How to get the clients you want most

By Michelle van Schouwen

For any small service business, it becomes evident after awhile that certain clients are far more profitable, enjoyable and stimulating than others. How, then, can you get more of the very best clients, and eventually upgrade your entire client base?

-Determine the specific characteristics that make certain clients desirable for your business. Go beyond the basics of “pays well and on time” and “behaves in a civil manner.” Look at deeper factors that make clients compatible and enjoyable. For me, this has always included intellectually engaging assignments, achievable stated goals, and overall needs I am confident our team can meet, sometimes in part because we understand an industry sector.

[amazon_link asins=’0578123339′ template=’ProductAd’ store=’succeeding0d-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’a4ed8a65-7869-11e8-bf18-3956b98eb03a’]-Examine what these great clients need and also what they (perhaps less obvious) want. For example, clients may say they want completely honest feedback on their ideas, but in some cases, that honest feedback can get your team thrown out on the sidewalk. “Wants” vary greatly between clients. Determine what works for you and for desirable clients.

-Make sure your team attains and then sustains an up-to-date knowledge base that makes you valuable to the best clients. Practices, technologies and standards change fast in most industries, and resting on yesterday’s expertise will not earn you outstanding clients.

-Find the right balance between being a partner (often this is an overstatement) and a servant (never a great position). Powerful clients want support and a degree of partnership, but they are paying you, so the “partnership” is tilted toward client authority, like it or not. Find the footing that works with the best clients for your company.

-Position your service so it is pleasant to work with your team but so you don’t appear hungry or as if you have only one client. It is stylish in some circles not to respond to client emails for up to 24 hours as a way to indicate the consultant’s high status, but I think acting “too busy to get to it” is counterproductive, not to mention annoying. Business communication is fast-paced and you look better when you respect that. On the other hand, don’t perform complex tasks so fast that your client assumes you have nothing else to do, or that the job was easier than they had thought (and therefore perhaps worth less than you’re charging). Meet or exceed your deadlines, but don’t appear over-eager.

[amazon_link asins=’1119227828′ template=’ProductAd’ store=’succeeding0d-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’cd271638-7869-11e8-8b88-b1d682b1ebe1′]-Market your focused, honed positioning clearly and consistently. Make sure those potential best clients know what you do. Use case studies, referrals, recommendations, and testimonials from your existing or past good clients whenever possible. The best marketing includes demonstrated success.

-My favorite clients of all time are generous with their time, are understanding of the realities of what it takes to get work done, and may even offer personal support on occasion. Offer the same for your good clients. Be a person, and a nice one at that.

-Dare to ask for feedback. “How are we doing for you? What is going well? How can we improve, or meet additional needs?” Do this informally a few times a year, and, if appropriate for your situation, consider a more formal annual survey that a client can complete quickly. Then act on what you’ve learned.

-Value your good clients and keep them as long as appropriate. If something turns a great client into a poor one, such as ownership or management changes, consider reducing your team’s involvement or cutting the cord completely. It’s painful, but sometimes critically important to the continuing success of your company.

Creating the optimal client base is a long-term initiative. It is an effort that should be at the heart of your business.


Michelle van Schouwen enjoys an “Act 2” career as principal of Q5 Analytics, providing advocacy and communications for climate change mitigation and adaptation. See For the past 32 years, Michelle was president of van Schouwen Associates, LLC (vSA), a B2B marketing company. In 2017, van Schouwen Associates was acquired by Six-Point Creative Works, Inc. of Springfield, MA. Michelle supports the Six-Point team in an advisory capacity.


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