How to Get (and Keep!) More Clients by Being More Likeable

Summary: In this episode, I reveal 14 practical tips for developing a more magnetic personality without changing who you are.

My friend Carey is an amazing gal. The kind of person you immediately connect with.

She has a very positive energy about her. She's smart, funny, enthusiastic and always willing to help out.

Sound like someone you'd like to be around? Well, I bet you know someone just like Carey. Someone who's always fun to be around and off-the-charts "likeable."

The interesting thing about these likeable folks is that they tend to be more successful than their peers. They get better clients, they earn more, their businesses grow faster. It's quite remarkable!

That's not just a personal observation. There are decades of research that support this assertion. The Gallup Organization has conducted a "personality factor" poll in every election since 1960; it measures just three factors: issues, party affiliation and likeability. Only one of these factors has been a reliable prognosticator of election results: the candidate's likeability.

In their book Axis of Influence: How Credibility and Likeability Intersect to Drive Success, Michael Lovas and Pam Holloway cite a well-known study in which only 17% of 6,852 business decision makers could recall more than one time when they bought a product or service from someone they did NOT like.

Likeable people seem to attract great things to them. They get better service at restaurants. They receive better treatment from their doctors. They get more attention from their teachers and professors.

And they get more and better-paying clients!

"Applied behavioral economics indicates that 70% of economic decision making is emotionally driven," says Terry Murray, managing partner of Performance Transformation LLC, a professional coaching and strategic development company that focuses on entrepreneurs. "This means that how prospects feel about doing business with you is more important than what they think about doing business with you."
>Fortunately, "likeability" is a skill that can be learned. As a freelancer or solopreneur, there are things you can do to make yourself more likeable - and to do so in a very authentic way.

What follows are 14 practical tips to landing (and keeping!) more clients by becoming more likeable.

#1: Find Clients Who Appreciate Who You Are

"It's difficult, if not impossible, to feign likeability and interest. So the advice to show interest in the other person or to force yourself to develop rapport is misguided," says Caroline Ceniza-Levine, a former recruiter and now a career and business coach.

According to Caroline, a better approach is to focus more on client selection and on finding those clients who appreciate exactly who you are. Seek people who will appreciate your unique talents by reaching out to existing clients you like.

"And not just in terms of getting referrals from them but also asking them what about you and your services resonated, what do they enjoy about working with you, how did they find you (this one is key!). Then replicate what's working so you get more of these types of clients," she says.

#2: Be Incredibly Easy to Work With

It's surprising how many solos make it difficult for clients to do business with them. They miss deadlines, don't return calls, submit shoddy work and just don't come through as promised.

In fact, the bar has been set so low that if you can strive to be the consummate professional at all times, that's all it takes to land and keep the business (provided you can do the work, of course!).

"Forget the adage 'You shouldn't care what anyone thinks about you.' That's baloney," says Molly A. Badgett, president of Simple-Advice Marketing, Inc. "You should always care if you want to get and keep business. It's about humility in all the right places."

That doesn't mean being a doormat, billing less than what you're worth or apologizing too frequently. But it does mean knowing when to say, "Oops, I really screwed that up. I'm sorry about that. Let me do it over ASAP, at no cost to you."

Also, Badgett suggests that you avoid nickel-and-diming your clients. Doing so places too much focus on the short-term gain and not enough on earning the client's repeat business. "If you're focused only on the money, you'll lose sight of what matters, and the money will dry up."

#3: Bring the Right Energy to Every Interaction

Clients don't want just experience, technical chops and reliability. They also want to work with happy and self-confident professionals. No one wants to chat with a service provider who sounds as though his or her dog just died.

This is not about faking enthusiasm. It's about bringing the right energy into every client and prospect interaction. "We have to be aware of what gets in our way," says Michelle Tillis Lederman, author of The 11 Laws of Likability (AMACOM). "Our own self-image, how others perceive us, the energy we bring to a situation all can work for or against us."

A specific tip Michelle suggests for shifting your energy when entering a situation that you may not be excited about is to think about something that you are excited about "” and to do that right before the encounter. It could be an upcoming vacation or a call you had with an old friend.

Says Michelle, "Recapture those positive feelings right beforehand, and your facial expression and demeanor will reflect an energy that makes the other person feel good."

