Let’s face it, finding new leads can be difficult.
The amount of time, money and resources invested can be significant, especially in highly competitive markets where advertising costs can be considerable.
Which is why as an agency owner you should be working toward prioritizing client experience, reducing churn and retaining customers long term. Not only is it more cost-effective to retain existing clients than to constantly search for new ones, but satisfied customers are also likely to provide valuable referrals.
Not to mention, improving profits.
Infact, according to recent surveys, it’s estimated that even just a small 5% increase in client retention can improve profits as much as 25%-95%.
Surprisingly however, many agency owners continue to struggle with high churn rates, SEO freelancers in particular.
Problems associated with churn
Let’s take a look at some of the problems associated with churn.
Inconsistency around income
When attrition is high, you can begin to experience peaks and troughs in terms of income. One month you’ll be doing $50 000, the next $20,000 then $60,000 then back down to $10,000.
When your income is all over the place like this, it puts you in a difficult situation because it makes predictability or forecasting your earnings almost impossible.
Constantly chasing new leads
Having to constantly chase new leads is quite possibly one of the most frustrating parts of having to deal with churn. This is simply because you’re caught up in a situation where you’re trying to onboard new clients faster than they’re leaving.
You end up on this hamster wheel, spending all your time trying to fill that gap between attrition and retention. “Last month we lost 6 clients, next month we need to secure 8 to make up for it”, and around and around you go.
Poor outcomes impact reputations
If you’ve got clients that are only sticking around for a few months there’s obviously a reason for that. There’s a problem somewhere, and that problem needs to be fixed – FAST. Because unlike happy clients who might tell 5 people about you, if you’ve got a client who isn’t happy they’re going to tell everyone.
And this is where you can end up receiving negative reviews, which can potentially cost you new projects in the future.
Loss of enthusiasm
If you’re constantly starting new projects, and those projects are abandoned after only a short period of time, then that’s going to have a direct impact on your teams morale. Over time there’ll be a lack of enthusiasm and care, simply because they’ll know it will most likely just be another case of quick churn and burn, with the client cancelling out and those efforts meaning very little.
Added stress and anxiety
If clients are cancelling out and leaving because they’re unhappy with the service, then you’re going to be constantly dealing with dissatisfied clients, and all that does is cause stress and anxiety.
Let’s face it, nobody wants to work in an agency where they’ve got clients who are constantly dissatisfied with the service making complaints, threatening to cancel and posting negative reviews online.
Why do clients leave?
So the first question we need to ask ourselves is why do clients leave?
We need to get to the bottom of this and start by asking the question why do clients leave. Here’s a couple of points from my own personal experience that I’ve seen firsthand as to why clients leave as well as what I’ve seen some of my students experience
Lack of results
Without question, one of the main reasons why clients cancel is due to a lack of results, and when I say results I don’t mean rankings. I’m talking about clients being provided with reporting that clearly demonstrates a return on investment.
When you do so, clients won’t want to leave. If they can clearly see that they’re putting a dollar in, pulling the lever and getting three four or five dollars out they’ll stay with you for years. Otherwise, they’re going to see the whole thing as an expense and cancel out.
This is another common reason – clients cancelling because of a lack of communication, or worse, no communication at all.
The number of clients I’ve worked with over the years that have said to me, “We were working with this other agency but decided to cancel because we never heard from anyone, so we really had no idea what they were doing.”
And in almost every case, when they did try contacting the agency, their calls were ignored, or they were simply passed around by several different account managers.
Confusing and meaningless reports
This sort of echoes what I’ve already touched on and that’s confusing and meaningless reports.
If you’re sending clients reports full of technical jargon, squiggly lines and bar charts and they’re not getting customers and generating sales, then all they’re really doing is paying a lot of money for a monthly report, and that’s not ideal.
Expectations weren’t set
When expectations aren’t set at the very beginning of the engagement, this tends to lead to problems that continue throughout the campaign. Such as constant calling, texting, emails, asking questions and demanding last minute meetings and updates. Not to mention continual requests around when they might see “results”.
To avoid this, you need to clearly explain and outline everything in advance, not several months into a campaign.
Such as what you can expect working with us, what we expect from you in terms of responsibilities, these are the types of reports that you’re going to receive, this is what the reports will cover, this is when you’ll be billed, this is when we’ll have our end of month strategy sessions etc.
All of these things that clearly define the deliverables and also what the client can expect overall.
Lack of transparency
This is another big one and this ties in with a point that I made just a moment ago about clients that never hear from anyone.
When clients have no idea what you’re doing that’s a problem and that doesn’t necessarily mean to say that they you need to provide them with an itemized breakdown of every single task that you’re doing in a time sheet, it just it just means that they need to have a rough idea (or at the very least, some sense of what you’re doing)
You can solve that problem easily by hosting end of month strategy sessions and providing work summary sheets where you outline the work that’s been completed, recommendations and the work that’s coming up next month.
An insufficient budget can cause constraints and choke the campaign.
