Building Relationships

This isn’t a tactic heavy post. Instead, I want to focus on something more foundational. Effectiveness.

Being an effective SEO consultant is about more than knowing SEO and doing the work, it’s about getting things done. Paddy wrote about this in length on his blog. From what I've found a lot of this boils down to trust; you need your clients to trust you, or they won’t implement your recommendations and let you try new things like cutting edge link building ideas. Sure, you can do things like show the opportunity associated with a project, but ultimately, they have to trust your data and your plan to execute.

Where Does Trust Come From

Of course, there isn't a magic formula you can concoct to build trust and credibility. Instead, it takes time, ability, elbow grease, and patience. The first step is to focus on your brand and reputation. Pay attention to what people say about you, and learn from it. If what you hear back is positive, good, you’re doing just fine. But if you get critical feedback, don’t feel badly about it, instead, learn from it. Become a person who adapts and works with clients, not just for them.

Secondly, you need to show measurable result over the course of projects you work on for clients. When you do well, don’t brag, but show them the matrices. Afterall, our clients aren’t SEOs, generally, so it doesn’t hurt to give them a good idea of just how well our strategies are benefiting them. The more you can demonstrate this in real world results, as opposed to just facts and figures, the better.

From my experience, the most important relationship you’ll build is with the point of contact at the companies you work with. Since most of your communications with your client will be through this contact, don’t take it for granted. Make certain that you have healthy lines of communication. Return phone calls, return emails, and also be proactive. When you haven’t heard from him or her for awhile, find out why. If you can build a strong relationship with this person, they’re more likely to advocate on your behalf when you want to try out new ideas.

How to Build Trust

The most effective method I've found for building trust with clients is through spending time with them face to face. Initially, I found this idea off-putting. I thought that if I ‘wasted’ time meeting with clients, it would take time away from other tasks I wanted to do for them that felt more essential. I was wrong. In fact, when I sat down with my clients, face to face, I found it was a lot easier to understand what their particular goals were. In fact, I found it simpler, even, to intuit the things that they didn't even know they wanted, simply by getting to know them a bit.

When I have clients in town, I prefer to set appointment in their offices and meet with them at least every other week. The more face time we have, the more we both understand our ultimate goals and we can get to work on it faster.  For my out-of-town clients, I make an effort to meet with them at a conference we might both be attending or else I book a trip out to their offices. Taking the extra step really goes a long way towards building confidence in what we’re working on together. It lets them see that I really do care, because I do. You don’t want to seem overbearing, but you do want to find ways to let them know that they are important to you.

For the out of town clients, consistent face time really isn’t doable. In this case, the phone (or Skype/G+ Hangouts) becomes really important. When I started out consulting, I preferred sending weekly email updates. While these effectively communicated the status of the project, they weren’t very effective at building a relationship with the client. It might not seem like a lot (or it might seem really intimidating, depending on your personality), but picking up the phone and making a little small talk before jumping into the project will do much more for your relationship and the project than an email.

Meeting people face to face or getting on the phone with them won’t solve all your problems, but it will help you build a relationship; allowing you to be more effective by creating change, working through problems that arise, and running a smoother project.

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