When you run a client-centered business, it's important to really know and connect with your clients (past, present, and future). These are the people who can tell you the most about your business.
I love learning from my previous and current clients - not just about their businesses, but also about how I can improve my own. I've learned quite few things since starting Lemon and the Sea, some through direct questions and others through client comments, but every one of them was useful. These are some of the things you can learn from your past clients if you're willing to listen.
Who Your Brand Attracts
When I start a new branding project, I always ask about the target audience. It's important from a design standpoint to know who I'm designing for - not just my client, but for the people they are trying to reach. But sometimes you can put out a design that doesn't quite fit the target you were going for and that's often reflected in your past clients.
If your target audience is a 20-something starting a side-hustle, but all your clients are moms trying to get started online so they can work from home, it's probably because your design and messaging speaks more to those moms. And that's okay! When I first started my design business, I thought I wanted to serve young bloggers who would turn over all the design decisions. Through my messaging, luck, or God's plan, most of my client are older, more established in business, and want to be involved throughout the design process - and I love it! I learned from my past clients who my brand was reaching and that it's actually perfect for me.
Who you enjoy working with
When you first start a business, you're probably going to take on a lot of clients that aren't exactly ideal. (Don't feel bad about that - it's all about learning and growing.) Some may be great to work with and others may not be the right fit for you. You may even get hired my your "ideal client" only to find out that you're style of working just doesn't gel with theirs.
It's only through doing the work that you'll learn the type of people who enjoy working with. Then you can start focusing on those types of clients and recognizing the people that won't be a good fit for your business.
Which types of projects are easy and which challenge you
As you work with clients, you're going to learn which things are easy for you and which take more time and energy. This will help you pick which projects to take on, how to schedule them, and when to walk away because you can't give a client your best work.
Because I'm running a service-based business, I have to be careful about how many and what types of projects I can take on at once. For me, that meant learning which projects are easy for me and which are more challenging and take up more time. I still work on both, but I've learned to adjust my pricing based on what's involved in a project and how to schedule my deadlines so that I'm not trying to finish three challenging projects in the same week.
how to communicate with clients
There is lots of advice out there about how to communicate with your clients to make things run smoothly - email, project management software, welcome packets, goodbye packets, DropBox, Google Drive, etc. - but it's not until you get to know your clients and how they work that you can choose something that will work for you.
It's okay to use a software that you're clients haven't used before - as long as you explain how to use it - but you also need to meet them where they are. Some people will just always want to send emails, even if you think you have a better way. You need to learn about what works best (and makes the most sense) to your clients so that you can create an experience that is super simple and easy to follow.
the best way to find new clients
This one is pretty simple - you need to know where your clients found you in order to network in those places. My business comes mostly by referral, so I know that following up with past clients and having a referral system (coming soon!) will benefit my business. If most of your clients find you on social media, you need to know which platform so that you can concentrate your efforts where they have the most impact.
how your process works and how it needs to be improved
Don't stick with a process that doesn't work for your clients, even if it sounds great on paper. In a service-based business, your clients are your business, so you need to make adjustments to meet their needs.
At the end of every project, I ask my clients to fill out a survey about working with me. I take their feedback seriously because I want my design process to be the best it can be. And each time I get feedback, I take a look at my process and see where it's working and how it could be improved to make things easier for my clients.
ways you can automate your process
You past working experiences are also a great way to learn about how you can automate your business. Maybe you can set up email responses to answers common questions, set up software that on-boards your clients without sending emails back and forth, or find an invoicing program that lets you automatically bill in installments. It's only through working with clients that you'll find where automation makes sense and where it's best to do things yourself.
what types of packages to offer
Do your clients all need the same things? You should offer a package for that.
By evaluating what your clients are hiring you for, you can better design services and packages that meet their needs instead of having to customize something each time you quote a project. I'm currently in the process of setting up an easy way to continue working with me on an hourly basis so that my clients don't have to worry about booking me for a big project when they just need small tweaks. I only knew to include that option after my past clients had requested it.
how people see you based on your website, social media, communication, etc.
It's important to make sure that the online face of your business - your website, social media presence, newsletter emails, products, etc. - match your personality. You want your clients to jump on a call with you already knowing what to expect - how you talk and interact - because they're seen it already. And your past clients can tell you if everything matches or not!
how your business and process are unique
When I first started my business, I didn't know how my design process could stand out from all the others online. It wasn't until I started hearing from past clients about how they loved certain little things I included that I began to see that just by virtue of being myself and running my business the way I believed it should be handled that I was creating something unique.
Your business and process are unique as well, even if you don't recognize it yet. And your clients are the people who can share the things that made them hire you over someone else. It may be the way you respond to emails or your willingness to be flexible with your offerings. But even one little thing that makes you different is a great way to stand out.
Lemon and the Sea is a brand and website design company located in Richmond, VA. I specialize in making the branding process personal. I work with creative women who have a heart to serve others grow their businesses so they can focus on what's most important - family. I work closely with small businesses to help them dig into what makes them unique, share their vision, and build a business that genuinely represents who they are.