Whether working for a firm or for yourself, the ability to maintain client relationships is one of the most important professional skills. In good times, business flows easily because the demand for services often outstrips the number of people able to supply that service. In hard times, however, the demand shrivels and clients become far more selective about who they take their business to. This process weeds out all the weaker providers. In this article, we'll look at some easy ways to keep clients happy in either good times or bad.

SEE: Becoming A Financial Analyst

On Time or Early, Never Late
Consistency tops the wish list for clients in almost every industry. Whether they themselves are punctual or not, clients hate to be kept waiting for any kind of meeting . Unfortunately, consistency with existing clients often slides when there is new business coming in. Advice on striking a balance between adding new businesses to the pipeline and keeping established customers happy fills volumes in bookstores. Client management software and many other innovations have automated traditional processes, but the essentials haven't really changed.

Create a Newsletter
In the days before Internet, advisors and investment professionals would mail personalized updates to preferred clients. These weren't stock tips, as such, but commentary on the market and the state of the economy, which can now be done for all of your clients with just a few emails. Before you start mass emailing clients, however, you should start with a print newsletter. People are still more likely to read a printed document sent to them by mail than an unsolicited email.

There are multiple layout templates to choose from, so the focus is more on producing content. Most newsletters feature a mix of commentary on current events, specific updates and practical advice. For example, in 2008 an accountant may have written about how the lack of proper risk analysis led to skewed balance sheets for banks, and then transitioned to a simple tip like numbering receipts every calendar month to make tracking spending - and potential write-offs - easier. Each newsletter should, however, carry some indication of your personal approach to your profession - a "this is what I do and what I think, see if you agree," type of write up. This way your newsletter will also become a tool to attract and filter potential customers, helping you get a higher percentage of clients who match your style.

Go Digital
Encouraging clients to sign up for the email/online edition of your newsletter in every print issue will help make the transition to digital copies less intrusive than sending messages that could be considered "spam." You can also look at more cutting edge ways to keep in touch, such as Twitter or podcasts.

Be Candid
When markets are roaring and business is booming, there is no shortage of professionals ready to take personal credit for success. Oddly enough, economic conditions are usually blamed when the markets turn bearish. Shifting blame and making weak excuses is the specialty of pro-athletes caught doping, and the infiltration of this attitude into financial services is troubling. People with the integrity to take responsibility for their mistakes - whether truly market-induced by some black swan event or a personal mistake - may suffer initial client backlash, but most people will appreciate the honesty. The other option of smoothing over any past mistakes requires deceiving all your clients. Hiding mistakes to produce results at any cost may have pushed Bernie Madoff to do what he did.

Warren Buffett offers two great examples of integrity in the face of difficulty. He closed the first fund he managed when it was still successful, simply because he felt he could no longer chase a market he didn't understand. More recently, he used the Berkshire shareholders' letter to admit that his delay on closing down Gen Re's trading arm cost hundreds of millions in losses. There was no panic selling of Berkshire.

SEE: Think Like Warren Buffett

Be Organized
It seems counterintuitive, but a person must standardize his or her approach to client maintenance in order to give personalized service. Getting organized frees up the time needed to tailor your services for each client's needs. Every profession has a natural cycle. Accountants, like dentists, generally see clients once a year, whereas a financial advisor or broker might be dealing with clients on a quarterly, monthly or even daily basis. It's important to commit a regular amount of face time/phone time to each client within every cycle - and to take notes on the meeting. Keeping a client file containing notes from previous meetings is an invaluable way to track how your client's concerns are changing over time. This, in turn, helps you to customize your approach and recognize patterns before they become larger issues.

There doesn't always have to be a purpose to a follow-up. Simply checking in on how your client is doing, wishing a happy birthday/holiday, or asking about a matter previously discussed might only be a five-minute conversation, but it has a cumulative effect over time. Setting a standard that you maintain for each client - a certain amount of follow-up, time commitment, etc - will help you figure out how much business you should be handling. Having lots of business is only good as long as you can process it all. If you're swamped and doing a sub-par job to keep up, your clients, old and new, suffer.