#4: Develop a Personal Relationship With Your Clients

A lot of advice for freelancers and solopreneurs shuns the notion of personal contact with clients. "It takes up too much time" is the common rationale. But it's hard to make personal connections with people when your communication is limited to phone calls and emails. (It's not impossible, just harder.)

If your clients are located close by, take advantage of this by building your relationship with personal contact. Treat some select clients to lunch once in a while. Or meet for a quick coffee.

Pete Savage, co-author of The Wealthy Freelancer - (Penguin/Alpha), likes to bring a tray of Starbucks coffees to his local clients whenever he visits their offices. "This gesture always gets a round of smiles and genuine appreciation," he says. "More important, it creates a relaxed tone that invariably opens up a few minutes of casual, personal banter before we get down to business."

Even day-to-day interactions present opportunities to get to know your clients and prospects on a more personal level. "When you call a client, ask how their weekend was," says Michael Kaiser-Nyman, CEO and founder of Impact Dialing. "And when someone asks how you're doing, share something short but personal. 'I'm great! I saw this really amazing movie last night that just lifted me up. Have you seen "¦?'"

If you think these personal niceties between clients and freelancers are all an act, think again. You may genuinely enjoy interacting with some clients on a personal level. And "surprise!” they may genuinely enjoy your company just as much. Your lunch together just might be the highlight of someone's otherwise unpleasant day!

And being a bright spot in the heart and mind of someone who has the authority to send projects your way is a great thing.

#5: Find Common Ground

A similar idea is to try to find common ground with your prospects and clients. For instance, if you know that your prospect or client is a Vanderbilt University alumnus and your oldest daughter just got accepted by Vanderbilt, you'd be crazy not to mention this. That's a genuine conversation starter that will immediately forge a bond.

Just the other day I was talking with a new client about the marketing tactics of some of the big food brands. She mentioned that her 2-year-old son had never had soda. I told her that my wife and I don't drink soda, so our son didn't even know what Coca-Cola was until he went to a friend's birthday party at age 4. We laughed about how difficult it is to shelter your kids from all the junk out there. And that conversation led us to share more about our kids and the funny things they say.

It's easy to get carried away with this, so be careful not to overdo it. Try to find common ground when it feels natural and authentic to you.

#6: Show Your Appreciation

I have a tradition of sending my clients yummy treats every December. I used to use a variety of companies, but I've recently settled on cookie towers from Dancing Deer Baking Co., which my friend and colleague Dianna Huff turned me on to.

My clients absolutely love these unique (and irresistible!) gifts. They thank me repeatedly, and I know the cookies make a big impression "” one they don't quickly forget.

But you don't need to spend more than the cost of a First-Class stamp to make a lasting impression on your prospects and clients. The good old-fashioned, handwritten thank-you card is a lost art in today's email culture. And that's good for you, because if you send these out, they will buy you just as much goodwill as a basket of homemade cookies (perhaps even more!).

"Bring to mind the last time someone said 'thank you' to you," says Jason Womack, author of Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More. "How did you feel? More connected, perhaps. Good, no doubt. Now, turn that around. What would happen if you 'noticed' your customers (and your potential customers)?"

Jason has developed a practice of writing and mailing one handwritten card a day, every day, to let his clients, prospects and colleagues know how much he appreciates who they are and what they do. "Over the past 10 years of doing this, I continue to get phone calls 'out of the blue' from people; I think it's because they like me!"

#7: Show Them the "Real You"

Here's some low-tech social media advice you rarely hear: When you participate in social media conversations, make sure to use these platforms to show prospects, clients and customers the "real you."

Sure, provide the occasional business tip. Or link to your new blog post. But that's what everyone else is doing. So why not show them you're a real person by posting updates about things you're passionate about?

I love to cook, so I've been known to post pictures of my grilled creations. Or I'll quote something one of my silly kids just said. Or I'll pose a question, such as "How can we encourage more young entrepreneurs?" I try to keep it interesting, humorous and different. And always authentic.

Prospects and clients want to know who you really are beyond your business. They want to know what you're all about. Because at the end of the day, people buy from people, not from businesses. And above all, they buy from people they like.

