The Complete Guide to Building Relationships With Clients

Updated on February 7, 2020
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Long-lasting relationships are difficult to forge and even harder to maintain, especially in the business world. And no matter how great your marketing efforts are, equally as important is making sure clients will stick around once they’ve discovered your business. After all, it costs 5x more to acquire a new customer than it does to retain an existing one. 

Building relationships with clients is key to a long and happy professional relationship. But how can you do this? In this guide, we’ll explore how to increase client satisfaction and retention so you can boost your bottom line. Let’s get started. Keep reading, or skip to our infographic

11 Tips on How to Build Relationships With Clients

Every client is different, but the strategies you can use to build good relationships with them typically fall into a few main categories. Read on for 11 tips for successful client relationships.  

1. Do Your Homework

While finding new clients can take a lot of time and effort, you should never skip the prep work before going into the interview process. This is your first impression with a potential client, and doing your homework from the start can make a big difference. That means from the very first interview you should know what their business does, what services they’re looking for, and how your company can help. To do so, you’ll likely want to:

  • Research their company, including recent press.
  • Understand their mission statement and company values.
  • Research industry trends.
  • Scope out their competition.

This knowledge is necessary when tailoring your pitch, as you’ll need to know what their business does so you can decide how your business can help. It’ll also show your potential client that you take initiative and value their time and business. Let your confidence and expertise be your client’s first impression of you, and your relationship will already be off to a good start.

2. Practice Active Listening

The Greek philosopher Epictetus said that we have two ears and one mouth so that we may listen twice more than we speak. This same philosophy applies to business today—effective communication relies on impeccable listening skills.

When active listening is neglected, communication breaks down. Checking your phone during a meeting or not taking adequate notes shows you’re not fully committed to the relationship. And if a client has to send work back to request changes on something they already said, this doesn’t look good for your business.

When learning how to build a good relationship with clients, start with practicing active listening and offer your undivided attention. When you’re in a meeting, don’t let outside distractions interrupt. Physical cues like eye contact and nodding signal your attentiveness. Asking questions and summarizing what they said also shows that you’re engaged, as well as ensures you’re truly on the same page. 

Both professional communication and active listening are key to strong and long-lasting client relationships.

3. Be Friendly and Personable

Viewing your clients as a revenue source can be an extremely limiting perspective. Your clients are more than business and dollar signs. They’re people. Treating your clients as real human beings is a crucial step to building long-term client relationships.

Develop a friendly rapport with your clients by getting to know them better. Ask questions to learn more about the face behind the business. However, don’t let these conversations derail the entire meeting.

Be attentive to opportunities to share about yourself and learn about your client. If your client has an upcoming vacation in a location you’ve been before, offer recommendations for them to visit. Also, sending a birthday or holiday gift with a handwritten card can be a small gesture that speaks volumes about your thoughtfulness.

Shared interests and warm interactions break down the “strictly business” wall and open the way for genuine connection. Client relationships will be more than transactional—they will evolve into symbiotic partnerships. As you develop a more friendly rapport with your clients, you increase your chances of both retaining your clients and having them recommend you, as well.

4. Build a Partnership 

Your services are more than fulfilling a deliverable requested by the client. Before closing a contract with your client, ask them about their business goals. Explain how you can partner up to help your client achieve them.

For example, a freelance writer delivers more than copy. They help drive traffic and increase brand authority. Similarly, personal trainers offer more than a weight loss regimen. They transform their clients into a healthier and happier version of themselves.

Your client’s overarching goals are what bridges your two businesses together. This may lead your clients to view your business as a long-term investment in achieving a shared goal.

5. Deliver on Your Promises

As a service-based business, you’re competing with other businesses that offer the same thing you do. After you onboard a client, the hard part isn’t over. You still need to deliver the services you promised. And if you want to build a long-term relationship with those clients, the results you deliver will be the deciding factor.

Revisit the scope of the project outlined in your contract. Understand what is expected of you and create a game plan on how to deliver. Set mini-deadlines to ensure you deliver the final product on time. 

But don’t just meet their expectations. Do everything you can to exceed them. If you’re a journalist, present error-free work with minimal-to-no revisions needed. If you’re a wedding cake designer, try customizing the packaging to make it feel special. 

Your extraordinary efforts and attention to detail will often catch your client’s attention. This spotlights your abilities and assures your client that they made the right decision by doing business with you.

