How to attract clients

It’s a simple question: what makes a client choose you over another design supplier?

This week’s article lists 5 ways to attract clients, why they work and how you can do it.

1. Be likable

Why: We are all more likely to buy from likable and like-minded people. Research shows clients like dealing with designers with whom they have established goodwill and trust. It’s about patience and taking the time to build rapport. Read more here ‘What do clients want from a design-partner‘ question in our recent ‘What clients want‘ survey.

How: Short term: ask a (well-liked and trusted) intermediary to introduce you to a prospective client. Longer term: network to build a social relationship before trying to build a business relationship.

2. Do unto others…

Why: People tend to treat you the way you treat them. Treat others with respect and chances are they will reciprocate the feeling.

How: Continually strive for a win:win situation. It’s not just about winning that project. It’s about an ongoing effort to identify where you can add value to the client’s offer. It’s about being proactive rather than reactive.

3. Build credibility

Why: A majority of clients are most comfortable following rather than leading. Not in a negative way, but in a safe, risk-averse, keep-my-job kind of way. They like precedent, and more likely to be influenced and persuaded by successful people and stories.
How: Case studies and testimonials work brilliantly to bring in new business. It lessens any perceived risk; making a change of supplier seem easier and less problematic. And while meeting face to face is always preferable, case studies and testimonials work brilliantly on a website, so they can be selling while you’re busy wearing a different hat.

4. Write it down

Why: Research has shown people are more likely to act on a written commitment. It’s often demonstrated with telethons. Many people pledge to give money via phone but those making a written commitment are more likely to follow through with their donation.

How: At the beginning of a relationship, never, ever use a save-as pitch deck. Respond with a brilliantly designed capability document, directly written to answer to that specific brief to separate your studio from the more common job management-system template estimates and the ‘save-as’ template submissions. Better still, respond with an infographic of how you would tackle a project. Infact, when asked, clients cited ‘the generic pitch’ as the thing they least wanted to see.
During a relationship, use reverse briefs. A client verbally briefing in a project may not have the same commitment as one asked to sign off on their request. A written commitment often demands more consideration and reflection. The added advantage is that a written brief can reduce the dreaded scope-creep.

5. Have authority

Why: Most of us defer to experts, especially when it means access to specialist information or a skill we don’t have. Collaborating with experts gives clients confidence and makes it easier for them to sell a new supplier upstream. So, be the expert. Know more than peers. Own your space.

How: Never assume clients understand your expertise – especially existing clients who may well pigeon hole your experience. Explain your skills using case studies to demonstrate your (brilliant) design solutions. Clients cited case studies as one of the three things they preferred to hear in a pitch, even if the project was for a different industry sector to theirs.

6. Be distinctive

Why: We all value scarcity, and clients are no different. We all covet that gem of information that may put us ahead of the pack. But design studios are a dime a dozen, hardly scarce … how could that possibly work in new business?

How: Firstly by finding your ‘onlyness‘ — identifying your special power — what you do that others don’t. Nilofer Merchant has written about it, as has Marty Neumeier. We’ve had great results helping designers use a Personal Journey Map to turn the mirror on themselves. Get in touch if you want more details. The second way is to actively seek and share exclusive information that will help your client. It means continual reading to find research relevant to your client, then releasing information to them before it is released to others. Exclusivity is persuasive.

Takeaway

Seriously, new business development isn’t easy. Partly because of supply and demand. There is a plethora of studios in the capital cities, all vying for attention. And in the regional areas where there are not a lot of studios, there are not a lot of potential clients. It means every contact – new and existing – is valuable. And that means everyone in the team is potentially a new business development manager. And that means everyone should be trained in the principles of persuasion. And it helps if …

  • you meet someone socially at a networking event and get along well
  • are punctual at meetings and continually strive for a win:win opportunity
  • your website includes well written case studies and glowing testimonials
  • your submissions are proactive and specifically written or better still designed for each project
  • you’re clearly an expert in your industry and are well read and up-to-date with the latest research.

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What do you think? Got any problems/questions? As always, happy to discuss further, just email.

Carol Mackay



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The Design Business Review is Australia’s only online design management magazine. It’s professional development information written specifically for Australian designers by Australian designers. Best of all, it’s free.

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These articles also talk about how to attract clients:

  1. What clients want to hear in a pitch
  2. What clients want from designers
  3. Results from a client survey

About Carol Mackay

After 30+ years running a graphic design firm, I pivoted from client-focused projects to consult to the design industry. Now with the Design Business Council I use my experience, and research, as a design mentor and coach. I help designers build robust, sustainable businesses, and help businesses integrate, and profit from, design.

The core of the DBC is the building a design community – over 85% of designers work in businesses with less than 5 employees, many less than 3. That means designers don’t have the same support network of other professionals. The DBC’s solution is supplement paid gigs with research, mentoring breakfast meet-ups, informative UNseminars and practical workshops in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.

An archive of my previous career is at mbdesign.com.au.
My current work can be viewed at designbusinesscouncil.com and designbusinessschool.com.au.

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