It's easier to get work from existing clients than from new clients. Find out 11 ways to keep clients coming back that will impress them, help you have a good experience working together and get work from them in the future.
Why Designers Should Want Repeat Clients
It is always easier to get more work from existing clients than to get new work from new clients. That’s because it’s a bigger risk for new clients.
According to the book Marketing Metrics, businesses have a 60% to 70% chance of selling to an existing customer. On the flip side, the probability of selling to a new prospect is only 5% to 20%.
According to Harvard Business Review, acquiring a new client can be five to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one.
Once you get a client, it doesn’t mean you will keep that client. Like any relationship, you have to nurture it.
11 Ways to Keep Clients Coming Back
1. Be proactive.
Being proactive can really help set the tone for the relationship.
Let clients know what to expect and when. This puts you in the expert position, instead of the order taker position.
Lead the process, as opposed to reacting to it.
One way to be proactive is to not ghost the client after getting the work. The client is left wondering what the designer is doing (“Are they working on my project?” “Have they started it yet?”) or if the designer just took their money and ran.
The client may be left second guessing their decision to work with you. And let me tell you:
Clients will remember how you made them feel. Don’t put them in a position where they could feel negatively about you.
It’s also important to be proactive throughout the process.
If a client owes you content, remind them about it. They get busy with their own tasks and may forget. You need to proactively manage the project.
The other thing is to think about the entire relationship—not just a single project—and continue to keep in touch after a project is finished. Most graphic designers see client projects as transactional, one-off projects instead of a long-term relationship.
But I cannot tell you how many clients have come back to me multiple times over the years, and sometimes it will be many years later. Sometimes what I thought would be a one-time project turns into multiple projects for that same client soon after.
2. Respond promptly.
It’s important to reply to clients promptly. But I don’t mean drop what you’re doing every time they call or email you. That’s not productive when you’re in the middle of working on something. I don’t think they’d appreciate you doing that when other people call you when you’re working on their jobs.
Just don’t leave them hanging for days at a time.
So many designers do that, and it can drive clients crazy. They get irritated. They start to lose trust in you. They may not work with you again because of it.
3. Listen to your clients.
Another thing you can do is to listen to your clients. By that, I don’t mean just sit back and be an order taker (I’d never say that!). I mean to really listen to what your clients are saying when they tell you about their business or when they give you feedback.
Remember what I said a moment ago about they will remember how you made them feel—good or bad.
Make them feel their concerns were heard. Acknowledge them. Ask them why they feel a certain way.
Make them feel their design-related requests were heard, even if you don’t agree with those requests.
Then figure out what you can do to alleviate their concerns and requests while still keeping in line with your expertise.
Let’s say a client wants you to make some text huge, bold and blue, but you think that would be a horrible idea. Ask them why, what’s the reason for the request.
They might say they want that text to stand out more. Great. You can say you understand their request and have a different but better way to accommodate it.
If needed, you can explain why what they’re asking isn’t a good idea but that you will address it another way.
4. Answer the phone!
You know how irritating phone trees are and how difficult it can be to get someone on the phone when you need support?
Remember that feeling.
That’s how a lot of clients feel when they just really need to talk to the designer, but they keep getting put off or forced to go back and forth with emails.
I know because I used to do it, and my clients would get frustrated. I would be irritated with them and myself.
“I don’t have time,” I would say to myself.
But the time spent going back and forth via email (or text, if you do that) is much more than a quick phone to resolve an issue.
Phone time also gives you time to personally connect, which is really important with client relationships.
I just had absolute belly laughs with one of my clients the other day about a funny story she shared with me from her childhood. I don’t even know how we got on the topic because we started talking about publication schedules.
But where my younger self may have seen a long conversation as an intrusion, I welcomed the interaction as an opportunity in getting to know my client better and maintaining the relationship—because I really like working with them.
5. Deliver on time.
You want to always be sure to deliver on time.
Many graphic designers miss deadlines, and that can frustrate clients. They may not work with you again. It could cost them time and money, especially when they are planning a launch around something.
Be realistic about when you can deliver something. Don’t over promise.
If the client is dictating a certain deadline, and it will be hard to meet, charge extra for that. But also politely let them know if they’re dropping the ball in the process, making it more difficult for you to get the job done. That is good to have documented in your defense in case it is questioned why the project was late.
6. Say thank you.
This next one is, again, super easy: say thank you.
Send a thank you email or card in the mail after a meeting or after sending a proposal. Sending something in the mail makes you stand out even more because there is less competition in the mailbox. Most people don’t do that anymore.
Not only is a thank you a nice gesture, but it reminds them once more of you. Maybe you spoke to them and then sent them a proposal. Those are two touch points. Then you send them a thank you card in the mail. That’s yet another.
You can even include your business card. A lot of clients appreciate old-school communication methods.
But sending them something tangible that they can have in their hand or right at their desk has another benefit. It also means you’re more likely to be top of mind. Think of that saying “out of sight, out of mind.” The opposite is true too.
Saying thank you could also mean a thank you gift at the end of a large project. That’s a wonderful surprise after all the hard work you did together, and it leaves a really nice impression.
7. Check your work.
This last one is to check your work. It’s shocking to me how many graphic designers do not check their work.
I’ve been told repeatedly by many clients over the years that this is a huge reason why they keep coming back to me, because they don’t need to babysit. Sure, they still have some edits, but at least they aren’t spending lots of time marking up proofs to say some text was left out, an image wasn’t cropped properly or whatever.
I always check everything against what they send me before sending a first proof. Clients are relieved when they don’t have to do feel like they have to look over your shoulder.
For large publication projects, it used to take me many times longer to check the work than it did to lay it out in the first place. That was until I started using Acrobat’s Compare Files feature and Draftable to compare content and styling from the clients’ original files to my PDF proofs.
If you don’t have an eagle eye for detail, I highly recommend it to find even the tiniest of issues—at the character or style level.
8. Have your clients’ best interests in mind.
Another thing you can do is to always have your clients’ best interests in mind. Doing this shows you care—about their needs and about how your work actually helps them.
Maybe you work on their website and you just discovered a new plugin that would be really useful to them, so you tell them about it. Maybe you can get more work out of that too.
But maybe they have a need that you can’t help them with. That’s OK. You may know someone you can partner with who provides that service. If you’re unable to help them, they will still appreciate a referral from someone you trust.
9. Ask for feedback.
Asking for feedback after a project is done is another thing you can do.
It shows that you are interested how the work did, the results of your work.
It’s also a great way to get constructive feedback on how they think you worked together. You might learn something you could improve on for the next project with them or for the next client.
But you also might end up getting really great feedback, where you can say, “Hey, can I use that as a testimonial?”
10. Stay in touch.
Staying in touch is a smart thing to do.
You can do this in several ways. You can schedule a call with them from time to time—maybe every quarter or twice year—to just check in and ask if their needs have changed or ask how that new website you built them has been helping them.
You can ask them if you can add them to your email list to stay in touch. You can also connect on LinkedIn.
The reason for this is because staying in touch increases the chance of you being top of mind when they have a need in the future.
11. Show interest in them.
Another thing you can do is to show interest in the client.
This could be personally with your direct contacts. For instance, I have a few client contacts who have dogs or are involved in animal rescue, which is a passion of mine. So we talk about that from time to time.
You can also follow the client organization on social media and like and comment on their posts.
You can also email them to say you like what they’ve been doing if their work is something that personally interests you.
If you want to find out more ways you can leave a positive impression and stand out from other designers, get my free guide, 17 Questions You Must Ask During a Design Consultation.