Y U No Tell Me: Long-term clients are awesome!

This is the seventh post in a series called Y U No Tell me; Lessons learned from building a WordPress development business. For a list of all posts in the series, please start here.

I have always been leery of companies that immediately try and lock me in to long term deals. How can they know they want to work with me long term if we have never worked together before? It can come off as being a little desperate, which isn't a quality I like to find in companies I'm working with.

As a matter of fact, when I'm talking to possible clients, I often will explain that the WordPress development community is huge, and if something goes wrong between us and they never want to talk to us again, they're are plenty of other fish in the sea who can help them with their site. I use that freedom as a selling point.

All that being said, when I look back to when we first started I think we treated many of the early client projects as if we were in race. Just trying to churn and burn to get on to the next client. The missed opportunities of keeping some of those early clients around kills me. Thankfully, we've mended our ways and now have a pretty solid list of long-term clients.

The majority of the long-term clients we have didn't come to us looking for a long-term relationship. They typically start off with the need for a one-off project and after it was completed they asked us to do something else. Then something else.

How to bill long-term clients

We rarely try to sign clients to ongoing retainers. We've tried it in the past, and with the rare exception, it has never really worked out well. If the client ends up not needing as much time as they originally expected then they want to either roll hours over to the next month, renegotiate the contract or simply end it all together. None of these outcomes are positive experiences.

What we have found works best of us is to simply record our time and bill our clients every two weeks. We provide them visibility in to what we're working on, allow them to order tasks by importance and we ship code on a regular basis. For us, this has been an extremely successful setup. Your milage may vary and you'll need to figure out what works best for you.

The benefits

When the time feels right during the course of your first project with the client, and assuming the client is somebody you WANT to work with long-term, without sounding pushy or needed, let them know you want to stick around. The benefits for you are great, but the benefits to your client are just as good!

You'll spend less time and energy trying to land clients.

They'll spend less time vetting a new development company.

You'll spend less time having to get familiar with their website/themes/plugins.

They'll save time and money not having to get the new dev team up to speed

You both already know how each other work and what to expect.

You can skip all the ‘getting familiar' part and dive right in to getting stuff done!

But there's more!

Ongoing work with a client doesn't always have to mean more development work. Yes, we all know that WordPress is easy to use. But, did you know that some clients have exactly zero interest in adding new content to their site on a regular basis. Shocking, I know.

You might be saying, “but I'm a developer and I don't want to spend my time adding content to a website when I could be writing code.” This is when I'm going to nod my head and remember back to when we thought the same thing. We eventually figured out that we could bring somebody on to our team to take care of non-coding work. Your client just needs the work done. They likely don't care that it's not your hands that are physically doing the work.

After we build a site, we supply our clients with walk-through videos showing how to work with WordPress and especially how to work with anything custom we may have built for them. But when they tell us they'd rather we do the work for them, we simply say yes. We now have a handful of clients who we bill every couple weeks for time spent adding content. For them, they're thrilled not to have to do it. For us, it's pretty easy money.

So before you rush to move on to the next client, see if there's something you can do to keep the current ones around.

If you have a story to tell about turning a one-time client in to a long-term client, leave me a comment below. I'd love to hear it.

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Don't miss tomorrow's post when the topic will be Estimates Suck!

See you then!

2 Comments

  1. Steve Rypka on October 20, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    Great series!

  2. yannibmbr on October 21, 2014 at 10:43 am

    This is an area of weakness for me. I have, maybe 2 ongoing clients with work that I get from on a regular basis. One is project related, they sub out to me, the other is more the kind of work you describe here… Part of me struggles with the fact that this is an area to build up since I have no products or renewable services I market.

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