If you sell a service rather than a product, you will sooner or later run into the problem of bringing in new clients. As in, it takes a lot of time and effort, and the rate at which your bills accumulate starts to outpace that of profits rolling in.
Many service companies and freelancers accept periods of no work and no income as a necessary evil. But you don’t have to – and here’s why. There is a big (potentially unlimited) source of profits right at hand! I’m talking about your existing customers.
Which is easier: persuade someone who has never worked with you to pay for a service, or do the same with a client who already values and appreciates you? Why not give them a chance to fall even more in love with your business by offering more value – for more money?
“But I don’t want to take advantage of a client!” you might say, with or without indignation. But is it really like that? I heartily recommend you apply the strategies outlined in the post – not just for the sake of generating more income (an obvious primary goal), but also for keeping your customers happy.
Several proven methods exist that will increase your profits with existing customers. Some of them are stupidly simple and obvious. Others are brilliant and unexpected – at least that’s how they seemed to me back when I discovered them.
When putting these strategies together, I tried to go beyond upselling and played to the main strength of a service-based business – the relationships that develop with clients.
All of the approaches you will find below are under-used to the point of negligence. Yet any one of them, even when used in isolation, can increase your income by 50% or more, easy. So let’s dive in!
Strategy #1: Negotiate Retainers
Here’s the thing about valuable services – people don’t use them just once. [tweet_dis]As long as there is a regular – or at least recurring – demand for a competent professional, why not capitalize on it?[/tweet_dis] IT companies and law firms do it all the time, and this approach can be adapted to any service.
Let’s say that you have a client who requires your help more or less regularly. They contact you several times to arrange a gig, but you are tied up with other engagements. You might get off scot-free the first time around. But if it happens again, they risk losing revenue, while you risk losing a valuable client.
In a situation like that, a retainer arrangement provides a win-win situation. You get stable cash flow, the client gets priority treatment – everybody is happy! Commence dancing and showering each other in champagne (or not).
Relevant example: a group of my friends run a small creative agency, and one thing they do consistently is offer tech support and website maintenance on a monthly retainer. That way, when something goes wrong with a client’s website, they can turn to fixing the issue immediately, so neither the client nor they lose money or reputation.
This works well for many industries. Copywriters often charge per month to be on standby, ready to create awesome content; big corporations keep scientists on payroll as consultants (at six figures a year, no less); stylists make themselves available to high-priority clients for a monthly fee.
The list is pretty much inexhaustible. Suffice to say, if you provide a service that’s in demand, there must be a way you can spin this into a retainer-type arrangement.
Strategy #2: Offer Package Deals and Long-term Billing
This is a classic strategy that works extremely well with repeat customers. Transferring a client to an annual plan instead of a monthly one provides a major profit boost, and you can easily afford to give a hefty discount. I would have labeled it a ‘win-win’, if it weren’t such an overused term.
Another variation on the above is offering several services together at a better price. That way, the value both for you and your client customer increases a great deal. Nobody likes to search out multiple professionals where only one could do the job. In turn, what business person in their right mind would turn down an instant boost in revenue?
Relevant example: look at a ticket booking service like Kayak. Its revenue depends on how many bookings visitors will make with the site’s partners.
That’s why Kayak encourages the desire for convenience. Any time you do a search for plane tickets, you have an option to book a hotel and rent a car at a discounted price. This brings in a lot of additional revenue for Kayak’s partners – all from the same visitor.
But your business probably isn’t like Kayak. Here is a more modest, personal example: as a copywriter, I routinely offer a package deal for handling multiple content formats.
So, if a client wants an e-book made, but their newsletter is also in need of awesome material, I’m happy to do both at a slightly reduced price. In fact, more often than not they refuse a discount, so I get to charge what I want. I’ll tell you more about how I do it when we get to Strategy #5…
Strategy #3: Create Irresistible Premium-priced Services
If your target audience is ready to pay a premium for incredible value, there is no reason you can’t put together a truly fantastic offering. There’s no risk involved, and yet the payoff could be double your usual revenue – or more!
So do your market research, create a more upscale version of your usual offering and give your clients the right to choose. You’ll be surprised how many will go with the premium version. As long as there is real value to it – something that can solve a client’s most poignant problem – they will pay up happily.
Relevant example: this isn’t strictly a service-based example, but it’s too good not to mention. Several years back, Ramit Sethi created a course on finding a dream job. The regular version cost $6,000. The premium version, which launched first, cost $12,000. Both sold out in less than 24 hours.
Why am I telling you this? To prove the point that, even if you don’t aim your services at billionaires and hedge fund managers, chances are that your clients are ready to pay more than they do – provided that you can show what’s in it for them.
After all, [tweet_dis]if you don’t demonstrate the value of what you do beyond the shadow of a doubt, even a millionaire will haggle with you for pennies.[/tweet_dis] Why wouldn’t they, if they think you’re not worth it?
