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EPISODE 26: How to Retain Writing Clients

by Mar 23, 2021Podcast, Writers

In this episode we will cover:

  • Getting your business out of feast-or-famine mode
  • Finding opportunities for growth in existing relationships
  • Planning for retention
  • Clonable clients
  • Looking at retention rates for different kinds of clients

It’s always going to be easier to reconnect with someone you’ve previously worked with than it is to find someone new to hire you. When you have an established relationship, you can use it to turn a former client into a repeat customer, or ask them to refer you to someone else.

So approaching client relationships with retention in mind from the start is super important. Instead of wasting a huge amount of time and energy always trying to make new connections, invest a fraction of it into the relationships you already have.

 

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How to harness relationships to get your business out of feast-or-famine mode.
  • How to plan for client retention from the start of the relationship.
  • How to identify your “clonable clients” and focus on working with them.

 

Remember, you don’t want to retain just any client. You want to retain your best clients—the ones you most enjoy working with. And when you figure out why you enjoy working with them so much, you can take the next step: making new connections that give you that same enjoyment.

And don’t forget to make sure your contract gives you the space to get out of bad client situations! Here are some contract resources to help:

Dubsado (invoicing/contract service)

Destination Legal (contract templates) – Use code PROTECTYOURBIZ for 10% off!

 

TRANSCRIPT

Jessi:
Welcome to the Brand Your Voice Podcast, where we’re digging into how you can create personality-driven content that connects and converts. I’m Jessi…

Marie:
…and I’m Marie. We’re the co-founders of North Star Messaging + Strategy, where we support business owners in outsourcing content without sacrificing authenticity.

Jessi:
Every brand has a unique voice that sets it apart. We're digging into how to capture the way your brand communicates from the words you use to the stories you tell. So you can create more compelling content that strategically helps you meet your business goals.

Marie:
And if you choose to outsource that content, you'll be able to do so with confidence, knowing your brand voice is in good hands and you can reclaim your time. We're so glad you're here and hope you enjoy this episode.

Jessi:
All right, welcome to another episode of the Brand Your Voice Podcast. We're so glad that you're joining us. Today we are continuing our series for writers and content creators, and we're talking about client retention today. So this is the sort of thing that really impacts all businesses in different ways, and can be particularly important if you have a done for you service that you are offering on a regular basis. That means that you are putting more hours into individual projects and it becomes really important for you to retain those clients that make sense to retain. So we're going to dig into that a little bit today.

Marie:
Yeah. And a lot of this is inspired by, well, this whole series has been inspired by things that we've done to help book out our business, increase our profitability, increase our revenue, and so we just want to share all of that with you. We really believe that, you know, writers deserve to thrive just like any other type of professional. And so, there have definitely been times in our business when we've not been doing that. And so this was the lesson that we learned a little bit late in the game. Because I think it's one of those things that happens after a few of the things are in place a lot of the time, right? Like you have services that you like, and you've gotten like decent at sales and you have, you know, some people coming into the door kind of regularly. And then all of a sudden you realize, wow, I'm in feast or famine mode. Or I just feel like I'm constantly selling, because you always have to find a new client. Because if you're like us, you know, we were just doing website copy for a long time. And we would bring somebody on we'd onboard a client we'd rewrite or create from scratch their website content. And then the project would end and we'd say, "Great working with you bye!" And then never touch them again and have to go back to the drawing board to sell more. And it was like, we, when we realized how many website copy packages we would have to sell in a year, we were like, Oh, no wonder we're exhausted.

Jessi:
Yeah, it was, it was honestly unrealistic. It didn't be the service we were selling and our ability to sell the number that we would need to sell of brand new clients into that service, since you're not going to get that service and then turn around and get it again hopefully, it was astronomical and it was not physically possible for us to make those sales. And so we had some options. We had the option of widening the services we offered, and we had the option of deciding to find ways to retain those clients who came to us for website copy in different ways. And spoiler alert. We decided to do both in different ways and we've kind of tweaked and adjusted that system over the years. And what we've found is that it doesn't really matter what service someone comes to you for. Having in mind, the idea of retention from the get-go can really help you to build a solid foundation of cashflow in your business and clients who you love. So you're not constantly meeting and learning about new projects from the ground up. Some people I know love going out and meeting new people, but keep in mind, every time you take on a new project, that's a new voice you have to learn. It's a new process you have to learn. And so the more you include retention into your business plans, the more opportunity you have to pick the best new clients to come in that are the best fit for you while also keeping the clients who really align with your values and your expertise.

