It’s easy to turn your attention to fresh business prospects and overlook the value of staying in touch with past clients. Although it can be tempting to look for greener pastures, maintaining client relationships in the long-term may increase the chances of more work with organizations that are familiar to you.
Here are some tips on how to restore past relationships with clients you’d like to work with again. You need to be authentic, so they don’t feel you are merely trying to revitalize former revenue sources.
Match client needs with your products or services.
Your business may have evolved into new areas of interest to your clients. Review your list and segment your clients into groups, starting with those most likely to use your services to those least likely to purchase but who may be good referral sources. Reach out to clients at a point in the day when you are most productive. When you are feeling energetic, your positivity will come through in your thinking and communication style.
Also, consider the time of day when your clients are most receptive.
Do your homework.
Career paths change. Check your past client’s LinkedIn profiles and company websites. If they have moved on, reconnect with them and ask about their new role.
Congratulate them on their new position and find out what it entails. Ask them what sort of prospects they are looking for, which will give you a sense of how you can help them either by providing your services or through your contacts.
Approach with confidence.
When communicating with past clients, you want to be honest without sounding desperate or opportunistic.
Avoid saying, “Business could be much better, to be honest. It’s pretty slow now and I have overhead. You know what that’s like, I could really use your help.”
Instead say, “I enjoyed working with you and your team on (name the project or projects). Since we worked together my business has evolved and I have some new products and services I feel would benefit your organization.”
Also, be clear that you want to work with them again and perhaps say that you have just finished a large project that consumed a lot of your time. You are sending two clear messages that will resonate with them: you want to work with them and you have been too busy with other work until now to approach them.
Just pick up the phone.
There is nothing wrong with reintroducing yourself by simply calling to see how they have been, especially if you knew them socially as well as professionally. In the first call, don’t mention that you are really calling to get more work. Consider saying, “I was just reading about you (or your company) and wanted to call you to see how everything was going.” The more excuses you offer for calling them, the clearer it will be that you are looking for business. Consider inviting them to meet for coffee to “catch up” when they have time. Or, suggest a specific day and time when you will be in their vicinity.
Remember work anniversaries and other special dates.
Use LinkedIn and your calendar to keep track of special occasions. If you are sending good wishes via LinkedIn, customize your salutation at the beginning by using their name versus a generic opening. They will ideally acknowledge your message with thanks and ask what you are up to. Take this opportunity and follow up with a coffee invitation. Or, send them some information that is relevant to them and their business, or a personal hobby – if you know them well. If you know them well. In the case of business appointments running in print media, take the time to send past clients a short hand-written note. Hand-written notes are rare but are always warmly received over a text message or email.
Invite them to an event.
Unless you know them personally and have kept in touch with them socially, you are wise to limit invitations to industry or high-profile speakers of interest to past clients. Use your judgement when choosing the event and don’t rule out iconic cultural events such as gallery openings or much-anticipated concerts.
Acknowledge that they may be busy in the face of a merger or significant business growth since you worked with them. Offer to take a specific job off their plate. Or, at least share a relevant article or video with them to continue to hold their attention. Don’t stop at one or two. Send them information on a monthly basis as long as it relates to their role and can benefit them. They will come to expect and appreciate your sustained interest and keep you in mind when an appropriate project arises.
Ask them to introduce you to colleagues.
Your client may no longer be working in the same area and may no longer need your services. Assuming you remain on good terms and they appreciated your work, ask them to introduce you to their successor or other colleague who may be a good business prospect for you.
Get them some exposure.
This strategy involves going above and beyond what’s normally expected of you by a client, but if he or she is someone with whom you want to reconnect in pursuit of a significant amount of business, it can be worth the effort. If you are a member of an association involved in their industry, consider putting their name forward as a speaker or panellist at your next event. You would be wise to ensure they are interested by contacting them first.
You may also approach them to be interviewed for your company or personal blog.
Remember that past clients may have different role and priorities than when you worked with them. Don’t presume they’ll always offer the welcoming response you are hoping for but be positive and make it clear that the purpose of your reconnection is about them.