the secret to gaining customer loyalty. a hand places a fifth wooden star in a line of five stars

The Secret to Earning Your Customer’s Loyalty

This post was originally written by Ashley Gainer for Layout.

Client loyalty is the bedrock of most businesses, and web design is no exception. When you have solid customer loyalty, you’ve got a healthy bottom line and a bright future.

But how do you find these loyal clients?

Well…here’s the thing.

Loyal clients aren’t found. They’re made.

It takes work to build client loyalty, but the great news is that you can learn how to make your clients love you, keep coming back, and sending their friends your way.

Having a loyal client base is entirely within your power. No secret watering holes. No magic pixie dust. No lightening strikes. Just you, doing your thing, every single time.

Why Does Loyalty Matter?

First, let’s get really clear about why you want loyal clients.

It’s pretty obvious, right? Loyal clients keep coming back. They relieve some of your marketing burden because they’re reliable.

The Secret to Earning Your Customer's Loyalty. a smiling customer in a coffee shop

I’ll also share from my experience that loyal clients are also more likely to make getting paid less of a headache.

But that’s not all. Loyal clients—the ones who love you and would totally join your fan club—are the ones who send their friends your way. Having people send you business (instead of you having to go out for business) is pretty much the dream of any business owner.

To put it in a nutshell: loyal clients are great for your bottom line.

So how do you go about building a portfolio of loyal clients?

Here’s the Secret

Be totally and completely worth it.

That’s it.

Ok, that’s not entirely it. But that’s basically it. Here’s what I mean.

Whether you’re a freelancer or an agency, you have to charge something. And what I’ve learned from years of freelancing is that you can charge whatever you want, but you have to justify the rate.

The Secret to Earning Your Customer's Loyalty. a developer looks out his office window

Get crystal-clear on what you offer and how much your clients value it. Then, when you send your rate proposal, back it up.

Why do you charge what you do? What do you offer in exchange for that money? Why does it matter to your prospective client? How is working with you going to be totally and completely worth it?

If you deliver on the promises you made at the beginning of your working relationship, you’ll start reaping the benefits of client loyalty.

Here’s how you make it happen, from start to finish:

Assume This Will be a Long-Term Relationship

The first thing you should do is go into your initial interactions with the assumption that you and this client will be working together for a long time.

When you take that perspective, you open up all kinds of possibilities about how you might work together. Once you hear about the project they have in mind, you can take the long-term view and offer them additional services, perspectives, or recommendations that go beyond one new website.

They think they need a website, but what you can show them is that they need a new website, along with a private server, a content team, and ongoing CRM.

The Secret to Earning Your Customer's Loyalty. a laptop with a restaurant website open

Doing this not only shows the client that you actually care about them and their organization, but it demonstrates your expertise and long-term commitment to your own field.

Understand What They Want, but Give Them What They Need

Many clients will come to you with a vague idea of what they’re looking for. They might think they want a slick new website to give them some attention online and draw foot traffic into their shop. Or they might want some new features and functionality, but their ideas are based on technology, aesthetics, or even a Google algorithm that’s two years old and completely outdated at this point.

It’s your job as the web designer to listen to their thoughts, goals, and vision, and turn it into a functional website that will actually deliver what they want.

You’re the expert. Be the expert.

Communicate Effectively

One of the absolute, hands-down, BEST ways to win clients for life is to communicate well.

My go-to rule is this: just be normal.

Handle your client the way you would want to be handled when you had a ton of money on the table for something that was completely opaque to you.

The Secret to Earning Your Customer's Loyalty. a site developer takes notes in a meeting with a customer

This means a few things. You respond to questions quickly and you aren’t annoyed by them. You set client expectations right up front (including limiting the ways you’ll interact, if you need to). You offer helpful updates when warranted.

Remember: your clients have a lot of money on the line with you. When weeks go by and your client hasn’t heard anything from you, it can be a little nerve-wracking on their end. The more transparent and accessible you can be, the better they’ll feel about you. And those good feelings are what you want.

Deliver, Every Single Time

There are tons of mediocre web designers out there. Set yourself apart by delivering.

In the freelance world, some common advice is to under-promise and over-deliver. I don’t like this advice because I like to be up-front in my business, and that includes my promises.

But what I DO like about that advice is the idea that you deliver something fan-freaking-tastic. You want it to be even better than they’d expected. You want them thrilled with what you’ve done for them.

An easy way to throw in some “surprise bonuses” is to give them some stuff that you were doing anyway. Maybe it’s an extra size or shape of the logo you designed. Maybe it’s some alternative headlines for them to split-test. Maybe it’s a few different landing page templates you toyed with before picking the one you liked best. Or maybe you don’t charge for the panicky 10-minute phone call you received from the administrative assistant, even when your contract says you can bill for phone time.

Be generous. Don’t undermine your profit margin, but look for ways to give a little extra.

What this does is make you totally and completely worth the price tag.

If you can do that, and be a normal human being with your clients, you’ve given them every reason to come back and zero reasons to ditch you for someone else next time around.

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