I was going to start this article by saying In uncertain times, it is essential to add value to your clients above and beyond what they expect. Then I realized there’s a big problem with that phrase in uncertain times. When are times not uncertain? We can never predict what’s coming next: Just when you think you’ve got smooth sailing ahead, something happens to disrupt the economy or your business or your life. Just when you think you’re in for a rough patch, something happens to clear the way.
The fact is, wherever we are—or think we are—it’s bound to change, and probably in ways we didn’t anticipate. That’s why I encourage my clients and partners to find processes and tactics for managing their businesses that work regardless of what’s going on in the world—and to commit to working those processes and tactics consistently.
One of the tactics I talk a lot about is having strategies for bringing in business that you use on a regular and consistent basis. Your process for bringing in business shouldn’t be something you neglect when you’re flush with work or something you pick back up when you find yourself without prospects. The power of it is that by having a set of networking, marketing and sales strategies that work for you and your business, you keep a steady stream of new clients coming in. (For more on strategies for bringing in business, check out my blog Do You Have Enough Money Coming In?)
Another tactic that I’ve found keeps you going and growing in boom and bust times is adding value for your clients above and beyond what they expect when they buy from you. “Adding value” covers a lot of ground, so I like to break it down into four flavors:
- Actions that add value to your service or product
- Actions that add value to a client’s business
- Actions that add value to a client personally or to their community
- Actions that add value by delivering surprise and delight to a client’s day
Let’s take those one by one.
Adding Value to Your Service or Product
When you add value to your service, you’re taking steps to help your client get the most out of your service in the long-term. If you’re a web designer, for instance, that might include:
- Updates about advances in website security, as well as information about current cyber threats that might affect their website and how they can protect themselves against it
- Tips on driving traffic to their website through social media or advertising
- Stories about how other clients have used their websites to increase revenue in unique or interesting ways
If you’re a landscape contractor, that might include:
- Seasonal reminders for pruning and fertilizing plants or for cleaning and sealing a deck
- News about local or regional pests to watch out for and how to treat for them
- Recipes and tips for outdoor entertaining
Overall, what you’re looking to do is:
- Help your client maintain or increase the effectiveness of the service
- Educate them on ways to use the service in ways they might not have thought of and that maximize its value to them
- Address challenges or solve for problems that might arise in the normal use of the service
I also encourage you to check in periodically with your clients with a phone call. I’ll talk about more personal, caring calls later, but these calls are to see how it’s going with the service you’ve already delivered. This is a chance to make sure things are working the way they’re supposed to and to provide troubleshooting if any challenges have arisen.
By helping a client get the most out of their purchase, you increase their enjoyment and satisfaction and extend the useful life of your service or product. They see you as someone who cares about how things work out for them in the long term. They see you as a partner and even a friend.
Adding Value to a Client’s Business
Generally, adding value to a client’s business doesn’t have anything to do with the service or product you sell. It’s about helping your client succeed at their business. There are a lot of ways to do this, but they fall into two basic categories: business development and education.
Adding Value Through Business Development
Adding Value Through Business Development This is about helping your clients grow their business. You might do this through:
- Networking: Introduce your clients to prospective customers or prospective partners.
- Purchasing and Referrals: Use and review your client’s services yourself, and refer their services to others.
- Partnering: Invite a client to appear as a special guest at an event or on a podcast, or to co-author a blog article. Help connect them with other clients who would be good partners.
- Promoting: Offer a gift certificate for a client’s product or service as a door prize at an event or as a special thank you to another client.
Adding Value Through Education
- Books: Make a gift of a business book that addresses some of the challenges you know a client has or a topic of interest in their industry.
- Articles: Share articles from outside sources that you come across that are relevant and helpful.
- Newsletters: Distribute an e-newsletter. Your articles might focus on maximizing investment in your product or service, on topics specific to your clients’ industries, and on general business topics like time management.
- Seminars and Courses: Hold general business or industry-specific seminars and courses.
By helping a client expand their own prospect and client base and keep up with the latest and greatest in business management and in their industry, you help them increase the value of their business. That makes them stronger and more successful. It also expands their reach and introduces them to new clients and partners who might also benefit from your service.
