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How to Create Long-Term Profitable Client Relationships

An interview with Jesse Ringer

For this episode of Ecoffee with Experts, we have Jesse Ringer, Founder and Head of Search at Method and Metric SEO Agency. Matt Fraser got Jesse to share the best practices for client onboarding and establishing trust to nurture client relationships. Watch this episode for some great insights.

Initially you should over-communicate with clients in order to build trust. This is because all the work happens independently at the beginning.

Jesse Ringer
Founder and Head of Search at Method and Metric SEO Agency
Hello, everyone. Welcome to E-coffee with experts. I'm your host, Matt Fraser, and on today's episode, I have with me, Jesse Ringer. Jesse is the founder and head of search at Method and Metric SEO. For over 10 years, Jesse has helped business owners, entrepreneurs, and marketing teams build winning SEO strategies for their organizations. He works to uncover the formula that will generate more website traffic and, more importantly, revenue. Born and raised in Ottawa, Jesse moved west to Vancouver, British Columbia, in Canada, for those who are watching internationally, to pursue his passion for mountain life and never left. It's beautiful there. I've been there myself. When not at his desk working on SEO and Marketing campaigns, Jesse enjoys traveling to different places around the globe. Jesse, thank you so much for joining us today. Welcome to the show.

Yeah, thanks, Matt. Thanks for having me. It was a great intro.

So Jesse, in discussions, was onboarding foundations for Marketing Agencies-How to create long-term profitable client relationships? We discussed that. What are some of the best ways to get new clients for your Marketing Agency, let alone onboarding?

I think it comes down to doing good work. Referrals are a big part of our business. Doing what we say we’re going to do helps spread the word better than any advertising campaign. Clients are our biggest form of finding new ones.

So, how do you determine whether or not a client is a right fit for your agency? Or potential clients?

A lot of it comes down to, do our values align? Is the project something that my team will be excited about? Does the client have the resources on their end to make sure that this partnership is equitable and effective? Frequently we will have clients that need technical resources to implement some of the stuff, and maybe they don’t have it, or their development team is too busy. Things like that. Those are pretty important in finding good clients and working with them.

Fantastic. Thanks for sharing that. Could you share a little bit about what are some of the benefits of having the right clients for your marketing agency as opposed to the wrong ones?

Far less turnover. That’s one big obvious one. I would say, though, that with good clients, we can go out of our traditional comfort zone when it comes to optimization and create new value for them. Ultimately long-term relationships help. Work is stressful anytime, but fewer headaches and things like that. A place where everyone can trust each other, that’s nice. And be counted on for your expertise and knowledge. And being able to share that and provide that insight to a client is pretty huge. And with good clients, that becomes obvious from the get-go.

So, are there some red flags that indicate a potential client won't be a good fit?

So many red flags.

So save some people some headaches?

Oh, man. I’d say ones that are worried about trusting the process. That’s one red flag. So, really eager to get results quickly. SEO takes time.

Can you define quickly?

Like, within a month. It’s helpful if a client has a good sense of what SEO is about? That’s a big one, I’d say.

If they want results in a month, we're talking paid ad campaigns, right? You get the results in a month with paid ads, and it may not be the best results because you need to have the budget to burn to optimize the campaign. Like talking SEO, we're talking six months. Is there any other besides wanting unreasonable results?

As I mentioned earlier, a good client, we like to share the same values. And I’d say the opposite is true for red flags. Like if we don’t have the same ideas of what a good relationship will look like and strong communication skills are a huge one for an organization. And that goes both ways. But if they don’t have a great understanding of digital marketing, it inadvertently creates a space where they don’t know all the things going on their website or the industry. And so that creates a bit of a disconnect. So those are some things that I think have been red flags over time. Also, a common one is they’ve taken an online SEO course, and I didn’t know how to do it. And I think that sometimes like, oh, well, this is how you should be doing it. Those are some.

Any budget red flags?

Yes or no. They should have a good sense of what a budget should look like. That’s something for us to consider. But that’s not always a red flag. That’s more a yellow flag. But for now, I would say they should have a good sense of how much they want to spend on SEO, in particular, before they start looking for an agency.

Have you developed anyways for politely? We as Canadians are known for being polite, declining work with a potential client that doesn't damage the relationship?

