Going the Extra Mile-How to Keep Repeat Customers as a Designer
As a graphic designer, you can create an excellent base of repeat clients — people who come to you for every ad their company needs, every new brochure, every packaging design for a new product. With a few such clients, you can earn a full-time income without having to invest time in constantly searching for new clients.
But it does take work to land those sorts of repeat clients. You need to make it inconceivable for any of your clients to even think about looking for a new graphic designer.
You Have to Be Easy to Work With
Working with a freelancer can be a tough proposition, especially for a business owner or manager with a lot on her plate. Even after she finds a designer whose work she likes, the process of figuring out what the project entails, going back and forth on the contract and then actually managing the designer working on the project can be a huge time-sink. When a person with a lot of graphic design needs finds a freelancer who makes the whole process smooth, she’ll try to keep working with that designer over and over again.
But what does it mean to be easy to work with?
You don’t need any reminders to do the work. You can manage every aspect of the project yourself.
You already have a contract ready to go, if not a proposal and the rest of the necessary materials for actually starting a project.
You send regular updates to your clients so that they’re never wondering what you’re off doing.
You have a set invoicing system that conforms to what your clients’ accounting departments require.
Easy, mind you, doesn’t mean cheap. You can even be a little above market rates and your clients won’t go looking for another graphic designer. After all, the time that they would need to spend on finding someone else, who isn’t guaranteed to be as pleasant and as easy to work with as you are, isn’t going to be worth it for your clients. You can even build a regular increase in your rates into the contracts that you work out without much problem.
You Have to Take the Initiative in Finding New Projects
When you finish each project, you probably hand over the actual project and an invoice. That’s not enough to build the sort of relationship that ongoing work requires. Your point of contact probably has a whole list of projects somewhere that she swears she’s going to get to. If you look at your client’s existing marketing materials, you can probably guess what’s on that list.
You need to specifically ask about what the next project is.
Suggest something to your client if she can’t find that magical list of projects. If there’s nothing that needs doing immediately, ask to set up a meeting in a few weeks or a month to check about future projects — discussing holiday advertising, for instance, can be an easy way to set a date for your next conversation, especially since every company needs their holiday materials a little earlier each year.
You Need to Build the Relationship
If you want to work with a particular client for the next several years to come, you need to build a relationship with your point of contact. On the most basic level, that means getting to know her. You may not get into too many personal details, but you need to know every last little thing about the organization you’re working with, so that you can spot opportunities to help.
It’s important to be an individual to the people you work with, rather than just another graphic designer. While it’s not always fun to have a client who will call you up just to chat about family, it’s a sign that it’ll be a lot harder for another graphic designer to displace you.
There are a lot of little things you can do to set yourself apart. This is not an exhaustive list, but it should give you a few ideas:
Send cards and notes to your clients. It may be worth avoiding the holiday season, just because a card can get lost in the stacks that some people receive.
Invite your clients to meet outside of their offices. An appointment over lunch or in your office helps to make you stand out as an individual.
Thank your clients for their business. Even a simple thank you note will help you stand out among the other freelancers your clients work with.
You Need to Go Above and Beyond
One of the reasons I particularly pointed out that you don’t have to charge lower rates to land recurring work is because to get some of that work, you probably can’t afford to drop your rates. That’s because you need to go the extra mile, compared to other graphic designers.
Where another freelancer might put together a proposal for a new project, you need to put together some research on exactly what your client needs and why. Where another freelancer might deliver one file for a logo, you need to make sure that your client has versions that can be used in black and white, online and in other formats. Your rates need to cover the time you need in order to be able to provide these little extras.
It’s that extra bit that wins over a client, especially when she isn’t expecting it. If you can consistently deliver a little more than what the client asked for, why would your clients ever want to take a project to someone else?