Clients rarely like change. Which is exactly why I have 3 big questions on my mind that all relate to managing relationships with clients, while our business moves through different stages of growth and the change that comes with that.
Our clients are the beating heart of our business.
Let’s face it, without them, we wouldn’t exist. It’s that simple.
That’s why it’s so scary when our business moves through the different stages of growth, with developing client relationships as a result.
Because… our clients like us now. But will we still be in the good books if we change? (Even if that change is for the betterment of our agency.)
One particular stage that comes to mind is when you are going from the sole trader or freelancer stage into an agency model. It’s a massive step that feels like it has a million moving parts.
One of the scariest bits about taking the step to becoming an agency would be hiring your first person to help with the service delivery side of your business. Sure, you may already have a VA to take some pressure off the admin, and a bookkeeper possibly tackles the finances. But it’s unlikely your clients know about them. Your first fulfillment person, however…
Which is exactly why today I have 3 big questions on my mind that all relate to effective client relationship management while our business moves through different stages of growth.
Do I have all the answers?
No, of course not! (Does anybody ever?!) But I have done the miles and what seemed terrifying once, I now consider as part of doing business.
So don’t be afraid! If I can do it, so can you!
Let’s get on with it.
Should I introduce a new service delivery team member to my clients? And how do I do it without upsetting my relationships with clients?
First part of the question has a straightforward answer in my book: it’s NO, you don’t have to.
Why? You wouldn’t tell your clients you have a new VA or bookkeeper?! Likewise, you don’t need your client’s permission to hire a client delivery person. To be clear, it’s not like you’re trying to hide the extra person from your clients. It’s more that there’s no need to make a big announcement.
Think about it this way: how you run your business is up to YOU. The quality of the service you deliver, however, IS the client’s concern.
I like to work it like this:
Step 1: Hire a client delivery person with the right skills that is a good fit with your business. The ‘good fit’ is important!
Step 2: Allow for onboarding time, where your new hire learns how you work your business, what your priorities are, your systems and processes, what your style looks like, the quality checks you expect, etc. In the meantime, you do the client facing side of the job.
Step 3: Supervised work, where your new hire does the work behind the scenes, while you continue to do quality checks, all the while communicating the itty-bitty things that still need fine tuning. You are still the only port of contact for your clients. (Note: there is NO timeframe for this stage. You’ll know when your new team member is ready for the next step.)
Step 4: Your team member is enough in tune with your business to do it alone. As for the client facing work, you keep doing the existing clients, but your new team member takes on the new clients. It avoids upsetting any relationships with clients.
BONUS TIP: Allow the time for onboarding and supervising on your end. Nobody will do a quality job unless you take the time to communicate what that means to you and coach them to get there.
How do I increase prices without upsetting my relationships with clients?
There’s no two ways about it. A growing business comes with a growing cost. The logical answer is… increase prices.
But how will the clients take that??? And what’s my advice on how to manage client relationships as you make an unpopular move (such as increasing prices)?
My biggest piece of advice is don't rush it. People don't like change. Your business will go through many changes as it evolves and grows over time. But it's important to manage them wisely.
As for price increases, there is no right or wrong way to do it. Depending on your situation, there are a few scenarios (or a combination of different scenarios) that could minimise the shock for your clients.
Scenario 1: Increase the prices for new clients only. Existing clients remain on the old pricing schedule.
Scenario 2: Increase prices when a project has ended and you’re renegotiating a new project. Advise them on the price increase but be prepared for some push-back or even a ‘no’. Ultimately, that’s their prerogative. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have raised your prices. (We’ll go deeper into this in the next question.)
Scenario 3: For clients on a monthly retainer, advice about the price increase with a (few) month(s) notice. You can sweeten the deal with a one-off promotion to let them know you value them.
BONUS TIP: I recommend to always honour the prices of an existing fixed-term project or contract to maintain happy relationships with clients.
What if I upset my clients? Will they leave?
I want you to think about something:
YOUR CLIENTS AREN’T YOUR CLIENTS FOREVER.
The brutally honest answer is that as your business grows, some clients will leave. It’s unavoidable. But it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Personally, I’ve learned to be ok with clients leaving. I expect it. It’s part of running a business.
It wasn’t always like this, though. I used to get very upset when a client would shut the door.
But I’ve learned that clients change, your business changes, and at some point, that might mean you’re no longer the right fit for each other. I prefer it when clients leave before the developing client relationship turns sour. And when one client walks out, another one will walk in.
BONUS TIP: There is quite a bit of anxiety around having payroll responsibilities when you also have clients walking out. That is a topic that deserves its own podcast, so we won’t go into it right now. But I can tell you this: every business goes through all the seasons. It’s part of the business game. But there are ways you can manage this.
For now, I want to say this:
When you're making these big decisions in your business, including an increase in your prices, a shift in service focus, a new staff member, you have to be prepared to lose a client or two. But scary as that is, you also need to open your heart, wish them well and send them on their way with bouquets of flowers and boxes of chocolate…because they just opened space to take on that next amazing client.
You'll have room to welcome a new client that is ready for the change that you've just stepped into is out there. A new client that is ready to work with the more mature business that you are becoming. A new client who places value on the premium products you are providing.
It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have made the changes. As a matter of fact, it would be a very unwise decision to hold back your business because you want to continue to work at a reduced price point just to avoid upsetting the relationships with clients (who may have been thinking about leaving anyway). Because eventually down the line, you will be unhappy, and they will be unhappy.
So don't be afraid when you go through growing pains in your business. Yes, you're going to lose some clients. It might hurt a little to start with, but I promise you, your business will continue to grow and prosper because of it.
And that is the aim, right?!
If there is anything in today’s podcast about managing client relationships through the stages of growth (or something in one of the previous episodes) you want to chat with me about or you've got some more questions, just reach out. Here is the link. You can leave a video message or a simple old voice message or even a text. I would really love to hear from you. I'm always interested in producing podcast episodes that answers a question you may have about growing and scaling your service-based business.