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Following Up With Dormant Clients - RD303

Resourceful Designer: Strategies for running a graphic design business

Release Date: 10/31/2022

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How often do you follow up with dormant clients? I’m not talking dormant like they haven’t replied to an email in a few days. However, following up is always a good idea when you don’t receive an expected reply.

I’m talking about following up with dormant clients months or even years after you’ve completed whatever project you did for them.

In episode 72 of Resourceful Designer, I discussed getting new work from existing clients. It’s proven that getting new work from existing clients is much easier than landing new clients. After all, you don’t have to worry about the awkward introductory phase since you already know each other. You have a proven track record, so you and your client know what to expect.

And yet, even though it’s much easier to get new work from existing clients. Many designers don’t actively seek out that work.

Why is that? You may be thinking to yourself. “I don’t want to bother them. The clients know me. If they have more work for me, they’ll contact me.” But that’s not always the case.

I’m not saying they won’t contact you when they have more work. They probably will. The problem is clients don’t always realize they have work for you.

What? What are you talking about, Mark? No, it’s true. It’s a case of “out of sight, out of mind.” Your dormant client isn’t thinking about you; therefore, they aren’t thinking of the work they could be sending you.

I want to run an experiment with you right now.

Last week I went to the dentist for a routine checkup. I’m happy to say they found nothing wrong with my teeth. I take dental hygiene seriously, so I scheduled a new appointment for a cleaning in 9 months.

Now, let me ask you this. Did you think about your dentist and your next appointment? Chances are you did. Maybe you thought about an upcoming appointment. Or perhaps it made you think you should make an appointment if you don’t already have one. Regardless, I’m pretty sure, even if only briefly, you thought about your teeth.

Why is that? It’s because of triggers.

Triggers.

Triggers, the verb, not the thing you squeeze to fire a gun, are something that can connect one event to another. The mention of my dental appointment triggered your thoughts about your dental hygiene.

If I say I recently changed the tires on my car because they had worn-out threads. You probably just started wondering about the tires on your vehicle.

If I say, I have no idea what I’m having for dinner tonight. Now you’re probably thinking about your next meal.

All of these are because of triggers. Our day is full of them. Most of the time, you don’t even realize they’re there. But triggers influence you in many ways. Triggers are often the correlation between one thing and another.

Triggers and Dormant Clients.

That brings me back to following up with dormant clients. Remember when I said the problem is clients don’t always realize they have work for you? It’s because they don’t have anything with which to correlate that work. And that’s very easy to fix.

Just like me mentioning my dentist made you think of your dentist. Reconnecting with a client can trigger them to find new work for you.

Remember, “out of sight, out of mind?” When the client isn’t thinking of you, they’re not thinking of projects you can do for them. The solution is to get them to think of you. You can do that by following up.

Triggers in action.

Resourceful Designer Community members are beta testing a weekly accountability group where we share long-term and short-term goals. We meet once per week for 10-15 minutes. Each person shares one thing they want to accomplish before our next meeting.

This goal could be small, like adding a new case study to their website, creating social media posts, or getting organized for a presentation.

The object is to share something to which you want to be held accountable. Because the following week, you have to share whether or not you completed that goal.

My goal two weeks ago was to reach out and reconnect with four dormant clients. I ended up emailing six long-standing clients. Their dormancy ranged from six months to a couple of years since the last project I did for them.

When I sent my email, I didn’t ask them if they had any work for me. Instead, I asked them how they were doing, and in a couple of cases, I wondered if they were happy with the last project I did for them.

Over the following few days, three of these dormant clients replied with new design projects for me. One wanted an update on a flyer I created for them a few years ago. Another asked me to refresh their website with updated text and photos. The third wants to meet next week to discuss a new project.

All three thanked me for reaching out and said they wouldn’t have thought of these projects if I had not sent them my email. But my message triggered an interest in these projects.

Of the other three clients, two thanked me for reaching out and asked me to contact them in January at the beginning of their new fiscal year. And the last one said times were tough, and business wasn’t going well. But that he appreciated me checking in.

So, six emails, three new projects and possibly two others in the new year. Not a bad return for the few minutes I spend composing six emails.

And it was all because of triggers. Receiving an email from me triggered something that made them realize there was work they could give me. Funny how that works.

How do you follow up?

As I said, when I reached out to these clients, I didn’t ask them if they had any work for me. I made the email about them. Not about me.

For one client, I asked how the website I designed worked out for them. Was it bringing in the business they hoped? They’re very pleased with the site and happy I reached out. They asked me to make some changes to the site.

One of the clients is a retail outlet affected by the pandemic. I asked them how things were going now. He said things are finally picking up. He’s the one that wants to meet with me next week.

Another is a local membership association. I hadn’t talked to them in almost two years, so I inquired how the pandemic had affected them. They’re the ones that want me to update their flyer.

Clients appreciate it when you think about them. If you email them asking if they have work for you, they’ll see right through that. It sounds pleading. But if you make your message about them without asking for anything in return. They’ll genuinely appreciate the thought behind it. That’s how you build relationships. And we all know those client relationships are essential in our business.

That’s how you get more work from dormant clients. It doesn’t matter if it’s been a couple of months or a few years. Reach out to old clients and ask them how they’re doing. Show them you care. You might get some work out of it. Triggers. It’s funny how they work.

Now go and make that dental appointment.