Strategy #4: Straight-up Raise Your Prices – on a Regular Basis
We have now gently arrived at the least used technique of all: regularly raising your prices. Everybody is terrified of doing it. Yet I can say straight away, without ever knowing anyone reading this post: you under-charge – probably massively, too!
This goes double for creative professionals like photographers, artists and other people who fell for the popular notion that art is cheap unless it comes with a famous name on it. But every service business can benefit from this healthy act of capitalism. Your price reflects your growing expertise, your position in the industry, and the value you provide.
If you charge less than you’re worth, your work will always be treated that way – like an easily replaceable commodity. This kind of mindset from a customer can kill a service business by putting it into a constant feast-or-famine cycle. Even a fresh stream of new work won’t be able to break it, because the work itself is devalued.
So don’t compete on price if you can help it. Compete on value; as long as you provide tremendous value to the client, you can charge what you want. Give them a better reason to stick with you than a low price tag.
Relevant example: do you really need one? As a rule, it is healthy for a freelancer or a service-based company to raise prices once in six months. If you haven’t been doing it with diligence, you have been losing money all this time!
Strategy #5: Discover a Need and Fill It
This sounds like a fortune cookie (any service-based business does it to begin with, duh!), but there’s a method to it. Just for giggles, do some research on your clients and see how many profitable opportunities you can spot.
It could be anything – as long as it’s up your alley as a service provider:
– bad sales videos (if you are a video creator);
– poorly made website (if you are a web designer);
– sleep or diet problems outside of workout regimen (if you are a personal trainer);
– mediocre email copy (if you are a copywriter);
– dogs going unwashed and un-groomed (if you’re a dog-walker)
…and the list goes on.
It happens to the best of us – we leave our problems unattended, with lots of room for improvement.
Why allow all that potential go to waste when you can help the client and increase your earnings in one fell swoop? Usually a client comes to you with a problem, and you tailor the proposal to match it.
But what happens if you turn the tables?[tweet_dis]Savvy clients love it when you come with a solution to a problem that exists in their business or life.[/tweet_dis] They may or may not be aware of it – yet they will be impressed that you took the time and did the work to help them out.
It instantly establishes you in the client’s eyes as someone who is not merely good, but indispensable, doing something for them that the majority of your competition doesn’t.
Relevant example: I used to write content for an IT company that outsourced a lot of projects to freelancers. Despite that, the executives and managers were so busy that they had numerous problems communicating with contractors, reviewing their work and keeping them accountable. A big bulk of the company’s operations was spinning its wheels.
As one of their freelancers, I saw it right away, and jumped at an opportunity to become their part-time project manager. This turned into an ongoing contract that increased my annual income by 50% with less than 10 additional hours per month. It pays to be proactive and take initiative!
Bonus Strategy: Ask Your Client What They Want or Need
For those who have read to the end – here’s a secret bonus tip! Granted, it’s the easiest one of all, but something tells me you haven’t been using it as much as you should be.
From time to time, ask your clients what they need help with. Or what type of service they wish you offered, but don’t.
Everyone uses this technique: entrepreneurs, bloggers, Fortune 500 companies. Who says you can’t apply it to your service business to land repeat work, or come up with new offerings?
Even if a client hasn’t approached you with a project in a while, and you now consider them gone, it still pays to keep in touch – literally!
You don’t know what’s going on with them – all sorts of stuff might prevent a once-frequent customer from showering you with gigs. But oftentimes just a message from you can get the money train to start up again.
Relevant example: I email clients all the time with stuff they might find useful and interesting: from info on competing products, valuable resources, ideas about how to serve their clients better, to insights into how their content can be made better. Sometimes it’s just “Merry Christmas!” or “Happy Halloween!”. You get the idea.
Most importantly, I end those emails with a question:
“By the way, what are you working on at the moment? If I can help in any way, let me know. I’d be happy to do another project with you, or just give you some free advice if I can”.
If I counted the number of times those 3 short sentences landed me another 4-5 figure project, I would quickly run out of fingers and toes to bend. Just remember – if you offer free advice, deliver on your promise – even if no paid work pans out of it immediately.
Value always comes first, no exceptions. Keep this in mind, and in 2015 your revenue will be much bigger, and your loyal clients much happier!
It’s Not Just About More Clients
Business growth is indisputably a good thing, and the more clients you bring in, the better. But you should never forget about ample opportunities for bigger profits that are right under your nose.
For service-based businesses and for freelancers, keeping existing customers happy is arguably more important than chasing new ones. It’s easier, for one thing. For another, it can be just as rewarding.
Last but not least, it provides you with much needed stability – buoyed with the cash flow and support from happy long-term clients, your business will be free to take risks and pursue goals you have always wanted. And that, right there, is priceless.
If you don’t know how to start applying those strategies, let me help. Technique #5 alone has quadrupled my income this year – it can help you earn more in 2015.
To get my step-by-step framework on using it, including word-for-word email scripts, click here.
Have you used one of these techniques? Tell me about your experiences in the comments. And if you haven’t used one yet, which one sounds the most appealing to you?