Marie:
Yeah. So even if you consider yourself a freelance writer and you're starting your business today, you can think about retention right now from the get-go. One little caveat is, just because you can create something, doesn't mean you necessarily should or are gonna want to just for the sake of retention. So, when we talk about this, you know, don't just do it for its own sake. You can weigh the pros and cons of it any given time, even if it's a dream client and they're asking you to like ghost write their novel and you like, don't want to do that. Like, you don't have to do that. You really don't have to do that. Don't just because you're like capable of doing something doesn't mean you need to do it. So we're gonna just dive into kind of, you know, what sort of our core beliefs are around this, and then we're going to dive into some action steps for you.

Jessi:
Yep, absolutely. So I think this all comes back to the core of business, which is relationships and relationships... You hear a lot of people in the business space talking about how valuable relationships are to starting a business, maintaining a business, being successful in business... A lot of times it really is who, you know, and how you continue to develop those ongoing relationships. And it's not just a, Hey, I'm working with you for a brief period of time or you're in my circle for a brief period of time. And then we totally part ways, sometimes that happens and sometimes it makes sense for that to happen. But often we find the best opportunities for growth in the relationships that we develop. And I think what I personally have come to believe over the years, as someone who is an introvert, who sometimes needs a little bit of an extra nudge to go out and maintain those relationships, is that the value of maintaining a sense of connection with the people who you work with and your colleagues and peers, because that's another route to, you know, business stability. And, I think valuing that connection and finding ways to layer that connection into your business processes is a way to really not just add to the possibility for retention in your business, but also make running a business more fun and more enjoyable and more rewarding in the end. It's really hard, Marie and I are lucky, right? We have the two of us, so we're not a total Island, like some solopreneurs are freelancers who start off and it's just them, which can be really isolating. But even with just the two of us that became really isolating after awhile. And so on the client front, on the peer, front, on the colleague front on the mentor front, we really needed to develop relationships in order to feel like we had some momentum in our business.

Marie:
Yeah, absolutely. So, I mean, take a look. It doesn't have to just be like your local networking group. Lord knows we've tried some of those and some have been great and some have been less great are just not a good fit for us. Again, we're introverts, you know, going into a room with a bunch of strangers and then having to like small talk and then everyone feels like they're just bragging about their business, is super duper uncomfortable and awkward for us. Maybe that's a mindset problem we need to get over. But I think like a lot of what we found is these sort of more targeted groups where we, it's not just because we're in the same geographic area, but because maybe we serve the same kind of people or run the same point in our business, like growth trajectory, or we have similar goals or similar values. Like those types of groups have been amazing for us. And it's always easier to work with to make an ask of somebody that you already know, then someone new, you know. And again, this could be for our past clients to invite them to work with you again. It could also just be for a peer to say like, Hey, I'm offering this thing. If you know of anybody who might be a good fit for it, I'd really appreciate you passing their name along to me. Like somebody who already knows you and likes you, you know, it's gonna be a lot easier for them to say, yeah, sure. I'll definitely do that. And then they follow up on it then somebody you're like, I just met you over coffee at this stilted awkward event five seconds ago. Not again, not to like dis local networking groups. I'm sure they're extraordinarily helpful. I just thought I'd give it a fair shake.

Jessi:
You know, I, when I think about this, honestly, I think back to my last job before I went full-time with the business, which was in marketing and sales at a museum and I was in the education department. So I was specifically selling field trips and marketing new exhibit halls to schools, so that they could bring students out to learn about them. And we would do these events periodically every time a new exhibition opened, we would have an event where all of the teachers in the entire city were invited to come and see the exhibit hall before it was open to the public. It was sort of a sneak peek for teachers so that they could see if it would be a good field trip for their students. And over the three or so years that I worked at that museum, you know, you get to know the recurring faces, you get to meet people and, you know, okay, well this, this teacher booked a field trip for this exhibit two years ago and they came to this event. And so there's an opportunity for me to continue developing this relationship, because I know that I created a really positive experience for them last time. I know that they're still interested in maybe not the exact same experience, just like a client that comes back to us and they not need to have their website copy redone again. And then maybe this new experience is still in line with what they want and still in line with what would be helpful for their students. It's just a little bit different of an experience. It's a different exhibit hall. It's a different way of approaching coming into the museum. And I made some really great friendships working at that museum with people who were paying clients or customers. And it was really because of taking that time to, yes, Do some in-person networking because that was part of the job description-

Marie:
Noo! Sorry.

Jessi:
But also sending emails also going beyond business, asking about people's families, asking about, you know, what they have going on that they're excited about, like taking the relationship aspect and really viewing it as an authentic way to connect with people beyond something that's strictly transactional.

