COVID-19 forced a dramatic shift in how self-employed workers run their businesses. With many contractors reporting a 60% loss in income due to the pandemic, retaining clients has suddenly become the key to survival.So, how do you keep clients when everything feels so uncertain? Your first instinct may be to discount your fees.Don’t.While lowering prices could help you keep business in the short term, it also brings potential long term risks, like causing your clients to devalue your work and expect discounts going forward. To find other ways to keep clients in turbulent times, we spoke with Jamie Davidson, a client retention expert and the founder of client retention software company Vitally.
If you want to save your contract gigs, Davidson recommends a three-pronged strategy:
There are many documented examples that show empathetic businesspeople outperform their less-connected counterparts.“I get emails from businesses that say, ‘It’s business as usual here.’” Davidson says. “I get they’re just reassuring me that they’re not going to stop providing whatever service I buy from them. But it’s the wrong message right now. That’s great that your business hasn’t been affected, but what if mine has? You have to think about the mindset of the person you’re working with and adjust accordingly.”Like baking bread or designing a website, empathy is a skill you can develop. Here are some tactics you can apply to lead with compassion when talking to your clients.
Acknowledge the crisis
The virus, the economy, the social isolation—these are the things on everyone’s minds. Address them upfront. That way, your client knows you’re working within the realistic confines of the current situation.
Remind your client of the value you deliver
In your next conversation, recall past wins. The trick here is to be confident while you talk about the value you bring. Let concrete achievements speak for themselves.You might say, for example, “Last year we were able to bump website traffic up 20% by creating content specific to summer. We can do that again with content that helps people navigate this situation.”
To survive in a down market, you have to look for new ways to help your clients be successful.“You may not be able to rely on doing the same work in the same way as before,” says Davidson. “Now’s the time to find ways to bring new services and new value to your clients. And make sure your clients see it.”Bring more to the table for your clients by exploring how you might expand your services and improve your customer experience.
Offer value-added services
Value-added services are free services that you add on to clients’ standard packages. It’s like a free pair of socks with your new running shoes. Adding services keeps your business competitive without devaluing your offerings as price reductions do.As a value add, a freelance copywriter could provide a mini-SEO report specific to COVID-19-related topics. Or a freelance management consultant could offer scenario-planning reports for clients in response to the crisis.Later, when customers are in a more stable financial spot, you may even consider turning these value-adds into paid services. Pay attention to what your clients like and don’t like about the value-adds so you know how to improve the services going forward.
Offer a consulting call
Your client is figuring things out on the fly—and that adds a lot of stress. Offering a free consulting call may be just the thing they need to ease their nerves.Be specific about what you hope to discuss when you propose this to your client. They’re busy, so a “check-in” might just feel like another item on their to-do list. Offer a brief agenda that’s built around the results your customer will get from the call.Set ground rules for these consulting calls based on the number of clients you have to keep your schedule manageable. If you have 10 or more customers, consider offering each a single call. With less than 10 clients, you might propose weekly calls. You’ll trade a bit of free time, but you’ll reaffirm that you are a partner they can lean on.
Get creative with pricing
Offer to bundle services for a lower total price. For example, if you’re writing individual blog posts for a customer, offer a bundle of five posts for the price of four. While this pricing tactic is technically discounting, it doesn’t have the same devaluing effect. Instead, your client is more likely to focus on how they’re getting a good deal.
Offer a lightweight version of your service
If your client directly asks for a discount, consider offering a reduced version of your service at a lower price. But make sure you set a time limit for this smaller product unless you want to continue offering it after the crisis is over.Say you’re an executive virtual assistant. You might strip away travel management services from your client’s statement of work, but continue to handle calendar scheduling and email management for the customer.
Strengthen your skillset
Many e-learning and traditional education institutions are offering free classes to help you grow your knowledge without spending a dime. Moz, for example, is offering free courses in search engine optimization. And Udemy has a list of free programming classes like an intro to C++ and a Python boot camp.
Businesses may think they’re helping their clients by sending COVID-19 messages. But the truth is, a lot of this content falls flat because it’s filled with meaningless platitudes.Davidson recommends avoiding this generic messaging by being intentional with each communication you send. “I’ve lost count of the emails and ads I’ve seen recently that say ‘We’ve got your back.’ It’s meaningless. Tell me how you are going to help me get through this situation,” said Davidson. “Make it personal to my business. That’s how you keep me as a client right now.”Before communicating with your client, pause and make sure your communication is useful and valuable to them with these tips.
Ask about your client’s biggest challenges
If you understand the issues they’re facing, you’ll know what services to propose that best fit their needs. Prompt the customer to do most of the talking so they can fully air out their business issues. Ideally, the conversation follows an 80:20 ratio—the customer does 80% of the talking, while you do the other 20%.Once you’ve heard the client’s challenges, suggest how your skills might help solve them. Let’s say you’re a website designer, and your client mentions that website traffic is down. You could offer to audit their site to find where the loss is coming from.
Help them stay ahead of the curve
The news is rapidly evolving every day—both for the world at large, and the industries of your clients. Become an irreplaceable resource by identifying industry trends and helping your customer stay on top of them.For example, let’s say your client is a retailer and you’ve found a marketing study about how some retailers have handled COVID-19 poorly on social media. Share the study with them and suggest ways you can help their social messaging.You can set this trend discovery on autopilot. Use Google Alerts to find relevant studies. Just enter the relevant topics and Google will send you emails when content related to that subject is published.
Now is the time to adopt a relentless focus on making your clients happy. If you practice this mindset now, you’ll foster strong client relationships that last well after the pandemic resolves.
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