Last week I posted a simple question to the group...
“What makes your favorite client your favorite client?”
If you assumed people’s answers were all about the Benjamins—then you’d be mistaken.
Sure, we all need to pay the bills and put food on the table, but money alone won’t make you happy in your agency. At least not for long.
What I learned reading people’s responses, though many phrased it differently, is what we want are two important things:
Trust and appreciation.
Just take a look at some of the responses…
“They say thank you everything they ask me to do something for them”
“They truly appreciate me and respect me...”
“Trust. Appreciative of my work.”
“Because he recognizes, acknowledges, and thanks me for the complexity of my work.”
Very few people mentioned money, and those who did seemed to be half joking.
But spotting people with trust and appreciation is a lot harder than spotting people with deep pockets.
It’s easy to ask “What’s your budget?” on a project inquiry form, but asking “Will you trust and appreciate me?” comes off as a bit needy.
Trust and appreciation comes with time and with building strong relationships— but that doesn’t mean you can’t set yourself up for a better success rate in finding these kinds of clients.
Most of the questions we see in the group about client acquisition are about finding higher paying clients. While I agree that’s important, and something that’s worth striving for, it’s putting the cart before the horse.
You’re much more likely to get paid more when you have clients who trust and appreciate you first.
Knowing if someone is the kind of person who will trust and appreciate you isn’t something easy to spot right away.
This is something that is usually formed after time, and you won’t know if you got it right until months or possibly years down the line.
However, there are ways you can start to stack the odds in your favor— by attracting customers for the right reasons.
We tend to, metaphorically at least, put a nice suit and tie on our business. Making our website, social media, and other marketing tools look as professional and buttoned-up as possible.
This is why it’s so hard to distinguish between different web agencies when you start browsing online— they all look and feel about the same.
You’ll notice this is even more true the younger an agency is. This metaphorical “dressing up” is done to cover up the fact that you don’t feel completely put together and are unsure of how you fit into the space.
In fact, it’s not unlike dating. When you first want to catch the attention of someone, you might walk a little taller, try to sound a little smarter, or keep your elbows off the table.
But as time goes on you're likely to let down your guard and start being more and more of yourself. Eventually, the person who you were when you met might be completely unrecognizable.
And as you start your dating career, most of these relationships fail. It’s only when you start being yourself do you attract the kind of person who genuinely likes you for you.
It’s the same in business.
If you want to attract the type of customers who you can build a relationship with that results in trust and appreciation— your customer is going to need to like you first.
By stripping down your facade, you are likely to feel like you’re letting go of hundreds (if not thousands) of opportunities. And you’re right— you probably are shrinking the size of the pool. But what you’re losing in size you’re gaining in quality.
And that’s what’s important.
Even in the short time I’ve been in the web space, I’ve seen the shift of small agencies (those based around a central figure with possibly one or two partners or employees) move from a “company” brand to a personal brand.
“Branding” a company is hard work— it’s specialized work. It’s not as simple as slapping a logo on all of your marketing material.
Branding is not only finding, but being able to convey your company’s personality in a way that’s obviously apparent to anyone who spends any time with it.
This is why “personal branding” can be so beneficial— it’s much easier.
You’re not having to create a persona for a concept from scratch, you just have to be yourself.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to drop your company name and use your own. There are plenty of successful companies who assume many of the personality traits of the company’s leader.
If I were to ask a room full of people to describe Apple or Tesla’s personality, while everyone might use their own words to do it— the picture that gets painted would be very similar.
These company’s brands (think “personality”) are largely based around the most influential people to run them (Steve Jobs and Elon Musk).
Did Steve Jobs act like an Apple product (captivating, minimalistic and forward-thinking) or did Apple’s products embody Steve’s personality?
It’s less important what the personality or brand is, and more important that it’s authentic.
You’re not looking for good clients— you’re looking for clients that are a good fit for you.
The reasons my best customers trust and appreciate me, are likely very different for the reasons your customers trust and appreciate you.