#8: Focus on Your Client's End Goal

When interacting with clients and prospects, it's important to look beyond the project at hand and think about the client's end goal. In other words, clients aren't looking for just a design, new content, a workshop or software code. They're looking to meet core strategic objectives (e.g., grow the business, get more donors, etc.).

"Use your expertise to help them get to their end goal," says Dina Moy, CEO of Inkba.com. "And if there is a problem, don't just bring the problem, bring a suggested solution." When you focus on adding value, you're focusing on others instead of yourself. That will automatically make you more likable and more successful.

A related habit to develop is to help your client beyond the actual project. If you see something that may be relevant or you meet someone who can help the client, share the information or make the introduction. "When you move beyond the borders of a single project, you can take a more holistic look at the client and your long-term relationship with him or her," says Moy.

#9: Be Passionate About Your Work

Nothing will attract people to you like a deep, sincere passion for your own work and craft. So if you love what you do, make sure that it shows in your conversations, emails, website, social media sites and all marketing communications.

I'm not suggesting you should do anything completely out of character. It's not about jumping up and down on Oprah's couch a la Tom Cruise if that's not your style.

Show your passion in a way that's true to your personality. But don't hold back. People want to be around others who are passionate about their work. They want to be moved and inspired. So commit to showing your passion.

And if you're not really that passionate about what you do, make it a top goal to rekindle that passion. This may involve big changes in the services you offer, or it may entail going after a different type of clientele.

Yes, those changes can be very disruptive. But if they can also bring the joy back into your business, they all will be worth it.

#10: Make the Conversation About Them

Prospects want to learn as much as they can about you and the work you do before making a hiring decision. This doesn't mean, however, that they want you to dominate every aspect of the conversation. They also want to be able to tell you about their objectives and challenges so they can be sure that you "get it."

They can't do that if you're focusing the conversation on yourself.

"Make the conversation about the other and not about you," says Shel Horowitz, a marketing consultant and author of eight books, including Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green. "Listen more than you talk. And when you do talk, focus your words on reflecting back what you're hearing in a natural way."

Shel also suggests not giving advice unless you're asked or you've received permission to do so. And when you do give advice, make it business friendly, helpful and useful, not condescending. "This attitude has been absolutely key in growing my freelance marketing consulting, publishing consulting and copywriting businesses and in building alliances to promote my books."

#11: Identify and Adapt to the Other's Personality

I'm not a fan of pretending to be someone you're not. But there's something to be said about adapting to a prospect's or client's personality when you interact with him or her. Getting on a similar wavelength goes a long way to establishing rapport and trust, as long as you don't get carried away.

For instance, say you call a prospect for the first time. You've exchanged a few emails, but this is the first time you've actually chatted. As soon as she picks up the phone you can tell that she's the high-energy and enthusiastic type. If you want to make a good first impression, it's important that you try to match her style as best you can "” without being phony or unnatural.

Again, there's a fine line here. You have to decide how to best adjust your own dial in order to make the conversation flow well. Just be aware that prospects naturally seek people like themselves when evaluating freelancers and consultants. That's human nature. As long as you don't feel way out of your comfort zone, try to adjust your mood and energy to match the prospect's.

#12: Keep Your Name in Front of Them

Another proven way to become more likeable has to do with frequency. The more people see someone or something, the more they naturally come to like and trust that person or thing.

"Coke runs commercials during the Super Bowl, not so that you will run out and buy a Coke in the moment but so that next time you are at the supermarket and you see a Coke next to a generic soda, you will buy the Coke (even though it is more expensive) because you trust it more," explains Mike Michalowicz, author of The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur.

As a solo professional, you can use the same concept to your advantage. Mike suggests that you identify the three most important social/networking arenas for your target clients. Maybe it's an industry association, the local chamber of commerce or a forum on the Web. "You should always have a presence in all these venues. You will achieve more frequent contact with your clients and prospects, and they will automatically like you more."

#13: Respect and Be Kind to Everyone

My dad has a saying: "You can tell a lot about a person by the way he or she treats waiters, children and animals."

He's absolutely right. (No, there's no connection between waiters/waitresses, children and animals, so please don't send me hate mail!)

I don't want to have anything to do with someone who treats waitstaff in a degrading or condescending way. Because if you do that, you probably treat other people the same way. And if you look at kids as though they're lepers or my dog as though she's Satan ... well, that tells me a lot about your heart.

