Conventional wisdom tells us It’s Not Personal, It’s Just Business, but I would venture to say the opposite. All business is personal — especially small business. If you are a solopreneur or own a small business, it’s in your best interest to be clued in to your client’s personal lives. Adding a personal touch to your client services is how you develop bonds, and loyalty, with your clients over time.
This, of course, is a delicate balance, a skill you have to develop. People often feel icky when we overlap money, friendships and business. It’s hard to separate and even harder to bring together. How do you project sincerity to your clients and remain sincere to your bottom line? Can you be genuinely caring while looking out for the livelihood of your business at the same time?
Although challenging, you can find this balance — I believe that I have. Your clients are people; they will know if you are in the relationship “just for the money.” They, like you, want to work with people they truly enjoy, who have their best interests at heart and get the job done without being micromanaged. They also probably don’t want to forge a deeply personal, intimate friendship with you, but they do want to feel like you will take good care of them.
Be involved in your client’s life enough that you can be understanding during a major life transition, such as a death, a marriage, a divorce or the birth of baby. But make sure you keep a healthy distance, too, especially from any issue that delays them paying your invoices promptly. (When boundaries become unclear in business, expectations on both sides can be quickly muddled and can lead to the unraveling of the relationship.)
I make a point of hopping on the phone with my clients as least several times a year. These calls are never strictly business. I am genuinely interested in talking with my clients to hear how they are doing. I run a near virtual business as a bookkeeper where face-to-face meetings aren’t imperative to get my work done, so I find these phone calls particularly important.
I know when my clients have had children. I have been with them as their parents or other loved ones have passed. I have seen them through painful endings with agents, salespeople, spouses and employees. Nearly always, I have followed up these instances with a card or handwritten note. Not the generic: “Great to talk to you, and thanks for your business” — but words that reflect what is really happening in their lives. Things like, “It was wonderful to connect on the phone. I know your mom meant so much to you. You have had such a hard time the past year while she has been sick. I want you to know I think you are handling it beautifully, and I really admire your strength.” (By the way, using a Customer Relationship Management tool can help you remember important conversations, birthdays, etc. Almost all contact software has a “notes” field you can use to track the date and topic of your conversation.)
I don’t share these sorts of intimate notions because they are in my best interest. I share them because they are true. And because in life, and in business, I believe it is best to be kind. People remember it. People appreciate it. And when it comes time, you will find people often reciprocate. Your clients are your best salespeople, after all.
And from a strictly business standpoint, it is to your advantage to do business with your clients as long as possible. It’s easier to sell to an existing client than it is to obtain a new one. Not to mention that cultivating relationships results in an increased CLV, or customer lifetime value, which is the dollar value a client will bring to your business over time. The lifetime value of some of my clients nears or exceeds six figures because I have worked with them for over a decade — something that would be impossible if I didn’t focus on fostering these relationships.