If you’re charging, $3,500 a month and you say yes to a client who can only afford $900 then you’re going to find yourself in a position where you just won’t have the budget to cover operational expenses and resources.
This means inability to allocate the required resources towards the campaign which results in poor outcomes and ultimately, cancellation of the service.
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So, what’s the solution?
Let’s now take a look at what can be done to prevent churn and increase retention.
Firstly communication is everything.
You need to be honest, up front and transparent with clients at the very beginning of the engagement, not several months into a campaign.
This is particularly important, especially for many freelancers who quite often have a tendency to avoid certain conversations that might seem awkward or uncomfortable. Conversions such as increasing the budget, competitiveness of the marketplace, or how long it might take for the client to see results.
It’s kind of ironic that it’s the avoidance of these conversations that leads to many clients cancelling – simply because they weren’t properly informed.
The best thing you can do is to ensure communication is clear.
Start hosting end of month strategy sessions with clients and ensure there’s frequent communication and interaction. You want to avoid situations where the client is wondering “We haven’t heard from these guys for a while, we have no idea what they’re doing?”
That’s not a good place for clients to be.
Clients want reassurance in knowing that work’s actually being done. They want to know where their money’s being spent and they want to see that they’re getting results – or at the very least, that you’re working towards achieving it.
The best way to assure them of this is through regular get togethers.
This doesn’t mean that you have to be meeting with clients every second day or once a week.
Meeting once a month is fine, but you need to make it clear that that’s what they should expect. You also need to make it clear what the purpose of those strategy sessions are for. To cover the work that’s being done, work that’s coming up, any issues found, and of course to address clients questions and concerns.
As part of your sales and onboarding process, you need to be setting clear expectations. This should include time frames, investment summary, inclusions and exclusions and so on.
Setting expectations at the beginning, before you even start working together is essential.
Set clear communication channels
Anytime a client feels they can email, text or call you at any time, with the expectation they’ll receive an immediate response is a problem. It becomes even more of a problem if they do so via social media or start calling your personal phone.
Most SEO freelancers struggle with this problem simply because they get “too close” to clients. It’s the result of “caring too much” in which clients take advantage and abuse your accessibility.
Again, this is part of setting expectations at the very beginning by making it clear that if the client needs assistance or if they have a question you’ve got to use clearly defined communication channels.
In other words, a ticketing system or some other suitable alternative where they’ll receive a response between the hours of 9 to 5 or whatever your hours of operation might be.
Focus on revenue and ROI
Avoid sending clients reports full of meaningless technical jargon stuffed full of vanity metrics.
That only confuses clients and, in many ways, causes frustration, which can lead to cancellation.
Instead, focus on revenue – helping your clients get customers, selling and generating revenue. Celebrate benchmarks with your clients around earning milestones, not keywords and rankings.
There’s no better place to be than when a client calls you to say “We’ve just had our biggest month ever, $200,000! We can’t thank you enough, this has been fantastic”
Once you clearly demonstrate a return on investment, clients will never want to leave. I know this to be true because this is exactly how I kept high paying clients ($5,000 /month for up to 4-5 years consistently)
Have the same discussion as your client
If every time you speak with a client and you’re talking about keywords, articles and backlinks, and they’re talking about selling more widgets, then that’s going to become tiresome for the client over time.
Instead, drop the geek speak and talk to the client about helping them sell more widgets. By doing so, they’ll recognize this and be thinking “Wow these guys are actually on board with us, they really understand what it is we’re trying to achieve” which is exactly what you want.
Figure out where the focal point is
Taking the time to ask a client “Where do you want us to focus our efforts” means a lot. It’s a question that will separate you from every other SEO agency out there because it demonstrates you actually care about outcome.
For example, if a client responds with “We’re wanting to focus our efforts around selling more blue widgets” then align with that and make it your focal point.
Raise it during the call and say “Okay this month, and for the next few months we’re going to be just focusing on blue widgets. We’re going to go all in on that and map out a strategy that will help you sell more blue widgets”
Make it a priority during meetings and discuss it with them.
This gives clients confidence in knowing that you’re fully onboard, you know what you’re doing and you’re all headed in the same direction.
Align with the clients goals and objectives
When you align with the client’s goals and objectives, it changes the dynamic of the relationship completely. If a client knows you’re both on the same page and working towards the same goal, then they’ll have a greater sense of security and confidence working with you.
This means they’ll stick around longer.
Become a partner
Think about how you can elevate your agency to a standard where your clients feel as though you’re more of a partner than “just another SEO agency”.
This doesn’t mean you need to get involved with clients’ internal operations, it just means going a bit further, so you’re not simply considered as being expendable.
Build strong relationships
Too many agencies treat clients like they’re nothing more than another entry in a database.
Infact, I spoke with a prospect years ago and he said “This other agency returned my call and got my name wrong, then continued to do so even after I corrected them. It was obvious they were referring to another business, or they’d screwed up somewhere. It was awkward, impersonal and disingenuous”.
Of course that’s a situation you want to avoid, so make sure that you establish at the very least a foundation that demonstrates you listen, you understand and you care.