Marie:
Absolutely. You know, I'll probably circle back around to that once we get to our action steps here in a second. But the other point I wanna make is, you know, maybe unlike in Jessi's at the museum where it was kind of every teacher in the entire metropolitan area was invited to come in, like you do actually have a choice if you get to work with like, even if you feel like you don't even if like money's really tight and it feels like you really need every single client...
Storytime again, I guess. So at one point, there was a client that had a prospect that had really great, like people knew who they were and people really enjoyed the services that they offered. And since I was kind of in the community, their field, I knew some people who'd worked with them before. I kinda knew like the behind the scenes staff. And I got warnings from like three different people that like, just watch, watch them, make sure they pay their invoices, just like keep an eye on them. Don't do anything till you get paid, um, hold your boundaries, you know, all this stuff. And in retrospect, probably we shouldn't have taken on that client. Right. Because I knew, I knew that there were red flags going into that situation, but it did feel like, well, we, it didn't feel like we necessarily needed the money in that case as much as it cause I think, I think Jessi, we were maybe, maybe both of us were full-time, but I think only one of us was full-time. I like, I think we had enough revenue coming in at that point. Cause we actually staggered, you know, when we came on full-time um, but it was more just like we felt like, because they were kind of a big name in the industry that like that clout would really help us.
And so we felt like we kind of had to say yes. Spoiler alert, we still have outstanding invoices. We're quite sure we'll never be paid and we've pretty much written it off at this point. Not only that, but like we felt talked down to in the relationship, it was just not a good working relationship. It was toxic on a lot of levels. And, ha, my friends who cared about me and, you know, reached out to me, like it turns out they were right and that they have my back. And so just so you know, like you do have a choice who you work with. If I had said no to them, I think back on like how much like frustration, sense of feeling like I constantly had to be on guard, just that kind of emotional tension that just like permeated my life during those months that we worked with them. The feeling of dread every time we'd open up the document to work on their projects. And that sense of just like being a fronted, honestly, that like somebody wouldn't pay invoices for work that was completed. Like if I think about like all the emotional energy that like I could have spared myself and you Jessi, if we had just decided like not to do it, you know, we could have, we could have used that to love on our clients we did really enjoy working with maybe use that, to find somebody else to work with, like that energy could have been better spent. And so as you continue to make relationships, nurture relationships, get to know people like know that you can say no to people. And also if someone's a really good fit and you nurture that relationship and they feel really supported, they're going to refer their friends who are similar, you're going to continue to bring in more people like that.

Jessi:
Yeah. And so, you know, when we had that particular experience, this was in some ways we were fortunate because we had people who reached out to us before we even started working with them to raise those red flags that we blew right past.

Marie:
Oh Yah, totally. Yeah.

Jessi:
But you know, when we're talking about this in the terms of retention, so you don't always get those red flags up front, sometimes it takes working with a client to realize whether they're a good fit or not, because on paper, they look great. Those initial conversations sound great. And then you get into the work and you realize, Oh, this isn't as good of a fit as I thought. And it might not be their fault and it might not be your fault. It may just not be a good match. But when we're talking about a retention conversation, once the opportunity comes for that project to be set aside because it's finished and to look towards the future, you do have a choice. It's not just retention for retention sake. We want to put you in a position where you feel competent seeking out retention of what we're calling your clonable clients, the clients that you really want to work with again and again and again, while also feeling confident in telling the clients who were not such a great fit, that it may be time to part ways.

Marie:
Yep, exactly. So, okay. Let's get down to details here. How do you actually do this? How do you implement retention? Because if you're anything like what, you know, we were like early on, every time a project ends, you say goodbye and you never see them again. So yeah, we humbly suggest maybe consider adjusting. So I think first is going back to Jessi's story about the museum, right? Like, as she got to know a specific teacher and she knew that like maybe, you know, they'd really enjoyed like the Magna Carta exhibit. Right. And so, okay. Now I kinda know what kind of exhibit she, or he really likes, well, I'm probably not going to suggest for my next, you know, as we're having conversations, I'm probably not going to like really, really focus on like an exhibit on gemstones or an exhibit on like, you know, 21st century energy production or something, right? Like, because you get to know them, you get to know what interests them, you know, what subject they teach. Jessi, you were able to like recommend other topics that maybe were of interest to them. Maybe this was a social studies teacher. And so, or, you know, they were teaching geography or something like that. So maybe like the King Tutt exhibit would have been really interesting for the students. So, all this comes down to like, when you get to know somebody, and as you go into a brand new relationship with the intention of getting to know somebody so that you can maintain a relationship with them, you can really create an unforgettable experience for them. The more that they feel like you actually know who they are, or somebody on your team, if it's not necessarily you knows who they are and is tailoring things to them as much as possible, they're going to be so loyal.

