How to not mess it up with bigger clients

When it comes to successfully servicing big brands, you want to do the best job possible to ensure they never go elsewhere. That's because it's often easier, and cheaper, to retain existing clients rather than win new ones.

All it takes is mutual trust and respect, and a little give and take. So why do so many in the creative industries mess things up?

I've had many interesting conversations about agencies lately, mainly with marketing directors at large firms. They all seem to complain about the same things. So I thought, perhaps it's time to address these issues and offer some friendly advice on how to keep those bigger clients happy. Particularly as they're so lucrative, can look great on your portfolio and lead to lots more work.

Don't take on projects you can't handle

If someone's waving a huge amount of money in front of your face, then yes – it's a great opportunity. But if you can't handle the work, then why take the risk? Sure, you can quickly employ or bring in extra freelance support. You might get lucky and pull together a great team to deliver a successful outcome. But if it doesn't work out, you've just potentially ruined your business and your reputation.

Quote for projects wisely, but don't take the piss

When quoting for work, you'll naturally want to cover any contingencies and aim a little higher with your budget. You certainly don't want to underestimate how much time or resource is required to get the job done. You don't want to make a loss.

But just because the client is 'big', it doesn't mean you can pluck a large sum out of the air and assume they'll go for it. Big brands are wising up. Gone are the days when you could take the piss and charge extortionate amounts for small projects. They now have experienced people on their teams. They'll know how long things take, and the work involved.

Transparency is the way to go. Reveal your day rate, talk about anticipated time and resource involved, and go from there. Leave some room for negotiation should they move the goal posts in future; that way, you can manage expectations and ensure you're able to re-quote if the project changes significantly.

Don't be greedy and assume they'll keep spending

It's not all about the money, you know. You can't assume that your client can be turned upside-down to shake more cash out of their pockets. It doesn't work that way. If they need an extra bit of help, and it's only going to take you half an hour to sort, carefully consider whether you should charge more. Sometimes, it's good to throw in the odd freebie.

I've heard horror stories of agencies requiring another five grand for five minutes of effort. It takes the piss, it really does. And it damages any chance of developing a decent relationship with your client. Unless you're on a mission to make as much money as possible, without any real desire to retain them. If that's the case, it's a fool's game. Marketing directors don't stay in the same place for long. They move around. Oh, and they talk... hence, the inspiration for this article.

For longer term success, and the chance to make more money in future, don't be greedy. Think about the bigger picture.

Make the client feel super special and like only they matter

We all want to feel loved and that we count for something. When a big brand is spending big bucks with you, they'll not only want to feel special; they'll naturally want to be treated like they're your most important client. Any whiff that this is the contrary, and they'll feel miffed, unloved and – most likely – will want to go elsewhere.

To keep them happy, it's really quite simple. You prioritise them, regularly check-in and treat them like an old friend. For instance, if there's an emergency, drop everything to help your client. Book in regular face time too, so you help to maintain a good relationship. Treat them to a nice lunch, now and again. Make them feel loved and care deeply about their success.

Don't put hurdles in their way

One of the biggest complaints I hear is how difficult some agencies make things for clients. They contact you to ask for something, and it takes a week for you to reply. They need help with a little task but you request a formal contract to be signed before anything progresses. Or when they need to speak to you, you're completely unavailable.

Reliability is such a precious commodity. Be available, be ready and willing to help, and – most importantly – make life as easy as possible for your clients. Go above and beyond and blow their minds with your awesome and willing attitude.

Don't bullshit, keep it real

Liars always get caught, eventually. You simply can't hide from the truth. Clients aren't stupid either. They will read between the lines if you're bullshitting them.

In which case, if something's gone wrong – speak up! Address the situation immediately and be honest. Be a real person and realise that clients are people too. People who are just trying to do their jobs as best they can. Don't insult their intelligence by trying to hide behind lies.

Don't be mediocre, push yourself

If doing the bare minimum has got you this far, then your mediocracy is about to be kicked to the kerb. Agencies (and freelancers) everywhere are pulling up their socks. At least, the good ones are. They're realising that to survive and thrive, they have to be at their very best. And that requires a constant effort to learn new skills, improve their team and find ways to grow.

Equally, if you want to keep those bigger clients really happy, you should always be suggesting ways that they can improve too. Is there a new app they should know about? A fresh social network? Do you have any recommendations to boost their website? Actually care about your client's long-term success, and they'll keep throwing work your way.

One final note

The inspiration for this article has come from many chats with marketing directors over the years. One such contact (who works for a colossal brand) summed up all of the above by saying: "Don't take the piss. We can call bullshit from the very first pitch meeting, and we'll never trust you again.

"We want a partner. Not someone who just wings something over the fence. We don't want to feel like we're being fleeced for every penny. We have to account for every one of those pennies, even with the spending clout that we have.

"We need people who understand us as clients, our business and the hoops that we have to jump through. So rather than promise the world, piss us off, under-deliver then chase us immediately on payment for a shit job... just talk to us, spend a little time – and listen."

Main image courtesy of Burst