Blue Door was at a function the other night and overheard a conversation taking place with a small group of people.  They were frustrated about losing a client earlier that day and were repeatedly saying things including: “But, we worked so hard”, “we did everything they asked for”, “what happened?” There are so many blogs and stories about how to keep clients, but we decided in a harsh, blatantly honest way, to remind everyone (including ourselves) how easy it can be to lose them.

While in some instances it is completely unavoidable (client revenue is down, budgets are restrained, there’s organizational re-structuring, marketing is being moved in-house), there are a lot of other variables that we can control. At Blue Door, we work incredibly hard to ensure that we retain our client base by using tactics beyond delivering great work.  We focus on the day-to-day elements that make clients lives easier and most of these are simple to execute and sustain when we make it a priority. This post is about the pitfalls when we don’t prioritize the basic elements of running a service-based industry like ours.

Be Unresponsive

Today, there is little to no excuse to not respond to a client in a timely manner. We are not suggesting that you have to respond with lightning speed but you should certainly respond within the same business day. The reality is that if you are “too swamped” to answer your emails or return a client’s email, you are probably doing something wrong or incredibly inefficient. If a client has sent you an email or text and you don’t respond for two days, you have just made them feel insignificant and it’s also likely that they have solved the problem without you. We focus on responsiveness at Blue Door because we know that our clientsissues are happening in real-time and they depend on us for promptness and strategic advice.

Miss Deadlines

This should be a no-brainer. Meeting deadlines is about courtesy and accountability. In this instance, however, we are not talking about the major deadlines we face. We are talking about the small, everyday things that we commit to delivering our clients. When Blue Door was getting off the ground, we would take conference calls and casually commit to delivering something by the end of this week.  Without firm deadlines in place, the week would pass and that small thing never got completed. Deadlines or commitments of ANY kind must be met with relentless consistency. Today, every single call or meeting that we take is followed up immediately with a recap email outlining our discussion, our understanding of timelines/deadlines, and then we then we work towards them. We have never missed a deadline since. This is as important internally as a team as it is externally with clients.

Be Late

Everyone at Blue Door knows that this is one of the biggest mistakes you can make, both internally and externally. Being late (even 5 minutes) tells your client that your time is more important than theirs. For us, being punctual takes zero effort and to disregard this common courtesy is a blatant sign of disrespect and will lead to a tarnished relationship long-term. At Blue Door, being on time applies to EVERYTHING. We show up on time for internal meetings, including coffee with colleagues, because everything begins from the inside. If we don’t value people’s time inside the company, we won’t be able to value anybody else’s.  

Get Comfortable

This one is a killer. If you are lucky enough to retain a client for a long period of time, it might be easy to fall into a trap of getting too comfortable and thinking you’re invincible. I often hear people say “This client loves us, they would never leave us.” They might love you but they love their money more. We must push ourselves (especially in a service-based business) to be creative, thoughtful, and to treat all clients (new and old) with the same attention they got the day they signed the contract. When we get comfortable, we have resigned to being lazy and careless. We must have pride in everything we do. Put the sweatpants away and show up every single day for the job, for every single client.

Say “Yes” to Everything

Clients can be demanding and we all know that. Sometimes the things they want from us are not possible and yet we commit to them anyways. In doing so, we turn ourselves into a pretzel and then deliver sub-par work. This needs to stop. If you can’t deliver something or maybe you’re not the right person for the task, just say no. There is tremendous power in the word no and clients will respect that you didn’t waste their time or money trying to do something you can’t deliver on exceptionally well.

Discount your Services

Nearly every start-up will discount their services to get their foot in the door with clients. We are no exception. The truth is, I wish we never did. We were offering discounts without a client even asking for it and immediately devalued our own work. We didn’t have the confidence to compete with the more established agencies. Today, we believe that every client is entitled to negotiate on our fees, but the first rule of negotiation is, “If you’re going to give something away, you have to get something in return.”

Business is competitive and we know how easy it is to give that 20% discount to win (or keep) the client, but as Liz Ryan, Forbes Contributor, noted, “Your muscles grow every time you re-commit to yourself and to your clients that your work is valuable”.

Remember this.