SEE: Get Organized With An Investment Analysis Form

Create a Natural Network
Even professionals who survive through referrals often under-use their personal network. Knowing what businesses your clients are in and what type of clients they work with can help you in building a referral network. Despite massive leaps in technology, many clients are still gained through word of mouth. People usually ask their friends and associates for advice on a good lawyer, insurance broker, real estate agent, and so on. By maintaining a high level of organization and contact with your clients, you'll be a natural choice when one of their friends is seeking a referral. If you can return the favor someday, it will strengthen the relationship between you and your clients.

The Bottom Line
The secret to keeping clients is to be consistent. You can always do things such as increasing your services or offering discounts, in order to attract more business during hard times, but you need to set a minimum standard that never wavers - even when inflows of new clients tempt you to short-change established ones. Ultimately, professional integrity means being consistent during all economic conditions.

Related Articles
  1. Professionals

    The Best Financial Modeling Courses for Investment Bankers

    Obtain information, both general and comparative, about the best available financial modeling courses for individuals pursuing a career in investment banking.
  2. Entrepreneurship

    4 Things to Know About Your Company To Make a Successful Pitch to Investors

    Learn how to make a successful pitch to investors. Regardless of your industry, size or market, there are some questions all investors need to have answered.
  3. Entrepreneurship

    Top 4 Billionaires Living in Los Angeles

    Learn how these multibillionaires built their fortunes to stand out from the crowd of the countless ultra-rich who call Los Angeles home.
  4. Investing Basics

    3 Business Tips from Restaurant Reality Shows

    The reality TV shows "Restaurant Impossible" and "Kitchen Disasters" offer lessons not just for restaurateurs, but for all business owners.
  5. Entrepreneurship

    4 Most Successful Indiegogo Campaigns

    Learn about some of the most successful crowdfunding campaigns on Indiegogo, which raised millions of dollars for everything from electric bikes to beehives.
  6. Entrepreneurship

    Top 10 Features Of a Profitable Rental Property

    Find out which factors you should weigh when searching for income-producing real estate.
  7. Wealth Management

    The Net Worth of the Shark Tank Cast

    Discover how the richest "Sharks" on the hit TV show amassed their vast fortunes, and learn how much they have to offer eager entrepreneurs.
  8. Entrepreneurship

    3 Ways You Can Support Small Business Growth

    Discover a number of different options available to support small business growth, including crowdfunding campaigns and shopping locally.
  9. Investing News

    SEP vs. Keogh Plans: Which is Right for You?

    SEP and Keogh plans each have their pros and cons. Here's how to choose which one is right for you.
  10. Entrepreneurship

    10 Ways to Be a Successful Entrepreneur

    Are you hoping to launch your own business and work for yourself? If so, here are the top 10 tips for entrepreneurs.
  1. Can I use my IRA to pay for my college loans?

    If you are older than 59.5 and have been contributing to your IRA for more than five years, you may withdraw funds to pay ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Can I use my 401(k) to pay for my college loans?

    If you are over 59.5, or separate from your plan-sponsoring employer after age 55, you are free to use your 401(k) to pay ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Can I buy insurance to reduce unlimited liability in a partnership?

    Partnership insurance is actually quite common. Most of the time, partners buy insurance to safeguard against the possibility ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. What are the benefits of prorating expenses?

    When a person prorates expenses between personal and business expenses, he is able to capture the maximum amount of tax benefits ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What is the relationship between research and development and innovation?

    Although it's possible to achieve innovation without research and development and it's possible to conduct research and development ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What are key factors that are generally considered in demographic studies conducted ...

    Key demographic factors that a company might examine to assess a potential market and more effectively target potential customers ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Hot Definitions
  1. Take A Bath

    A slang term referring to the situation of an investor who has experienced a large loss from an investment or speculative ...
  2. Black Friday

    1. A day of stock market catastrophe. Originally, September 24, 1869, was deemed Black Friday. The crash was sparked by gold ...
  3. Turkey

    Slang for an investment that yields disappointing results or turns out worse than expected. Failed business deals, securities ...
  4. Barefoot Pilgrim

    A slang term for an unsophisticated investor who loses all of his or her wealth by trading equities in the stock market. ...
  5. Quick Ratio

    The quick ratio is an indicator of a company’s short-term liquidity. The quick ratio measures a company’s ability to meet ...
  6. Black Tuesday

    October 29, 1929, when the DJIA fell 12% - one of the largest one-day drops in stock market history. More than 16 million ...
Trading Center