I don’t know if I’ve ever damaged a relationship. I might have been, and they just never told me. But I would say we like to be gracious about it, going, Hey, this project isn’t the right fit for us. But here are some other freelancers or agencies we’ve worked with and trust. They’d be a better fit for you guys. We don’t want to leave them empty-handed. We’ve had a couple of conversations, and we’ve gotten to know each other a bit. And I want to ensure that they can keep moving ahead with the work they want to do, even though we’re not the right fit for that.

So when you do get that ideal client, what is your process for onboarding new clients?

We start every new project with a kickoff meeting with our team. And then, we’ll also have a brief that we’ve sent over to the client to fill out and review, and we’ll make sure that everything in there is complete and touched on within the meeting. You know, SEO happens in the back end for many companies and can be done by just about anybody from anywhere. And so, having a kickoff meeting puts names to faces and allows everyone to meet and connect and get a sense of who will be doing the work and what that accountability will look like on both ends of it. And there, we use Asana for all of our project management. So we’ll take on all the tasks and responsibilities there, including our clients. We also use Slack for general communication. So get them on there and start working asynchronously through those. We also work on ensuring we have a weekly check-in schedule to talk about updates and things that are coming from our end, things that are coming from their end, and any potential roadblocks that are going on. So that’s generally how we like to get things kicked off.

So you use processes such as kickoff meetings and then project management tool, which is Asana. That is a great tool to standardize the process and create a system. I'm just repeating what you've shared, creating a system and then using slack as a communication channel for communicating with the clients. Do you have any ways you've leveraged Asana effectively to save time and money regarding onboarding clients as templates?

I don’t know if we’ve saved time on onboarding, but I think for the entire project’s success. Asana is great for accountability and quickly getting feedback on tasks and deliverables. So that’s a great area for it. Also, we can put all our meeting recaps within there so that everyone has a running record of that. But from an onboarding perspective, other than being able to upload all of our tasks and such through spreadsheets and things like that. And mapping out a good calendar and timeline. Now, there aren’t a ton of necessarily time-saving things.

Okay, cool. Do you have any strategies for quickly building trust with new clients?

Lots of FaceTime, over-communicate FaceTime. Because a lot of our work can happen independently, especially in the early going, where it’s auditing, researching, and analyzing data, it can feel for the client. I’ve had this feedback before where it feels like we’re not doing anything at the beginning because it’s just audit and research and compiling information when we’re not presenting them with many deliverables right off the bat. So FaceTime and communication are huge ones. And so, I think too; it’s just over-communicate like you wouldn’t believe.

So over-communicate in the beginning. Do you find that you have to communicate less as time passes, like hand-holding less and less in your experience?

Yeah, the trust builds. It does take time. I mean, now we have clients we have been working with for five-plus years that we speak to monthly. This time those will be phone calls at that point, face to face time is maybe like once a quarter. But that took a long time. That’s like years and years of accountable work and doing the heavy lifting early on. So that came from a lot of trial and error.

Okay, what are some of the mistakes you made?

Not over-communicating. Oh, man, not over-communicating is one.

Okay, so could you give an example of that?

We would optimize internal links on blog posts to key service pages. And we would do that, and then the client will be like, Hey, we noticed these links on these pages, like, what’s that about? And so things like that and this is like, okay, early on, we’re like, here are the things we’re going to do. And because often, when we tell someone who’s not in SEO or digital marketing, here are the things we’re going to do, that’s just like bouncing things off a wall because they don’t hear it. They like, Okay, you’re doing stuff, but I don’t know what any of that means. Chinese to them for those that don’t speak that language. And so that was, like, so obvious. Optimizing meta tags is straightforward. But it would be like, Okay, here’s what we did here. Here’s the spreadsheet we were working from, and here’s why we’re adding these links. So there were things like that that were part of it.

So making sure to communicate those things. Is that over-communicating?

So, being clear, this is the spreadsheet with all the information. This is where it’s going. Here’s why it’s going there. And we’ll let you know when it’s done. Please take a look. Because what they imagined something to be or view it in their mind, what something will look like, doesn’t always line up with how it will end. And so that’s one where it’s been trial and error. And making sure we’re holding our hats in our hands going, we’re sorry, we weren’t trying to mess your website up. But this is what we’re doing and why we’re trying to do it. So yeah.