6. Keep Them in the Loop

Some projects can span a few weeks to several months. Depending on the scope and timeline of your project, remember to schedule check-ins with your client to keep them updated. Creating the habit of consistent communication ensures that everybody is on the same page.

And you don’t always have to send a comprehensive progress report. It can be a quick email on what you’ve accomplished so far and briefly outlining the next few steps on the project. These regular check-ins keep your clients in the loop and reassure them that you’re handling things. Plus, if changes come up (which they often do) you can easily account for them in real-time, rather than having to go back and redo your work. 

7. Ask for Feedback (and Apply It)

In a small business, feedback is integral to delivering top-notch service. Instead of wondering how you can improve your business, just ask your clients. After you finish a project, consider asking your client the following questions:

  • Were you happy with the end result?
  • What was the greatest benefit of working with me?
  • Was there anything you were not satisfied with?
  • Did you wish the process was different in any way?

Not all clients will offer feedback, but the ones that do will recognize that quality control and a commitment to excellence is a cornerstone of your business. As your business improves with constructive criticism, your clients will enjoy better quality and service.

8. Be the Expert 

As a small business owner, you’re fulfilling a specific need for your clients. That means you’re the expert, whether it’s writing, consulting, coaching, or some other service.

When working with clients, you might be tempted to be agreeable and non-confrontational—taking the passenger seat while your client drives the entire process. However, withholding your honest opinions can be a disservice to your client and may compromise the end result you’re both working toward. They came to you for a reason, after all. Your business does something they can’t, so you should flex your expertise.

Be confident in yourself and your abilities. Practice assertiveness, when situations call for it. Learn when it’s time to respectfully disagree and how to suggest an alternative plan of action. When you drive the project and actually deliver on the results, clients will realize your value and will continue to work with you.

9. Take Accountability When You Slip Up

Let’s face it: Everybody makes mistakes, even businesses. While preparation and active listening reduce your likelihood of errors, 24/7 perfection is impossible.

However, the worst thing you can do when you make a mistake is to deny it or deflect responsibility. Evading ownership of a problem reflects poorly on your business. It compromises your integrity as a leader and business owner.

Instead, take accountability. Inform the client of your mistake and offer a sincere apology. More importantly, outline the steps you will take to rectify the mistake.

Clients are human beings, as well. Many will understand that mistakes happen and will often allow you to correct the error. Redeem yourself by showing that you’re solutions-oriented, even during setbacks. Clients will often respect your professionalism and integrity in taking accountability for your actions. 

10. Explore Other Communication Forms

Email is the most common and preferred form of communication between most businesses. However, it’s not your only option. When building relationships, it can often benefit your client relationships to schedule a telephone conference or a video call. 

Seeing your client’s facial expressions or hearing their voice could help you communicate more effectively. On the other hand, if you work very closely together, you may even consider having them join your company Slack board so you can be in more constant communication. 

Just make sure to be conscious of when a situation is better suited for a certain medium of communication. Not everything needs to be a video call, but some things are more complicated than should be handled via email. Know what works best and when, and then utilize a combination of communication methods.

11. Express Gratitude

There are many ways to express gratitude to your clients. This can be a small gesture, like a hand-written note, or a larger display, such as a lunch or small gift. If you want to research gifts that are thoughtful and professional, check out our list of the top client gift ideas

Letting your clients know that you appreciate their business and enjoyed working together can go a long way in solidifying a positive working relationship. 

The Bottom Line 

Clients are the core of any service-based small business. Much time, research, and energy are dedicated to pursuing leads and onboarding clients. However, maintaining and building upon your existing client relationships is equally important, if not more. 

While client outreach is important, devote some resources to strengthening your existing client relationships. If you do it right, your strong communication, stellar service, and friendly rapport can become your best marketing tools. These lead to happy clients, which lead to repeat business for you!

Make-your-clients-love-you

Sally Lauckner

Sally Lauckner is the editorial director at Fundera and the editor-in-chief of the Fundera Ledger. She has over a decade of experience in print and online journalism. Previously she was the senior editor at SmartAsset—a Y Combinator-backed fintech startup that provides personal finance advice. There she edited articles and data reports on topics including taxes, mortgages, banking, credit cards, investing, insurance, and retirement planning. She has also held various editorial roles at AOL.com, Huffington Post, and Glamour magazine. Her work has also appeared in Marie Claire, Teen Vogue, and Cosmopolitan magazines. Sally has a master's degree in journalism from New York University and a bachelor's degree in English and history from Columbia University.  Email: sally@fundera.com.
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