for?

Defining your ideal client by budget or industry isn't enough. Define their personal characteristics and work-style

Defining your ideal client by budget or industry isn't enough. Define their personal characteristics and work-style

Being true to yourself

Thoreau wrote, "Beware of all enterprises that require new clothing." With those words in mind, ask yourself, "Would I hire me if I were my dream client?" If you're honest with yourself the answer is probably no or, at best, maybe. Now here comes the tough part: Write down all the things that would make your dream client nervous about hiring you. Take time to make this list real and thorough. Ask previous clients or, better yet, decision makers involved in the opportunities you didn't get. Now take a long look at the list of things you'll need to change to get a better client to hire you. Go down the list one by one and ask yourself, "Do I want to make this change?" Or, more importantly, "Can I make this change and continue to enjoy what it is I love to do?" If you can then do it! If not, you need to redefine what you consider to be a better client. Otherwise, you'll always be struggling to get comfortable in “new clothing” thats just not a good fit.

Telling your story

Now that you know who you are and the types of client you want, you have to make sure every point of contact a prospect has with you gives them the right impression. Include questions in your client survey about how they'd like to work together. For example, do they prefer email or phone conversations? How involved do they want to be in the process? What role do they want their internal team to play? Also be sure to include your approach to and process of great projects in your portfolio. Don't just show pretty pictures — tell the story of what it was like to work with that client. In all of your communications, help the prospect envision what it will be like to work with you, not just what the end product may be like. This includes phone conversations and emails. Tell stories of previous projects that went great as well as ones that didn't. The honesty will resonate with the right clients. It will also deter the ones you shouldn't work be working with, which is a big key to your future success.

Send signals to prospective clients about who you are and what it would be like to work together

Send signals to prospective clients about who you are and what it would be like to work together

Creating awareness

With everything in tune to welcome your new and improved clients, it's time to find them. The tactics you choose to find the right clients are as important as identifying who you want to work with. How you find them has to be enjoyable for you and be in sync with your beliefs. For example, if you hate it when a company cold calls you about getting your business then don't do it to those you want to work with. But if you like asking friends on Twitter for recommendations on hiring someone, make sure your friends know to recommend you, too.

This goofy conversation led to a meeting about working together a week later

This goofy conversation led to a meeting about working together a week later

Qualifying prospects

During the years Ive been responsible for finding clients for nGen Works, Ive tried a lot of different strategies and tactics to get the attention of prospects we wanted. Its been said that success is a numbers game and I agree. The most successful strategies involve different ways of sharing our philosophy with as many people as possible. The ones we connect with become a network that help the right clients find us.

The one question we always ask when first talking with a prospect is how they heard about us. When we see the connection between the prospect and an article we wrote or the link to a previous client we loved, we know weve got a winner. If they found us on a CSS gallery or love a project we worked on we know we have some work to do to qualify the lead.

Loving life

When youre creating cool things with cool people you like, life is good. To me thats the biggest need in client service today. Popular sites like Clients From Hell show how many of us are working with people we dont like. But why — when we hold the magic of creating the digital world in our hands — would we act like we have no control over whom we work with? We have complete control and its time we start matching ourselves with people we want to work with instead of work that would look good in our portfolio.

But wait, there’s more

Finding who you are supposed to working with is critical, but it is just part of the evolution of client service. The way we work together, the way in which teams are compensated and understanding who is actually in charge of a project’s success are also key components that I’ll be addressing in upcoming articles.

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