Send a welcome gift
Sending a gift when new clients come onboard can have a tremendous impact on retention.
Something as small as a $30 gift hamper, or a bottle of wine, or perhaps some movie tickets or a voucher for the client’s favorite restaurant can build such a level of appreciation and trust that that small investment can come back at you tenfold.
Infact, this is something I’ve been doing for years, and usually the response is something along the lines of “Hey thank you so much, no one’s done this before we just received the gift you sent, we really appreciate it”
What can give this even more impact is if you pay attention during the initial call. Usually during casual conversation you can find out what the prospect likes, or what their interests might be and send a gift that is highly relevant to that.
Understand what gets your clients excited
All clients will have that one thing that gets them highly excited. It might be a product they’re selling or perhaps a service. Typically, it’s something that generates high profit margins, so be sure to pay attention and listen closely for clues.
For example, if the client is highly motivated towards a particular service offering, be sure when speaking with them that you share the same enthusiasm. If they get excited talking about red widgets then talk about red widgets. Avoid talking about technical SEO jargon as I’ve said, and instead have the same conversation.
Once clients sense you’re just as motivated as they are, they’ll feel a sense of reassurance and confidence in knowing that you understand and you align with their interests.
Educate your clients
Helping clients understand what’s going on can make a big difference. Especially for clients who know they need SEO, but they have very little understanding of exactly what it is.
Now, I’ve had conversations with various SEO consultants over the years and many of them have said to me “John, we don’t have time for this. We can’t be hosting training sessions or doing in-house training, we’re flat out running our own business, let alone do all of that”
Of course, I get it, I understand.
Thankfully, there’s an easy solution – a client portal.
A client portal is a great way to provide short training videos that cover the basics, along with frequently asked questions. It can also include an overview of your processes so clients can have a better understanding of what your agency will be doing whilst working on the campaign.
A client portal can also help take the load off any unwanted back and forth, in that anytime a client might have a question, you can direct them to the portal, without having to explain the same thing over and over.
Focus on the other side of sales
Most SEO agencies place a great deal of effort around sales and marketing but neglect clients once they’ve signed up. I’ve always thought this to be quite odd, especially when you think about how much of an investment in time, money and resources they’ve made in terms of getting the lead, pitching their services and doing all of that other stuff to close them, only to then basically treat the client like they’re disposable.
It’s essential that you put the same amount of effort into the back end (fulfillment) as you do the front end (sales and marketing).
The best clients are the ones you already have
It’s become a bit of a cliché, but it’s true.
It’s much easier to keep the clients that you already have rather than constantly having to chase new clients.
So look after them.
Gathering feedback directly from your clients is the best way to ensure customer satisfaction. It’s also a great way to identify opportunities that will allow you to improve.
A great way of doing this is to simply ask for feedback during end of month strategy sessions.
In other words, each and every time you host your end of month strategy sessions, where you go over your reports and earning estimates, you should be taking that opportunity to ask “Are you happy with everything? Are you happy with where things are at? Is there anything we could be doing better?”
By doing so you’ll know in advance if there are any issues, which is better than finding out later when a client decides to cancel.
Identifying issues and improving
This touches somewhat on my previous point but position yourself inside the “feedback loop”. If you’re actually listening to clients, and gathering feedback you’ll be able to address any issues or complaints immediately.
If a client has a genuine request or complaint that’s worth listening to, then take action and fix it. I say “genuine” because clients will often request all sorts of things, so you’ll need to be able to make the distinction between genuine feedback vs nonsense.
Asking why clients cancel
What better way to understand exactly why clients decided to cancel out than to ask them?
If a client decides to cancel, either get them on a call, or ask them to fill out an online survey and ask them why. Get to the root of the cause so you know what you might be able to do in future to prevent it.
Improve your service offering
It’s amazing to me just how many SEO consultants are confused as to why their clients are cancelling, yet their service delivery sucks.
I’ve worked with numerous SEO consultants, where they’ve said “Our clients are bailing after six months, we don’t know why?”
Once you start digging into their operations it becomes immediately obvious why because things are an absolute mess.
Yet they seem oblivious to the fact, and in many cases they’ll defend that mess.
Aside from cleaning up your processes – the best way to prevent clients from cancelling and improving your retention rates is to ensure clear communication.
This touches back on what I mentioned just a moment ago around asking clients during meetings if they’re happy.
Every single every single time I held an end of month strategy session with a client I would ask “Are you happy with where the campaign’s at?” “Is there anything that we could do better?” “Is there any way that we could improve?” “Let me know, I want to know are there any problems”
I’d even ask them if there was anything they weren’t happy with because clients won’t often tell you. Sometimes, clients will just stay quiet and avoid confrontational discussions.
But if you ask the question “How can we do better? you can address these problems in advance and take care of them so that over time you can improve and as a result you’ll be able to increase your retention rates and reduce churn.
Let me know what you think?
Ever had to deal with high churn rates? How have you solved it? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.