How to Build Trust, Win Clients in the Early Days

By | March 30, 2012
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It’s funny to talk about the ‘good old days’ at PR 20/20, when I’m only celebrating my sixth anniversary here this month. But in reality, so much has changed in the industry and at our agency, that I’m alright with feeling nostalgic.

I hope to share some lessons learned from our early days, and also inspire you to think ahead to a time when you will reminisce – it happens quicker than you can imagine.

Humble Beginnings

Mug

In early 2006, inside a local Panera, Paul first shared the opportunity to join PR 20/20. Not sure if it was his passion, the free coffee refills, or a combination of the two, but I practically signed on right then and there as the first employee.

He assured me a paycheck, insurance, a client to work on, and being cool with taking time off for my upcoming my wedding.

We spent the first month in a temporary space in our office building, which was more like a closet for the building’s old office furniture, but it was magical.

I’d spent the last two years in marketing services agencies (the earliest in which Paul had hired me out of college as an intern and then full-time employee), and had some wins and losses along the way.

However, I believed through PR 20/20, and how I still describe it today, that we could find a better way to take care of clients, and eventually, employees.

How To Build Trust & Win Clients

Blogs, social media and other inbound marketing tactics were just starting to build momentum during these times, and today offer startups opportunities to establish credibility. But there were some core pieces of our early business – beyond our services – that really helped solidify our agency. These still ring true, even if the channels have changed.

  • Have your own space

    You may have started your agency from home, but when you’re ready to build credibility, get a business address. Our office location was chosen for a few reasons, including accessibility in our region, and the esteem of being headquartered in a downtown location. To recruit talent and host client meetings, look at office spaces and a conference room or common area.

    With the opportunities in mobile workforces, if you won’t need an office fulltime, consider workspace-sharing options in your area.

  • Do lunch

    As agency life goes on, and madness ensues, you might find yourself eating at your desk, or not at all. Find time in the early days to make the lunch hour­ one of opportunity. We frequented local restaurants, met with potential partners, clients and vendors, and at least for myself, it served as great practice for the big lunch meetings that would come.

    Take advantage of every opportunity a prospect or client will give you to enjoy a coffee, drink, or meal, to help them see your personal side, and give them a reason beyond pricing and services to jump on board.

  • Build relationships & network without selling

    Naturally you are on the hunt for new clients, and you want them yesterday, but try and remain focused on the relationship-building side of networking. We attended local business and industry events, connected with past co-workers, colleagues and friends, as well as Paul took an active role in leadership organizations throughout the city.

    In addition, as a PR firm, it was also critical to build media relationships in the markets we served, to become a recognized and reputable source of news on behalf of our clients.

  • Don’t be too proud to ask for referrals

    When you do land your first clients, and hopefully produce some stellar work and service, don’t fear to ask for recommendations and referrals. Nearly all of our early clients spun from a web of current or past clients, and professional networks. Good work begets new work when you serve quality clients who don’t mind sharing you with friends.

  • Don’t bring the financial stresses home with you, or to the office

    As a startup, you’ve accepted the fact that it will take time to build revenue and profits. With family, spouses and friends in your corner, it’s best to keep the stresses of the finances and operations to yourself, at least at first. Same for your first employees who have taken the leap of faith.

    It was a long time before Paul started sharing the ins and outs of agency management, and how much clients were or weren’t paying us. Had I carried these stresses early on, I wouldn’t have been able to focus on delivering the critical work needed to recruit and retain our early clients. 

In Reflection

Though my life has changed dramatically since my early days at PR 20/20, and our agency has grown and evolved, Paul’s vision and sacrifice has paved the way for incredible opportunities for our team.

As an agency founder, if you find early team members that feel honored just to be a part of it, no matter what challenges faced along the way, you will all be able to share the fondness of where you started, and how far you’ve come together.

What are you doing in your early days to establish your agency, and become a trusted partner for your clients?