Do you ever use video to communicate those things? The pre-made video has been effective, or is it too time-consuming?

We’ve started using loom for many things. We’ve started to integrate that more. But that’s only in like the last year and a bit.

How's that been?

Better. Much better, I would say, at least from my understanding. Clients will only tell you, I think, if something’s awful, so it seems to be working for them and working for us to get things done equitably and with as much transparency as possible.

Has it cut down on face-to-face time but still built trust?

Yeah, a little bit, I’d say. The clients that we do it for are the ones that are still in the early going. So we’re still meeting weekly for it. But I think it gives them more transparency about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. So that at the end of the day, most of our main contacts have somebody above them that they report to, and ultimately, they need to be accountable for the agencies they bring on and the work being done. And so this gives them the rundown for when they have to speak to their higher-ups and stuff.

So they're able to communicate that the work is happening as a result of the over-communication. So they don't think their dollars are just being flushed down the toilet, for lack of a better word.

Exactly.

Do you think there are any other common pitfalls you have seen during the onboarding process that you've learned to avoid?

One thing that has crept up is making clear what the client’s responsibilities are and what they’re willing to be accountable for. So a couple of examples are keywords. We need them to confirm that the keyword list we will be building all of the content around aligns with exactly what they’re looking for. That’s a very common one. The other is Sitemaps, site hierarchy, information, architecture, those kinds of things. Anything that might come down to accessibility or around user experience, where the client or the website visitors are going to see this stuff, they need to be giving expressed approval. Without that expressed approval, we’ll not move ahead on that work. And so that’s one thing that we’ve come across. Right now, we’re helping to redo a website for a client, and he can’t get the imagery from his team to put on the website. And so this is one thing we’ve discussed early on in the project, like, here’s what you need to do beforehand. And sometimes, it just takes a bit longer. And so those are some things that come up. Other learning processes for sure.

Are there any strategies that, like you talked about, sitemaps and keyword research. Are there any strategies to help overcome those challenges that you've developed?

Emphasize the importance of their feedback and add due dates to it. I think a lot of people are time-sensitive-oriented people. If they know a deadline for something, they will largely work to get it done in that timeline. And so that’s one thing. That’s one strategy we’ve started to employ in the last few months that seems to be coming with more success on that front.

What about the sitemap? Is there a tool that is your favorite?

I like using draw.io. But what our UX person does, she tends to use Figma and things like that. We keep it pretty simple, so clients aren’t like, Oh, what’s this going to do? And what does that do? It’s just simple web pages. So I use draw.io because it’s free. And it’s okay. But for the designers, I’m sure there are much better tools for that.

I used SmartDraw for sitemaps. And then there's what's called? I can't remember what it's called.

Lucid Chart was another.

Lucid Chart. That's what it's called. Lucid Chart. Yeah, that's what I was trying to remember.

That’s one I like, but draw integrates nicely with Google Drive.

I've never heard of it. So thanks for sharing that one. Draw.io.

Almost the same interface as Lucid Chart, except it’s free. It’s free.

How do they make money if it's free? I just don't understand how they afford to pay the programmers.

I mean, that’s not a question you’re asking me to answer?

No, it isn't. You're the product.

Don’t bring it up!

Exactly. Hey, what are your favorite features of Asana that seem to be your preferred onboarding tools?

All of it and none of it. I enjoyed the timeline feature of it because of the representation of what is coming and when it’s going to be done. You can tie all the supporting tasks to it. What things need to be done, by whom, and what roadblocks can exist for each of those. So if we’re rewriting content on your website, we need to have the keyword list approved. And so there’s that kind of stuff. That’s helpful. I love that you can invite the whole team and all of your client’s team in there too. And so everyone can see what’s going on. You can ping everyone and talk about tasks in a natural space. That it can hold all of your documents and key information, and you can email an entire group on a project with updates and things like that. So yeah, that one’s pretty essential, I think. So those are the ones that I like. And granted, most project management tools all have this kind of functionality. But I think there’s just the way that Asana feels visual and then does what we need to do. And it integrates with Slack well, harvest, and everything else we use. So it’s pretty great.

