What was it like when you first opened your agency for business?
Did you have an immediate flow of perfect clients, or were you hustling hard, just trying to get new business in the door?
For most businesses, there is no “easy” mode when starting out. You find yourself working hard to bring in business and to set up the kinds of client pipelines that keep it coming in.
A common mistake, especially during the early stages of an agency, is to forge ahead and bring on literally any client who has expressed a need you may be able to fulfill. Just because they have work which you are capable of doing doesn’t necessarily make them a good fit with your agency.
The temptation is often to do the work anyway because you want to bring in a check, but is this a good idea?
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Why You Can’t Sell To Everyone…
Well, we guess you can, but is it really a good idea? While your early emphasis may be on customer acquisition to get some cash rolling, the “client for the sake of a check” approach is not a sustainable one for maintaining your agency.
It’s been said a number of times: “we seem to end up with clients who are the wrong fit.” You could do better than that and improve the overall health of your business.
The “client for the sake of a check” approach is not a sustainable one for maintaining your agency
The Effect of the “Wrong Fit”
Most of us have experienced this at some point: the “difficult” client. You’ll have your own definition, but this often includes traits such as constantly making changes, roadblocking projects, intolerable issues or just generally never being happy.
“Wrong fit” client has you sighing when you see an email come through from them, has your team members frustrated and leaves you reluctant to pick up the phone.
Let’s give the client a break for a minute though, what if this is one of those “it’s not you, it’s me” scenarios? A client can be decisive about what they want done but still not be a good fit for your agency, and you should pause to consider what “wrong fit” actually means for the client.
If you take on the client anyway, despite it being obvious early on that they won’t be the best fit, what kind of experience is that client going to have with your agency? Probably not the most positive, and sometimes downright poor.
Bad experiences do not lead to good reviews or referrals for your agency. This means that the net result of taking on “wrong fit” clients could mean that your business goes backwards.
Source: Marketing Profs
It’s About More Than Cash
We know of an agency who took on a medium-sized firm on a retainer basis, largely due to the fact that this was netting them a nice monthly check. The problem was, the firm did not really fit their description of “ideal client.” They were scattered, disorganized and wanting a lot of time from an agency director every week, often to sort out “emergencies.”
The director ended up spending more and more time with them, with less time free to pitch new clients who would be a better fit. It became so that they really were relying on that large monthly check to keep them afloat.
The result? When they finally came to the conclusion that they wouldn’t achieve growth unless they dropped that client, it REALLY hurt their bottom line to do so and took some time to recover.
You can draw a few lessons from this:
- Try to avoid money being your primary motivator.
- The wrong client can take away from the rest of your business.
- It’s better to recognize the “wrong fit” sooner.
- Do not let one client become responsible for the majority of your revenue. (Experts often suggest no more than 10% per client so that it doesn’t hurt as much if you lose them).
How To Reach The “Right” Clients
It might take a little bit of your time, but one of the first things any business should do (and we mean before hanging up an “open” sign), is to be very clear on who your ideal clients are, what the parameters are for work you will (and won’t) do and where you might find clients who fit these descriptions.
We’ve got a few steps to consider for attracting the right clients:
#1. Be Clear On Your Values
This is probably even a step back before identifying what those ideal customers look like. Why? Because your values tend to (and should) be reflected in everything you put out and will either attract or repel possible clients.
Values provide direction and lie at the heart and soul of your agency. They provide you and your team members with a sense of purpose. At the same time, being clear on values can help you to attract the right kind of team members – another plus for your clients. The right people for the role play a huge part in the customer experience.
As Buffer states:
“Your values tell the world what you’re about. They give your employees a reason for what they do—and your customers a reason to cheer for you.”
As long as you truly live the values you espouse, you are more likely to attract the kinds of clients who identify with them. We tend to be attracted to those who share similar values to ourselves.
#2. Create Customer Personas
Sitting down and completing detailed personas for your ideal clients is a good way to narrow your focus and ensure you don’t end up simply marketing to everyone.
While personas aren’t the panacea to every marketing or targeting woe you may have, they can be very useful. Carefully crafted personas help you to segment your audience, map any content or marketing strategy and have a better idea of who your ideal client is not.
A detailed persona requires demographic, psychographic and geographic information, so it is useful to ask a list of key questions in those areas.
Here are some examples:
- What type of business is my client in?
- How big is the business?
- What is my client’s role there?
- Where is the client?
- What are their pain points?
If you understand very well who it is you are targeting, you start to build a better picture of where they hang out, what they are interested in and how you can reach them. This helps you to focus your marketing efforts so that they specifically speak to the people you want to attract.
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#3. Learn To Say “No”
Don’t let your eagerness to land the client be the downfall of your agency. Saying “no” to the wrong clients is as important as saying “yes” to the right ones.
You should have a robust onboarding process which helps both you and the client get to know each other better and figure out early if the relationship is going to work. It’s part of sorting out the terms of any agreement; you need to be listening and getting a clear understanding of what the client expects, while explicitly outlining what you will and won’t do.
Most of the time, if you do follow a thorough process, you should be able to work out early which clients will not be a good fit. Hopefully (because you’ve been clear on your values and done a good job of targeting), you don’t get many like that, but there will always be a few you need to turn away.
#4. Make It Easy To Self-Select
If potential clients can easily self-select as a good fit or not, it makes your job even easier.
How do you facilitate this?
Have clear criteria for who your clients are listed on your website or any other media properties. You could even include examples of past clients with their permission. For example, you might say something like:
“ABC Agency works with entrepreneurs and small businesses in the finance industry who are wanting to build high-conversion websites. Typically our clients are in their second or third year of business and would like to grow their customer bases by a further 10% or more.
Project fees usually start at $6000 and go up according to complexity.”
So in this example you would have indicated to a prospect that a) you don’t take newbies, b) you serve a certain niche and c) they need to have a good budget to work with you.
Understandably, most businesses go through periods where it’s tempting to just take new business onboard, whether it is a good fit or not.
BUT, taking on clients for the sake of a check is not a sustainable strategy for building a pipeline of happy customers. You want clients who you can serve well and delight to the point that they want to refer others, not those who will be perpetually unhappy.
Reaching the right clients means defining your values, understanding your ideal customer personas, learning to say “no” to those who aren’t a good fit and helping prospects to self-select as to whether you are right for them.
Finally, even if you do end up taking on one or two just because you need the cash, never allow them to become key sources of your business revenue. You need to make the room so that you are in a position to bring in the right clients.