Jessi:
Yeah. And I think that there are sort of two important points that I want to tease out here. One is that, um, and I'll circle back around to this one, but briefly that, you know, the magic really is in the follow-up, you know, often we have these very brief interactions with someone, and there's a choice there of letting that brief interaction be the only interaction or continuing the conversation. And that is a choice that, you know, each time we have one of those interactions, we have to weigh what makes the most sense for us. But the other thing I wanted to mention too, in creating an unforgettable customer experience, this is where specifically for those of you out there, listening, who are writers, who are content creators, who are digging into the voice of your client. It is so valuable to have an experience, to be able to provide an experience where you're not just churning out content, where you are creating the processes that allow you to truly reflect their voice in an authentic way, truly understand the stories that you're helping them share, and showcase your ability to empathize with them and take what they hold dear, and put it out to the world in a way that really shows a lot of respect and empathy, for them, for their clients, for their goals, for their business. And I think that this is a big part of creating that unforgettable customer experience for writers, because a lot of times, the early period in a business owner's life where they start outsourcing content, they do outsource someone for the sake of the churn for the sake of just, I need this content. So I'm just going to hire someone to get this content. And if you come in to that and you provide that extra layer of care, they're going to notice, and they're going to remember it.

Marie:
Yeah, absolutely. So, and we've talked about this a little bit too, but you know, the meaningful client relationships, the ones that you want to preserve, those are the ones to focus on. And on the flip side of that, do not be afraid to cut ties with people who are not a good fit. And also, you know, Jessi earlier, you were mentioning that like, when it comes time for renewal conversation, that's when you can, you know, just not have that conversation. But also if it truly is like a toxic or abusive situation with a client, take a look at your contract, protect yourself. But hopefully you have something in your contract that allows you to go ahead and end that ahead of time. So, it can be a little tricky. It's definitely an uncomfortable conversation to have, but you know, it happens and it's okay. Like you can survive that you do not have to feel like you have to finish something if you truly are in a very, you know, toxic, difficult situation that is just, is not going to get better. But, you know, as you're looking at like your retention rates and things like that, like yes, retention rates are a useful metric for you. But maybe take a look at the retention rate of those quote unquote clonable clients, the ones that you really want to have come back over and over again. And you want them to have, for them to like refer people like them, you want others like them to come in.

Jessi:
Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, I think too, one of the things worth mentioning is, one of the things that has worked for our business, which the caveat here is that this model is not for everyone. We mentioned in a previous episode that we don't want to tell you the best way to structure your writing and content creation business, because there's more to it than just what works for us. There's the context of your entire life and your goals that said, for us in our business, creating a retainer model where retention is really built in, really worked for creating that stability and getting our business out of feast and famine, allowing us to grow a team, allowing us to develop those long-term relationships with people. So briefly how it works with us is we allow people to sign on for multi-month retainers and they can get a certain amount of content during each month.

And one to Marie's point earlier about having opportunities to visit contracts and to cut ties every single one of those retainers starts on a three-month basis. And that's a trial period to really see, are we a good fit? Do we want the opportunity to retain you as a client? And at the end of that three month period, we can sit down with the client and see, okay, did this work, did it not? Do we need to reinforce the boundaries? Do we need to part ways, or do we want to renew the retainer for an even longer period of time? And this allows us to predict our revenue a lot more easily than we did when we were just doing all these one-off website copy projects. And it allows us to go into those three months for initial relationship, knowing that we will have a 0.3 months in the future where we will have the choice to continue the relationship or to back away from it. So nothing ever feels like we're trapped in this cycle we can't get out of.

Marie:
Yeah. Or sooner again, like I said, if, if a situation it gets toxic because that's written into our contract to that either party may choose to end the contract. So yeah, and I think the other thing is, yes, not only does it make our revenue more predictable, but also makes our workload more predictable. You know, that way we're able to say, like, it's not like, I mean, some businesses it's great, right? Like you, it may be something you really want it to like, be able to like work a whole bunch during the summer. And then like, you know, in the fall have like less that you're doing, or like maybe you're also a teacher. And so you like that, it's a schedule that works for you. Great. That's fine. Like this retainer model may not work for you. For us because this is our full-time lives. And we also do have a team that we want to be able to give like predictable hours to, you know, that works for us. So take it with a grain of salt.

