Growing Your Client List—and Their Loyalty
Five tips for attracting new customers and strengthening relationships with existing ones.
By Shawn Michael Foley, AIFD, CFD, PFCI
Cash flow is the lifeblood of any business. Aside from taking out a loan or using credit cards, you need clients to have money continuously on hand. Whether you’re just starting your business or have been an entrepreneur for years, finding new clients and nurturing repeat clients is an ongoing process that is crucial to keeping your business above water. I have found that the easiest way to connect with new and existing clients is to use the G.R.O.W.T.H. technique. You use this method not only to attract new clients but also to nurture and maintain repeat clients.
G – Gather
There is strength in numbers, and clients often come from places where people gather together. You most likely have at least 50 to 100 people with whom you can easily connect within your extended network. When you tap into a group of people, they often start a ripple effect of firsthand referrals. Word-of-mouth is still the most powerful form of advertising you cannot buy.
Here is a simple exercise I advise my clients to do when they’re seeking new clients. Think of anyone and everyone you can who would be potentially interested in purchasing flowers from you. Think of places where there are groups of like-minded people such as business networks, professional associations, clubs, your religious association, neighborhoods, parent groups, previous collogues, friends and family, online Facebook groups, etc. Make a list of as many of these people and groups as you can think of, and move to the next step.
RO – Reach Out
Contrary to a popular adage, just because you build it does not mean they’ll come. You need to actually tell people that you have built something. Sometimes clients will magically fall into your lap, but that is neither a proactive nor reliable way to attract new customers. You need to actively reach out and have conversations with people. Be more proactive about engaging with people via social media. Post more than once about what you have going on, and post regularly. Be sure to collect email addresses of new customers, and send them—and existing clients—updates on specials, new products, open houses, workshops, holidays, etc. When someone reaches out to you about an inquiry, respond to them—even if you can’t help them—or refer them to someone who can.
W – Warmth
Treat every interaction with someone as if you’re talking to an old friend. Clients need to feel the warmth of your energy and overall vibe. People don’t do business with brands anymore; they do business with individuals. So, when you’re stressed out and the phone is ringing off the hook, remember that the person calling has no idea how busy you are. He or she just wants to order flowers from you. If you’re only concerned with making the sale as quickly as possible to get customers off the phone and you treat them rudely, you can kiss those customers goodbye. A moment of kindness goes a very long way.
Warmth also extends to how you treat and talk to your staff. Kindness does not make you a doormat—it makes you human. Your staff wants you and your business to succeed; otherwise, they wouldn’t be working with you. Show them the same warmth and kindness you show your clients, especially during busy times.
T – Trust
Believe it or not, not everyone is out to get you. Although having boundaries is healthy, you don’t want to build an impenetrable fortress around you that prevents anyone from getting in. Instead, build trust with people. Trust is the magic ingredient that often turns a customer into a client. A customer is simply a transaction; a client is a relationship.
How do you start building trust if you have been burned before? Trust is built in layers, and you simply start at the bottom. You trust, they trust, you trust a little more, they trust a little more—and so on. For some people, the trust will go only a few layers up, and that’s where it ends. For others, you may end up developing deeper connections and have lifelong clients who turn into friends.
This also applies to your employees. If you don’t trust your staff, you will never empower them to make their own decisions and act like a healthy team. You build trust with them just like you do everyone else—one layer at a time. I see many entrepreneurs and managers screw this up the moment there’s a misunderstanding, and they immediately shatter the tower of trust. Trust is remarkably easy to build, but it’s extremely difficult and sometimes impossible to repair. Before you shatter any trust you’ve built, ask yourself if whatever it is is worth the risk of severing a relationship. There are times where trust is broken by the other party involved and you need to step away from the connection, but you can’t let that be your automatic leadership style. If you find yourself struggling to trust, go back to adding some warmth. It may give you a little clarity to see through the emotions you’re experiencing.
H – Humor & Honesty
This last one is a double. Humor is crucial if you’re going to survive in a creative industry—especially if you’re an entrepreneur. Don’t take yourself so seriously; it’s OK to talk to your clients like they’re real people. A little humor goes a long way and can often be a great icebreaker when you’re meeting with a new client. Laughter is a universal language, and it indirectly gives your clients permission to let their guard down and be comfortable with you. Speaking from my own experience, the only clients I didn’t book for weddings were the ones who I couldn’t get to laugh during their consultations. Stop underestimating the power of being human and having a giggle with your clients.
Last, let’s talk about honesty. Just like humor, a little dab will do. When I talk about honesty, I’m not saying to share every tiny detail about your personal life or overshare your problems with people. What I am talking about it is if you screw up something and it needs to be addressed with a client, fess up to it. Admitting to a mistake goes further than apologizing. You can actually increase a customer’s loyalty to your business by professionally handling a mistake. You must offer a plan for resolution.
For example, if you promised a delivery by a specific time because the recipient was leaving work early and, for whatever reason, it didn’t happen. Maybe you were overbooked or forgot to relay the information to the delivery driver. Your customer calls asking where the item is. Tell him or her what’s going on—that you had more deliveries than expected (or whatever the situation was), and apologize that you didn’t get it to the recipient on time. Then, offer the client a resolution. If the recipient is no longer at the delivery location, offer to deliver the item to him or her at home, or ask the client if he or she would like the item delivered the next morning. Do whichever the client chooses, and as a little extra, email the client a coupon for a $20 upgrade on his or her next order—and, possibly, refund any delivery charge. This can not only salvage the trust between you and your client—and even strengthen it—because even though you dropped the ball, you had an amazing recovery and still provided great service to the client.
Quick recap. Use the G.R.O.W.T.H. method to attract new and maintain existing clients. Go where people gather to find new clients. Reach out and connect with people to get conversations started. Greet people with warmth and kindness so they can feel your vibe. Build trust with your clients and staff, layer by layer, and don’t be so quick to shatter it. Use humor and honestly as your sword and shield. Use these tools regularly to become a beacon for your ideal clients and keep them coming back for more.