My early days as an online service provider were a hustle. As I was building my social proof during my first two years in biz, my virtual door was ALWAYS open. Back then, I was doing anything and everything for anyone who would take me on. But what I should have been doing was focusing on working with the RIGHT clients and forming long term client relationships.

To gain initial momentum, I started out by “cold calling” potential clients. I sold them on my services in a discovery call, and got straight down to business. As my business grew, an increasing number of clients then came to me by word of mouth or organically through my website. Again – my door was always open. It was rare for me to turn down business.

However, as my business continued to grow, I started hiring team members to support me in the backend of these client accounts. It was at that point that I realized this way of working was increasingly unsustainable. Once I had a couple of team members who were client-facing OBMs themselves, it just wasn’t going to work anymore.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last decade, it’s that I should have been nurturing those client relationships even BEFORE I had a team on board. By working with the right kind of clients, I could have avoided the burnout of doing everything and anything loooong before that point!

Over the last decade, I’ve learnt a lot about how to identify who the perfect clients are for each stage of biz growth, and how to form successful, long term client relationships. Here are my top 4 strategies for how to ensure you and your client are in it for the long haul.

1. Request a test project

Requesting test projects was one of the first ways that I started forming lasting relationships with my clients as an OBM. Gone were the days of selling them in the discovery call and onboarding them immediately! I employed this strategy to ensure that I was on the same page with my potential clients.

You can learn A LOT about a potential client by the test project they offer you. Not to mention how they deliver it. The test project they choose can give you a glimpse into their mind. It can demonstrate what they view as the “heart” of their business. Additionally, it can give you an idea of the types of work they will be interested in delegating to you as their OBM.

Because let’s face it – the glow of good chemistry during a discovery call is one thing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sold a client on services promising one thing (while they nod along in agreement), then I got slapped with an entirely different set of tasks once they were onboarded.

This is also a GREAT way to impress a potential client from the onset. It demonstrates that you’re not desperate to close the deal. It also shows you’re interested in building your ongoing business relationship on a solid foundation of a shared vision.

2. Start work on a project basis

In my early days of team building, this was also a critical way that I started making the transition to “dating” instead of hastily closing my potential clients.

The value of working on a project basis with certain clients is two-fold. First, it’s a fantastic way to weed out the clients I lovingly refer to as “hair on fire”. Let’s be real – everyone is on their best behavior during a discovery call. I’ve had clients in the past who hid their ‘crazy’ from me until they had me locked into a retainer (eeek!).

Working on a project basis for a month or two allows you to get a feel for working together. It also gives you a solid read on the client’s ability to collaborate, give up control, and communicate with you on differences of opinion.

Second, if you have a client with a limited budget who you really click with, this is a great way to strut your stuff on a smaller scale. It gives you the opportunity to go slightly above and beyond, and make them realize they NEED you for the long-haul.

3. Offer Breakthrough Strategy Sessions

Offering paid strategy sessions is one of the easiest ways to scale your business. And you might already be doing it… for free.

Here’s the thing. When I worked with clients exclusively in an ongoing retainer model, I worked MUCH harder in my discovery calls. I felt like I had to give more away in order to demonstrate my capability. If I had great chemistry with a potential client, a complimentary 30-minute call could easily turn into an hour-long strategy session.

Starting to offer paid Breakthrough Strategy Sessions was a big game-changer. Not only has it provided an additional stream of revenue to my business, but it’s also often THE stepping stone that solidifies a client relationship. In other words, it made potential retainer clients realize that they NEEDED me.

An added bonus here is that it’s ANOTHER opportunity to gauge where the client is in their business and what their quirks are.

4. Play hard to get and be honest with yourself

There are some really important questions to take into consideration when you’re thinking about onboarding a new client. It’s important to be honest with yourself about where you’re at, because this forms a key part of building long term client relationships.

Are you really down for early morning meetings every week with that client based in London? Is this client really someone that you can handle at this stage of your OBM journey? Can you give this client the TLC they deserve during their first couple months?

If you’re totally maxed out, this is where playing a little hard to get by selling them on a Breakthrough Session can really set the stage.

It’s simple psychology; If a lead knows you’re too busy to offer your services immediately, they automatically understand that you’re in demand. And better yet, this gives you the opportunity to take it really slow with them. You can build that relationship, lure them in with a strategy session, and leave them begging for more.

Before you know it, you’ll have ideal clients lined up to fill empty spots in your client roster the second that one is vacated.

Now over to you: How do you ensure you form long term client relationships in your biz? Do you have any more amazing tips? Share your pearls of wisdom in the comments below!