Jessi:
Yeah. I want to circle back to what I said earlier, too, about the follow-up, because this is also an opportunity. I think that often gets missed when it comes to retention. A lot of times there's a strong effort out of the gate, right? The project is coming to an end. You have that call or that conversation where it's like, okay, is there anything else I can help you with? And often the answer is no, they don't need anything in that moment. And then that's when the relationship starts to get more distant. And so building in, and I think we talked about this in a previous episode where we were talking about onboarding and offboarding, just tore restate the importance of periodic. Check-ins not just when the project ends, but those clonable clients reaching out to them at the three month mark at the six month mark at the nine month mark, build it into your system because they may not have any needs right after your project is done. And that's totally fine. But give it six months, and usually other content needs will come up and you may be able to support them with that. They may not think to reach out to you though. You, if you initiate the conversation you stay top of mind.

Marie:
Yep, absolutely. So, and then kind of going back to something I said earlier is, you know, track those retention rates. And if you can, you may want to segment this off, but until it just kind of overall retention rate, which is like, you know, X percentage of clients stayed on with me after their initial, like they renewed in some way. And then, and you can kind of set the timeline. Like I want them to renew within X amount of time, or like, I don't really care. I just like once I want them to renew at some point, and that suggests to me, that's like a metric for success that, you know, they liked me, they liked my work, it was valuable for them. They wanted to stay with me. But segmented out also into that clonable client retention rate, because that's really what matters. So I would take a look at that of like the people that you actually want to continue working with. Like how many of them at some point actually do end up re-uping with you?

Jessi:
And I would say, if you look at that list and you see, Oh my clonable clients, aren't renewing, but my clients that are not comfortable, they are renewing. Yeah. That's an invitation to look at your boundaries, to look at your contracts, to look at okay. If I'm not getting what I need out of this relationship, but they are, where is the disconnect? And similarly, or rather on the other hand with the clinical clients, where is the disconnect there where I'm really loving this relationship, but apparently they are not in a position where we knew we makes sense, is it because they're just getting everything they need and that's, you know, they legitimately don't need additional work? Or is it because there's some sort of a breakdown happening within the actual relationship? So this data can be valuable in a bunch of different ways when you're looking at it through the lens of not just, I want to retain everyone who I ever worked with, but I want to strategically retain the clients who really bring my business and myself the most joy.

Marie:
Yeah. And don't be afraid to like, reach out to them and say, Hey, could I have 15 minutes of your time? Or could I have 30 minutes of your time to just ask you some questions? Because chances are, if you feel pretty good about them, probably feel pretty good about you too, even if they haven't decided to renew. And you can just ask them those questions, like, what would, is there anything that would be a valuable service? Is there any reason why, you know, you would be interested in, I'm not asking you to do it in that conversation right. Necessarily, but like, I'm just trying to like, do some research right now because I'm working on shifting some of my processes and just, you know, take their feedback to heart, take it also with a grain of salt, because you've got to do what works for you. But don't be afraid to just reach out and have those conversations, like over the phone or zoom or like coffee, like, you know, not just email.

Jessi:
With their actual words, because sometimes, it's easier. It's less, there's less self editing if they're actually talking to you. And there's also the opportunity for it to feel more like a dialogue, which leads us to your homework, which maybe predictably is for you to figure out what your retention rate is and do that segmenting of you can. So this means making a list of everyone who you've ever worked with. And if you've been in business for a while, maybe go back a year or two, you don't have to go all the way back to the beginning, unless that would serve you. Unless you want to reach out to people you may have worked with three or four years ago. Uh, if your business has changed radically, that may not make sense. But make a list of everyone you've worked with, identify who on that list is a clonable client and who is not. And look at your overall retention rate, look at your clonable client retention rate and look at your non clonable client retention rate. And think about what that's telling you. What information are you getting out of that exercise? And then once you have sort of evaluated that, brainstorm three ways you could improve your retention rate with specifically your clonable clients.

Marie:
Yeah. There's so many ways you can do this, feel free to get creative. You don't have to set up a retention or a retainer model like we have. It could just be a matter of implementing a reminder system for you to touch base with them and, you know, six months or three months or whatever, like it could be any number of things. I've seen all kinds of fun stuff like, you know, end of year zoom parties for your clients or trainings for them, or like anything really just to kind of keep the relationship going. And I would definitely suggest if you have no idea what would be valuable to them. Like I said, reach out, have a conversation and ask them.
Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Brand Your Voice Podcast, make sure to visit our website northstarmessaging.com, where you can subscribe to the show on iTunes, Spotify, and more.

Jessi:
If you found value in this episode, we'd love for you to leave us a review on iTunes and share it with your friends. Thank you and happy content, creating.

For additional content strategy and branding tips, check out northstarmessaging.com/blog. Also, please tag us on Instagram and let us know you’re out there! @northstarmessaging 


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