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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

Here’s how start-up business owners can satisfy loyal clients

Trying to build a good reputation in the competitive marketplace isn’t always easy.

Here’s how start-up business owners can satisfy loyal clients
Members of Fast Company Executive Board share their expert insights. [Image: Courtesy of the individual members.]

Some of the best-made relationships in business begin with constant communication between a company and its client to establish mutual trust and a deeper understanding of each stakeholder’s mission and purpose.

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Being the new kid on the block in an oversaturated market may seem intimidating at first, but it gets easier in time—once you crack the code. By learning how best to solve your customers’ most challenging dilemmas, you’re bound to become one of their most reliable resources, time and again.

Below are 13 best practices that Fast Company Executive Board members have repeated to present a great impression (beyond the first) to attract and keep their prospective clients.

1. PROVIDE GREAT CUSTOMER SERVICE.

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The focus of every business should be to provide a great service that makes it a referable company to work with. You’re only as good as your word at the end of the day, so if you can keep those things in mind and really focus on the offering and how it solves a problem, that’s a great way to start building a reputation. – Jan Bednar, ShipMonk

2. ANTICIPATE YOUR CLIENTS’ NEEDS.

You should always look at accounts through the lens of anticipating their future needs because clients will appreciate that. Don’t fall into the trap of not having that next opportunity to work on. – Todd Marks, Mindgrub Technologies

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3. COMMUNICATE CONSTANTLY AND EFFECTIVELY.

A good reputation is built on communication. You should spend time constantly communicating with your clients to understand their challenges and your opportunities for improvement. Your customer is your best salesperson. Use them to build a positive reputation in the market. – Kyle Lacy, Seismic

4. BUILD PERSONABLE RELATIONSHIPS.

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Your relationships are critical to attracting clients. Dig through LinkedIn and look for someone you’ve connected with and who is in a position where they can make a buying decision. Then, reach out but avoid a transactional interaction. Instead, invite them to go out with you for a coffee or beer, let them know what you’re working on, and ask if you can help them. – Austin Vance, Focused Labs

5. BE A PROBLEM SOLVER.

There is a fine line between demonstrating next-level thinking that solves a problem and giving away free work. Try to do the former without doing the latter! Often, clients need to see what they are buying to understand what they are truly asking for! – Michelle Hayward, Bluedog

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6. EMBRACE BEING SMALL.

Rather than overselling what you can do, be transparent and open to feedback (this is a great way to optimize your product early on while creating long-lasting client relationships). This also means staying focused on what you’re good at rather than trying to “boil the ocean.” That way, you’ll make the most of the resources you have, while keeping clients happy. – Tal Almog, Blooma

7. PROMOTE YOUR BUSINESS THROUGH WORD OF MOUTH.

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When you’re first starting out, word-of-mouth advertising will always be your most powerful marketing tool. You need to find trusted spokespeople who can vouch for your integrity and product. Whether you’re starting your own company or starting your first sales role, there’s a good chance that your first client will be a friend or a friend-of-a-friend so don’t be afraid to tap into your network. – Brad Rosenfeld, Prove

8. TAKE ON EACH CHALLENGE.

Being able to solve challenges is key. Clients want a partner who will help them solve their complex challenges and look around the corners. No one wants to be sold to. How are you teaching your clients new skills or another way to view the challenge? Retaining clients is always rooted in the question: “What value have I delivered to this client?” When solving challenges, always know what business outcome the strategy is impacting. – Zack Hamilton, Stingray Group, Inc.

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9. DELIVER OUTSTANDING RESULTS.

Identify target opportunities based on conversations with people in your network. Listen carefully for areas where you can help and don’t be afraid to ask for feedback and referrals. Don’t pitch, just listen. Ask questions to pinpoint pains, problems, and challenges. Focus on how you can help and add value. Deliver outstanding results every time and your clients can become your best sources for referrals. – Nicole Marra, Fixer Advisory

10. DEMONSTRATE CARE AND EMPATHY.

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Listen, take notes, and remember the details. If you are honestly and authentically interested in people, then be sure to take an interest in them and what they have to say. Make notes about the special events in their lives, their children’s names, the breed of their dog—anything. Mention them in conversation and ask about them. Show them that you care. – Christopher Tompkins, The Go! Agency

11. BE SELECTIVE IN DETERMINING YOUR CLIENTS.

It’s important to be very selective in determining the potential clients you want to target when you are just starting out. The client should ideally be an appropriate size, be mutually interested in your service, and be in a position to benefit greatly from your service. In addition, you should be ready to over-deliver results to ensure a happy client and a template for future success. – Fehzan Ali, Adscend Media LLC

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12. PRACTICE GENEROSITY. 

Help potential clients solve their problems even if it doesn’t lead to a project in the short term. Offer to have a no-cost problem-solving session to help them frame their challenges, send an insightful recap, and recommend additional resources (e.g., articles, other contacts, or more), that can help them tackle the situation. They’ll be a future client or a great referral, for sure. – Shani Harmon, Stop Meeting Like This

13. ENGAGE IN THE COMMUNITY.

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Without a doubt, it’s important to share your knowledge or expertise every time you have the opportunity to do so. For example, by offering to speak at business meet-ups or a Chamber of Commerce event, you’ll not only build goodwill within the business community, but you’ll also be auditioning for potential new clients as well! But most importantly, always make sure that others feel like you have their best interest in mind, not yours. – Kevin Neff, Kevin Makes Sense Media

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