You’re going to increase your odds of finding more “right-fit” clients when you are authentic, and you don’t have to put on any kind of act to make a connection.
No matter what kind of career path you had before you started your agency, I bet you’ve had a bad boss.
The kind of boss that barked orders at you, looked over your shoulder constantly, and nitpicked every little move you made.
For him (assuming it was a “him”, it usually is), you weren’t a valued employee— you were a cog in the machine that he needed to keep running.
While we think we are finding freedom by going out on our own and starting our own business (see the phrase “I’m going to be my own boss”), what we often find out is that instead of having a boss, we end up with tons of bosses— our customers.
It’s really hard to ever gain appreciation or trust from someone who looks at you as a tool that performs a task.
Clients who feel they are above you and have “hired you” to do a job, are going to be very hard to impress.
If you do a good job, well, that’s what they expected. And if things don’t go right, you’re going to be the easy one to blame.
This is why positioning yourself as an expert and demonstrating authority in your field is so important.
You don’t want to get “hired” by clients— you want clients who want to work with you. This nuance may seem subtle, but it makes all the difference in the world.
When you’re seen as an equal— or even better, a specialist your client has been clever enough to find— you’re instantly going to increase the trust and appreciation your client has with you from day one.
Take a moment and think about the people who you look up to and admire in your field— the people who you think are the “experts” and those who inspire you.
I can’t be sure of the names that have instantly popped up into your head, but I do think I can predict one thing about them all...
They create content.
Creating content is the most effective way to demonstrate your expertise— and it doesn’t take a lot to figure out why.
The only way people will ever know if you’re an expert or not is if you show them (notice, I didn’t say “tell” them, I said “show” them).
Content creators didn’t start creating content because of how much influence they had, they gained influence because they started creating content.
This can be creating tutorials on YouTube, writing articles on your blog, or as simple as giving really good answers to questions inside Facebook groups (I often refer prospects to people in The Admin Bar who give exceptionally good answers to questions).
Over the years I’ve gotten to know Adam Preiser from WPCrafter pretty well. It started off with me finding his YouTube channel in search of how to build a website, and as I binge watched his content collection and asked questions in the comments, we eventually started talking one-on-one.
Perhaps you haven’t considered this (I didn’t until he told me), but Adam gets hundreds of requests from people wanting him to build their website for them (something he no longer does, nor promotes on his channel).
Is Adam the best web developer in the world? I doubt he would say that— but he’s proven his expertise and knowledge consistently for years. The result is that people trust and appreciate him… They would love to have an expert like that work with them.
It’s not because Adam is more talented than you are, it’s because Adam has gone out and created content to show his expertise and authority in the space.
Whatever knowledge you have, someone is out there looking for. The only way anyone will know you’re an expert is if you show them.
Maybe YouTube isn’t your thing (although there’s no better way to demonstrate both your expertise and your personality), but there are plenty of ways to create content. The important thing isn’t which platform you choose, it’s that you do it.
Your client came to you with a problem. Perhaps it’s a problem you’ve seen and helped solve hundreds of times… But that doesn’t make it less painful for your client.
For them, it might feel like they're the only ones in the world struggling with it.
Though you may be able to see 5 steps ahead and how they could easily get past their problem if they would just shut up and listen to you— it’s not that easy for them.
Part of your job in applying your expertise is getting buy-in from your client— and that’s huge for building trust.
But it’s impossible to do if you ignore your clients’ problems and dive straight into the solution. People need to know they are being heard and understood.
Your clients want the same validation you want.
And though we may feel like we fully understand their challenges before they explain them to us in detail, it’s important we soak in them together a bit.
Imagine your client is frantically treading water in the open sea and you pull up in your boat. You can scold them for getting in the water without a life vest or you can jump in with a life raft and help them climb aboard to safety.
The difference is your proximity to their problem. When you were in the water with them, they knew you understood their perspective and the direness of their situation. From the deck of the ship, they can’t be sure.