Adding Value to a Client Personally or to Their Community
Brands are important, but people like to buy from other people. That’s why an important element of your relationship with your current and past clients is personal. You need to know what they care about, what they’re interested in, what they do when they’re not in the office. And you need to help them do more of that.
This is a fun part of adding value because it involves having fun and giving back.
Adding Value by Having Fun
This is about experiences: wine and cheese (or bourbon and cheese!) nights, art nights, terrarium classes, tennis clinics. You can go to a sports event or an author talk. You can invite families or do it as a couple’s night out. The sky—and your imagination— are the limit! Think outside the box: Have a block party, or invite everyone to show up with a piece or artwork or certificate they’ve been meaning to frame, and get it done. Think local: Plan an event that highlights something special about your town. Richmond, Virginia, where I used to live, is the only city in the entire country where you can ride Class IV rapids through downtown. My current home, Orlando, is of course the land of Disney World and Universal, but you can also ride swan boats in a lake downtown and visit the largest skeleton museum in the country.
One of things I like to do is invite my clients to invite a business partner or top client to these events. Not only does that benefit my clients by helping them add value to a partner or client, it helps everyone involved expand their network and community.
An important caveat here: These are fun events! Of course you’ll meet people and possibly add new contacts to your network, but the heart of these events should be about being together in a personal way. Don’t get business-y.
Adding Value By Giving Back
One of the biggest reasons I do what I do is because I want my clients to have a business that is growing and succeeding in a way that gives them the time, energy and money they need to live their best lives. To me, relationships with family and friends and giving back to the community are a huge part of that.
If you have a client who is involved in a local charity or organization, see how you can support that. That might include:
- Attending one of your client’s charity functions
- Organizing or sponsoring a team of walkers or runners to participate in a race benefitting a charity or organization
- Highlighting a charity or organization on your social media
There are so many great opportunities to get involved in the community, not just through charities but also local festivals and events in your area. By learning about what’s important to your clients and getting involved yourself, you will give back to the community and may even find a passion for a charity or organization you didn’t know about before.
Adding Value by Delivering Surprise and Delight to a Client’s Day
This is my favorite one! Even on those days when we don’t need a pick-me-up, being surprised with a thoughtful gift or experience can take our day from okay to great. My favorite way to do that is through a small gift: a plant, a plate of cookies or favorite coffee, a gift card to a local eatery, a couple of tickets to an upcoming event.
I love to do this in person, but that’s not always possible now that I have clients in multiple states. Luckily, you can have almost anything delivered these days, along with a personalized note. The key to a surprise and delight gift is that it be indulgent. This isn’t about business; it’s about fun and spontaneity. You want it to come out of the blue and to brighten their day.
By the way, there’s another approach to surprise and delight that doesn’t have to do with a material object. That’s when you pick up the phone to tell someone you’re thinking about them. This is different from the calls I talked about earlier. These are caring calls. They’re personal. If you don’t feel comfortable making these at first, that’s okay. Practice with clients—or even business partners—you already have a personal connection with. Once you have some experience, you’ll find yourself making sure that you know something personal about every client you work with, so you have something to seed these calls with: how soccer season’s going for their kid, how their vacation went, what’s going on with their search for the best winery in the region.
How to Get Started
I’ve shared a lot of ideas in this article, and you may be thinking, “Great ideas, Jim, but this sounds pretty intense! I don’t have much extra time.”
I know adding something else to your plate can be tricky, but let me assure you that adding value isn’t just about doing stuff for free for someone else: It’s about positioning yourself as a reliable, caring partner. Remember that people like to buy from other people. When you demonstrate that you are invested in your clients using your product successfully, in them being successful themselves, and in them as people, you are building a relationship that will result in new business for yourself.
In the end, this will actually free up time for you, because these deeper relationships you’ve developed will funnel high-quality prospects to you. You do have to build up to that, though; it takes a little time to see results. So start small:
- Identify your top 5-10 clients, the clients who are the most lucrative and the kind of client you would like more of. Focus your energy on developing a deeper relationship with them.
- Come up with a list of tips for making the most of your product or service, and create a lowmaintenance drip campaign to distribute those tips over a period of time to clients.
- Add 5-5-5 calls to your weekly schedule. This is where you commit to calling and checking in on 5 current clients, 5 past clients and 5 partners each week. Think 5-5-5 is too high? Start with 2-2-2 or even 1-1-1 and build up.