Is there anything you don't like about it?

Oh, yeah. One of them is that within a certain project, well, every project, you can add custom elements. So like, status, priority, and estimated time. And if you’re looking at your to-do list from all the different projects, you can’t add the same functionality. So you can’t see the status updates, you can’t see the priorities, you can’t see the time estimates, and all you can see is the task and the project. And that’s my one pet peeve about it. I would say every product or project has the same template. So you got the task; who’s accountable for it? Due Date? Yeah, as well as status, priority and time estimate. It’d be nice to have that across all of each person’s to-do lists. So they can also prioritize across different projects, especially from an agency perspective. We’re working on a handful of projects at any given time. And it’s a nice visual way of managing it. So that’s one thing I would love to see changed.

All right on, hopefully, Asana is watching this; shout out to them. If you could change one thing about how your agency handles Client Onboarding?

That’s a great question. We’re always looking to improve our processes. That would probably be a blind spot within ourselves, and we wouldn’t know it. But a way to speed up trust, and get people to buy in a bit sooner, would be really helpful. I don’t know how to improve it because if I did, we would try to implement it. How can we quickly build that relationship to make it very good?

Because I think for us, the relationship is key. It’s essential for any successful project with us. And so that’s one that we need to.

To wave a magic wand and just trust us. A successful client onboarding process is essential to a good marketing agency?

Yeah, for sure. Like anything, that first impression, that first start, is vital. Whether you are competing in a race or whatever it is, having a strong start does help; to be fair, the middle and the end also matter. But if we get the client on board, where they feel like they know exactly what’s happening, how it’s going to happen, when it’s going to happen, it makes it so much easier for them to be like, okay, we can trust this, we can lean into this process. We know that the work is being done even if it feels slow or quiet, and everything does pick up. But once we have that going, I would say onboarding is essential.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression, do you?

No, it’s hard, and once they have that opinion, it’s hard to shake that for sure.

So do you have any tips or advice from your experience for marketing agencies looking to improve the onboarding process, like, what should they look for?

Oh, if you want to improve your process, ask your team what they need to do effectively. Ask the client what they need too; what do you want? Our process works for us. But again, if we’re agents of a company, it’s up to them, and we have to mold our process a little bit around to what they need. So those would be two things, two areas to look at. Ask your team straight up what they need to start this project well? What do they need to do great work? And also, ask the client what’s their preferred method of communication? How you can start to gauge, reading between the lines around, are they going to be high touch? Are they medium touch? Do they just want to read through your Asana board every couple of days? What does that look like? So, yeah, those parts are pretty key.

With being so transparent, do you ever get pushback from clients with the investment in marketing versus how long it takes you to do things with you are being so transparent?

Yeah, always. There’s always going to be that tension between how much they’re spending versus how much they’re getting out of it. Everyone wants to bid $1 and get $10 back, and they want it done quickly. And as transparent as I believe us to be, whether the client wants to embrace that they decide to fully. And so we give them everything they need, but at the same time, if they’re kind of skeptical about things, we can’t convince them otherwise; this is just who we are. And that’s how it’s got to be. So we’ll keep chipping away at that barrier and ensure they know we’re accountable. And we’re not going to be perfect. And we’ll do our best to accommodate their comfort levels, too. There’s always a little bit of pushback, but not tons.

What's the one big takeaway you want listeners to get from this episode?

Oh man, I think all of it. You’re not going to have a one size fits all process that works for all your clients and is effective every time, and be open to changing it based on what your clients are telling you. And even to a lesser degree, what they’re not telling you. And understanding what would help them be better at their jobs and help them look better to their team. So be open to feedback and be open to evolving and iterating. None of this is perfect. We’re always a work in progress and, I guess, ultimately adaptable.

Hey, that's wise. How can listeners connect with you online?

They can sign up for our newsletter, methodandmetric.com. I’m on LinkedIn. I’m happy to connect there. Twitter. And so Twitter, @jringer604, or @methodandmetric are both there.

We'll make sure to put those in the show notes and description box so people can connect with you. Hey, thank you very much for coming to the show. A pleasure to have you here.

Thanks for the chat, Matt. This is awesome. Thanks for having me.

No problem.

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