Love them or hate them (and we usually love ours) no design agency can survive without clients. Establishing and maintaining client relationships is a fundamental part of what we do and we are in the fortunate position of having someone in the team who is able to dedicate almost all of his time to this cause.
Mike is Business Director at Bluegg and founded the company with Tom, our Creative Director. Mike is a talker, no really, he can talk more than anyone, so lucky for the rest of us he spends a fair bit of time away from the studio networking, meeting clients old and (hopefully) new and generally acting as the spokesperson for Bluegg.
That doesn’t mean the rest of us hide behind Mike though. In fact we all speak to clients when necessary as that is part of our process but Mike is the schmoozer and it works well for us, clients love it when Mike pops in just to say hi but there is much more to a client/agency relationship that the ad-hoc cup of coffee.
Bluegg has grown year on year thanks largely to our client relationships. We’ve been lucky that the people we work with ‘get us’. They know what to expect, they know how approachable and informal we like to be. Clients accept us for who we are and also for the way we work. This is because we market ourselves accurately and effectively. That means that we can successfully fulfill our roles as both advisers and executioners of design.
You cannot underestimate the phrase ‘word of mouth’ because for a young design agency it is the most important and effective way of winning new business. Even as the years pass and you become more established, the relationship you have with all of your clients large or small could lead to more business through recommendation. We are well aware that a bad reputation travels much faster than a good one and our good reputation has been built on offering a great service with a strong relationship.
Mike’s role is to be seen by clients and potential clients. He loves nothing more than a bit of networking and sees this as time well spent for Bluegg. Mike’s tips for effective networking are:
Gain an understanding of your local business community. Within a short while you should be able to figure out who the movers and shakers are and then finding a way of getting to know them.
- Utilise as many resources as you can starting with family and friends who are in business. Speak to your bank manger, accountant, cafe owner… anyone who may know someone. Whoever it may be, get on with them and let them know what your company can offer. Connect to them with tools like LinkedIn and Twitter.
- Attend organised events and don’t be scared to speak.
- Remember to put your hand in your pockets. Even if you’re in the company of generous wealthy people I would always advise to offer drinks or to pay the bill wherever possible. You must give people an insight into you as a person; hopefully you’re a person who they like! This is the beginning of your own network and it’s surprising how quickly that network grows.
This kind of relationship building is only possible if you’re sure that you can deliver a good product and service. If Mike is bigging us up then we need to ensure that the output from the studio is of the best standard to back up what he has told people. He must have faith in the team and collectively we must all deliver on the promises made.
Some clients will inevitably come and go. It may be a short lived one off project and that’s ok. Others come and stay much longer, we like this too. The method we adopt for maintaining client relationships depends on the rapport we have with the client in question.
Again this will depend on their requirements but some will not want to hear from us in between projects as they are busy people. They’re still on our Christmas card list though.
Others however love a chat (still not as much as Mike does). Mike will meet them for coffee, pop in for a catch up, take them out to lunch or to the latest Cardiff Devils ice hockey match. This isn’t a time for hard selling though. Rather Mike likes to spend time talking about non-work stuff. When I asked him about this I couldn’t shut him up so I’ve summised his response:
Our biggest challenge is knowing just how many competitors there are and also knowing that there’s not a lot to choose between a selection of good agencies. What sets them apart is the people and having the ability to develop and strengthen business relationships when business isn’t being done and discussed.
The Not so Invisible Line
At some point the formalities subside somewhat and the friendship flourishes. At this point we need to be careful that our professionalism and creative integrity remain intact. When people are comfortable around one another it can be easy for clients to start expecting favours or additional work at no extra cost. This is a no no for us. We love being friends with clients but it is important for both sides to remember that it is a business relationship and whilst banter and socialising are encouraged we have to keep in mind that we all have a shared goal so agreed costs are adhered to, additional work is quoted for and we continue to deliver the best and most beaituful solutions that we can.
Quality not Quantity
Others might put up with anyone and anything in order to fill their schedules with work. That’s not the Bluegg way as Mike elaborates:
The very first meeting with a potential client is like a job interview for both sides. We firmly believe that if at the very start you sense a personality clash then there’s little point in going further as it will inevitably become a painful expensive process which will end in tears. It’s at that point that you should decide to twist or stick.
Mikes whole approach is to present an honest reflection of the Bluegg working style whenever he meets potential clients. This way, right from the off a subconscious decision can be made from both sides on whether it’s worthwhile moving forward. If that spark isn’t there then you have to be brave, shake hands and turn the job down.
The above is an overview of how we meet people, do our best to turn them into clients and then maintain long term relationships and hopefully friendships too. Part of being able to do this is down to delivering the goods and for that to happen we need to be efficient and organised. In next week’s article we’ll tell you exactly how we achieve that.