One of the greatest ways you can show empathy is by sharing stories of similar experiences you’ve had (or your clients have had) in the past— and how you’ve overcome them.
It’s important to mention there that this is what you do after you get them out of the water and onto the boat— not before. First you have to make sure you’ve not only heard but understand their problems— and have validated them properly.
One way to do this is to share similar experiences you’ve had in your own business. If you’re working in a business-to-business (B2B) environment, then you have something already in common with your customer’s— you’re both in business.
At some point you learned to do all the things your company offers to do for clients— and you’ve probably done most of them for yourself.
But that wasn’t always the case.
At some point you probably learned these lessons the hard way and have come out on the other side.
It’s a bit vulnerable to share how you might have struggled or failed— but it makes you a whole lot more relatable and it’s one the most effective ways to show empathy.
If a client or prospects believes you’ve been in the trenches too, and found your way out, they are much more likely to follow your lead.
But they have to believe it.
There are a ton of ways you can be yourself, demonstrate your expertise, and have empathy— many of which I touched on in this article.
In fact, this isn’t unlike much of the advice you can find on building your business (perhaps just packaged a bit differently).
But there’s one way I’ve realized lately that you can have all three in one package.
After being in an on again / off again relationship with email marketing, about a year ago I decided I needed to do something that would keep me motivated and on track.
So I ditched my free MailerLite account and moved to a paid ConverKit account.
Yes, I do enjoy the features in ConvertKit more, but (for me at least) it wasn’t about the features. It was about making the move to something more serious and something that affected my wallet.
It was a bit of a trick to play on myself, but having to pay for a more premium email marketing service forced me to take it more seriously.
I mean, if I was going to shell out nearly $30 a month, then I better actually use it.
I set up a schedule, created a list of topics I wanted to cover, and for months I faithfully emailed the list I had been building for years.
Through these weekly emails I was able to show off a bit of my personality and connect with people that may have only briefly visited my website and downloaded some freebies.
I was able to demonstrate my expertise by sharing tips and strategies that I had learned and had been using for my clients.
And I was able to share experiences I had, both in my own business and from working with clients, to help demonstrate my empathy for the businesses who were struggling to figure out how to make “online marketing” work for their business.
This proved to make a huge impact on my business.
Long time clients were thanking me for emails (yes, replies to marketing emails that thanked me for sending them!) and telling me how much they appreciated them.
The amount of referrals I was getting went up dramatically.
And I was getting questions from cold subscribers who were seeking advice (several of which turned into pretty decent projects).
I attribute all of this to finding a way to stay in front of my connections on a regular basis.
But as my workload increased directly from these activities, my time and availability to continue to create them decreased.
The emails started getting shorter and less frequent (until they all but stopped). And though there was some delay, soon after the referrals and questions started drying up too.
I didn’t need proof that email marketing worked— but this provided a great reminder seeing a direct result from both the effort and the dismissal.
Knowing I needed to get my email marketing back on track, but not having any time to actually sit down and write the emails poses a challenge.
Thankfully the release of Nurture Copy came at a perfect time for me.
Nuture Copy provides pre-written email newsletters for web agencies. Each month you get access to email copy, blog post ideas, videos, and all kinds of goodies. The emails cover topics that are important to your customers, ask questions, provoke thought, and even help you make a soft pitch.
The content is perfectly suitable to use as-is, but even taking 5 minutes to tweak the tone of voice and personality goes a long way— and it's a lot faster than having to stare at a blank screen trying to figure out what to write.
If my goal is to stay in front of customers, demonstrate expertise, and have empathy— then this checks all the boxes. A few minutes of tweaking it to match my voice and that's it— "email marketing" done for the week!
Sure, having higher paying clients is great… but not at the expense of having customers you don’t enjoy working with.
It’s time to abandon the quest for clients with the deepest pockets, and simply aim for better ones. Being compensated well is a direct byproduct of working with someone who trusts and appreciates you— and that's what you're really after.
Good clients will pay you well, and the long-term success of your business is worth it.