The #1 Reason You Don’t Get More Repeat Business (and How to Fix It)

If you’re a freelancer or small business owner, you understand the importance of repeat business to the growth and survival of your company.

But do you know the monetary value of repeat customers? In his book, The Loyalty Effect: The Hidden Force Behind Growth, Profits and Lasting Value, Frederick F. Reichheld gives two compelling stats that you need to be aware of:

  • Converting just 5% more of your customers to repeat customers will generate an average of 25% – 100% more in your profit per customer numbers.
  • The cost of acquiring new clients is about 500% more expensive than the cost of servicing existing clients.

So what’s the number one thing you can do to generate more return business? Provide consistent and valuable communication.

Why Your Clients Need (And Want) You To Communicate With Them

If you ask most small business owners or freelancers why they don’t communicate more frequently with their previous customers they usually respond with, “I don’t want to be a nuisance.”

But consistent, valuable communication is actually desired by most of your clients. Hoping that a previous client will call when ready is not a game plan.

They Just Don’t Think of You That Often

You’re awesome at what you do. You may be the best vendor they’ve ever worked with.

But guess what, they don’t think of you very often (if ever). Why?

They’re busy. They have other things fighting for their attention and you’re currently not one of them. The less you insert yourself into their path, the fewer of them will actually call you back.

And when they do need the service or product you provide, many of them will select from one of your competitors who are reaching out to them and asking for a shot to impress.

Previous Clients Often Don’t Know of Other Ways to Engage You

When a client hires you for a project, it’s easy to assume that they know about all of the services you provide along with how those services can benefit them. Your services are listed on your website so your clients should be aware of them. Right?

“If they need it, they’ll ask about it,” is a common phrase among those without a lot of repeat business.

No they won’t. The reason your clients haven’t purchased one of your other services is that they don’t think they need it.

When you wait for them to reach out to you, you’re hoping that they’ll do your sales work for you by diagnosing their own need, selling themselves on the idea, then contacting you just to close the sale they’ve made in their minds.

Don’t count on that happening very often.

Clients Want to Feel Like They Weren’t Just a One-Time “Transaction”
If I hire you to do something for me and, when the project is over, I never hear from you again, I assume that you don’t much care if you hear from me again. So you probably won’t.

We continue to do business with people we like, trust, and have a relationship with. But that’s a two-way street. Meaning you need to communicate with me!

If you don’t, I’ll shop around the next time I need someone – even if you’re good. After all, I may find someone who really values me and wants a long-term relationship.

Your Competitors Are Probably Talking To Your Clients

I’ve alluded to it before, but this is huge. I’ve worked with a number of different companies that would get a list of the competitors’ clients and reach out to them with better services and offers. They got a ton of business this way.

People want to be impressed. Contacting me and letting me know how you can impress me in a non-pushy, non-sleazy way will impress me. I may just give you my business over another company or person I’m using if they’re not making the same effort.

When competitors reach out to your clients and help them understand how their services can help, your clients will immediately have it in their minds that you’re somehow inferior (even if you’re not). Once that happens, it’ll be nearly impossible to salvage the client.

How to Fix the Lack of Communication

You must take the time to develop a consistent and valuable follow up strategy that occasionally includes a personal touch. There are many ways to do this, but here are a handful:

1. Email Newsletters
Email newsletters can be a great, inexpensive way to keep yourself or your business near the front of your clients’ minds. A monthly reminder to them that you’re there along with new services or highlights of stalwart services can go a long way toward driving repeat business.

2. Personal Emails
One rarely used tactic that can set you apart with your personal emails is to send someone an article or blog post about their industry or a topic they’re interested in. Just a quick note that says, “Hey Jane, I came across this article and wanted to share it with you. I know how much you love waterskiing and thought you might find it interesting.” Do that on occasion and your previous clients will think long and hard about switching to someone else.

3. Handwritten Notes
My email inbox generally frightens me. I get way too many and I don’t like checking it. But I’m like a little kid when it comes to checking the snail mail box. What’s even better is when I receive a handwritten thank you note or letter from someone. So infrequent is this type of communication anymore that it screams for my attention and appreciation.

A few months back, I took to Twitter to complain about a horrible experience I had with Sonic. I received personal phone calls and a hand-written note from the store manager along with a few gift cards. Needless to say, I’ve continued to give them my business. Had they not done that, I would have never gone back.

4. Phone Calls
The smaller your company – the better this will work for you. If I order a widget from a large company then, a few weeks later, I drop into the queue of a call center employee, I tend to not care too much. If, instead, I hire a website designer for a project I’m working on and they call me a few days/weeks/months later to check in on me, I’ll appreciate it. [Note: If you’re a sales person for a large company that sold me and you call me back, I’ll be immensely impressed. Treat your large business like a small business – it will go a long way.]

Be Creative

There are plenty of other ways to do this. Which method(s) you choose will depend on your type of business and what information you have about your clients. The most important lesson is to be consistent. Find ways to cut through the noise without being obnoxious.

If you want more information on how to setup some automation for some of this, check out one of my previous articles: 4 Free Tools for Business Relationship Development.

Share Your Thoughts

Do you have a follow up strategy for your business? How do you keep in contact with previous clients?

About the Author

  • Great stuff, Travis! Good old fashioned communication never goes out of style. And, as you pointed out, it’s a lot cheaper and easier to retain your clients than to chase new ones. Doing some of these simple things can definitely go a long way.

    I would also add that depending on the business, social media can be a great way to communicate and connect with your customers. While it does give you the ability to broadcast messages, you can also send private messages through social media, which can also be quite effective.

  • Thanks, Laura! Social media is another great way to communicate with clients and customers. I’m not entirely sure why I left that off of my list. Oversight maybe? Senior moment? 😉

  • If you’re consulting with someone, after your first discussion, send your potential new client a summary of what you talked about. It helps you keep things on track and it shows them you were really paying attention.

    I’ve only had one vendor of mine ever do this, and that project is on hold, but I think about it all of the time and will definitely work with them simply because they followed up in such a powerful way.

  • Great ideas! It’s so obvious and yet you’re right, we don’t think of communicating with past clients nearly enough. Thanks for the post!

  • I think we take them for granted. We assume that they’ll always be there so we spend more time courting new clients than courting our current and previous clients.