Everyone has heard a thousand times that it’s easier to renew an old client than to find a new one.
After all, the marketing has already been done, the relationship has been established and, if your work with the client went well, they like and trust you.
You don’t have to reestablish your credentials or persuade them that you’re the right person for the job.
However, I’m often surprised that so many independent professionals fail to follow up with old clients to land new business.
Here are some of the reasons I’ve heard over the years.
“I’m not sure they were completely happy with the work I did, so I’m very reluctant to call them back.”
“I figured that if they had more work for me they’d contact me again.”
“I get so busy with current clients and marketing to new ones that I forget about my old clients.”
“I think that if I contact past clients they’ll think I’m desperate for work, which leaves a bad impression.”
“I’d like to get back to some of my past clients but I don’t know what to say, and when I’ve done it in the past I wasn’t very good at booking new business.”
I’ll bet some of those are familiar to you.
Look, the truth is, that if you did past work for a client there’s a very good chance that they’ll be open to working with you again.
You’re not pestering them; you’re not desperate. You’d just like to continue to make a difference with them.
And the main reason they don’t call you is that they get also get busy and perhaps haven’t thought about what else you could do for them.
So what exactly should you do and say when you contact them?
What you don’t do is say, “Hey, just wanted to know if you had any more work for me!”
If the shoe where on the other foot, how would you respond to a line like that? 🙂
What I recommend is that you take a proactive, and creative approach to contacting past clients.
You want to let them know that you’d like to catch up with them and that you have some ideas to share.
And the best way to do that is in an email. Here’s a generic sample:
Hi Jason, I was thinking of you today and realized that we completed your project six months ago.
It was great working with you and I’m really happy the project went so well.
I’ve been doing some new and exciting things with several current clients and am getting great results. I wanted to share some ideas with you.
Do you have a few minutes to get together by phone next week? I have these days and times open.
Looking forward to connecting.
See how this simple email hits all the right notes?
1. Everyone likes to know what others are thinking of them.
2. You remind them of a positive experience.
3. You share something new that’s working for others.
4. You make a call-to-action (the phone appointment).
Obviously, you’ll be more successful at this if the client was happy with your previous work.
And to get the best results, it’s going to help if you do have something new, interesting, and exciting to share with them.
But newness isn’t always necessary; even if you have an old service that they haven’t taken advantage of yet, it’s new to them.
So, what do you say in that phone meeting?
This is where it’s easy to miss the mark.
You don’t want to say: “Oh, hi Jason, let me tell you about this new service.”
Bad move to go right into “pitching mode.”
Instead, you want to get into present time and find out about them. And this is definitely the most important part of the call.
You don’t want to talk. You want the client to talk.
And all you need to start is a good open-ended question:
“Jason, what have you been working on for the past few months?”
Then listen, listen, listen, only interjecting with follow-up questions:
“Oh, how did that work? Then what did you do?” etc.
The thing to avoid is to use something they say to start your pitch:
“Wow, that reminds me of this new service I’m offering.”
Why doesn’t this work? Well, you’re interrupting their flow. They want to be heard. And until they are completely heard, it’s going to be hard for them to hear you.
So, wait until they are done.
This could take 10 minutes or 30. It doesn’t matter. Be patient.
And when they’re done they’ll usually say something like:
“So, what’s up with you? You said you’re doing some new things?”
And if they initiate the question, they are now listening. They’re open to hearing about what you’re offering.
Then what do you say about those new things?
If you’re offering a new service that’s really working for your clients, you might say something like:
“Well, I have this new service called the XYZ Program. I wanted to tell you a little about it because of the results I’ve been getting.”
And then share a story or two about those results.
Result-oriented stories are almost always interesting. You’re not talking about process, but about outcomes, outcomes the client wants as well.
Then, if the stories are sufficiently intriguing, they’ll likely ask you more. “So how does that work, what’s behind that approach, do you think it might work for us?”
Then you need to be prepared to explain your service or program as concisely as possible: Here’s what it is, what it does, how it works, and how it might meet your client’s needs.
If you’re speaking with an independent professional, you may be able to explain enough that they’ll be ready to sign up for your service on the spot.
If your client represents a larger business and it’s a more complex service, you may need to set up another meeting:
“Look, I’m glad you’re interested in this. I’m really excited about it. Let me send you more detailed information and then let’s set up a more in-depth meeting where I can answer all your questions.”
So, renewing past clients is not only possible, it’s relatively easy if you follow this approach.
To summarize the steps:
1. Get the past client’s attention with an email.
2. Set up a time to talk by phone (I actually use Zoom Video)
3. Start the conversation by asking about them.
4. Really listen, without interrupting.
5. When they ask you to tell them about your new service, start with stories.
6. If they show a lot of interest, either close or ask for the next meeting.
Now, what past clients are you going to contact?
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