Seriously, though, what this world needs is more kindness. More respect for one another. More compassion. Treat others with love and kindness, and you'll start attracting amazing people and circumstances into your life.

'Nuff said! 😉

#14: Always Do What You Say You'll Do

Finally, if you want to develop a likeable personality, make it a habit to always do what you say you'll do.

There's a severe shortage of basic business etiquette these days "” especially among freelancers and solos. I honestly don't know why. There are way too many missed deadlines, unreturned calls and broken promises.

So if you commit to being the solo professional who always comes through "” who always delivers as promised "” you'll quickly develop a great reputation for high integrity and reliability.

This alone is a real competitive differentiator. And it will make you very, very likeable!

What About You?

What do think makes you likeable? Think about your clients. What is it about you that makes them come back for more?

Share your ideas and comments in the area below. Let's start a healthy discussion on this important topic.


  • A very fine article. a lot more then thanks for sharing it. Hosted dialer | http://www.drdialer.com

  • Absolutely. Integrity, trust and politeness. The thing I find most important is integrity, as you said. I'd rather do the job for free if I messed up than have the client disappointed. Important to keep oneself truthful. Thanks.

  • Amazing article! I'm proud to see myself in many, if not all, of these suggestions. Many clients and friends have told me that I'm likeable and for these reasons, and I am absolutely humbled by that. Thank you for providing this info so that others can strive for the same thing!

    • edgandia

      Glad you enjoyed the article, Dawn-Renée !! Thanks for checking it out and for your kind words. 🙂

  • Michelle is a genius! This article was just what I needed for my business. I thank you very much, and I will return often.

    Jilly

  • Pingback: 2 Resources For Entrepreneurs | SixFigureStart®()

  • Larry

    Hi Ed
    Your 14 practical tips are great ...this all hovers around speaking the truth in the first place
    and backing it up with your actions.
    In the process of so-doing people will leave the others and come to you.
    Great words of wisdom...

    • edgandia

      Great way to put it, Larry! Thanks.

  • Michael Katz

    Great insights, Ed! Thanks for summing it all up so well.
    Michael

    • edgandia

      Thanks, Michael! Great to see you here. 😉

  • Someone told me years ago that if you just meet your deadlines and deliver what you promise, you will already be head and shoulders above most service providers. When I think about all the vendors I've tried to give money to over the years who didn't return a phone call or who made me chase them down, I know it's true. That advice has stuck with me and I make it a cornerstone of my business--I always strive to be the consummate professional! On those rare occasions that we miss a deadline, I always offer a discount or added work to make up for it. Seems like the right thing to do. For me it's simple: I think how I would appreciate being treated by a service provider I've hired, and then I act accordingly.

    • edgandia

      So true, Ally! The Golden Rule is timeless. That's a great way to do business -- putting yourself in the client's shoes. Good to hear from you!

  • Amandah

    What makes me likeable is that I don't say, "I don't know." I worked for a NYSE-listed national real estate company and this phrase drove the vice president and controller of the department I worked in nuts. They wanted to hear, "I'll find out and get back to you." Both were focused on finding out 'why' the department was over budget in certain areas. Bottom line answers were appreciated!
    A freelance client exampleI had a client ask if I'd be willing to work onsite for a few weeks so I could get to know her and the employees. She also felt it would give me a better understanding of her company. I told her it wouldn't be a problem to work onsite for a few days per week because she's only 15 minutes away. I thought it would be nice to get out of the house for a few hours. It's worked out. Getting to know my clientI got to know my client and her employees on a personal level. They feel I'm a part of 'their team' and tell me over and over again how much they appreciate me. The feeling is mutual. It feels good to know I'm making a difference and that my client 'sees' the value I add to her, her company, and employees.What I've learned I attended a webinar from Jon Morrow, and I liked what he said about "not thinking of people as ATM Machines." He's right. I know how I feel when I purchase a product or service, and I get the feeling the person really doesn't care if I'm a satisfied customer. It's kind of like, "Wham, bam, thank you m'am! I made a sale, more money for me." I'm becoming more aware and tuning into people before I click the "purchase button." I know clients are doing this too. They want to work with people who genuinely care and don't look at them as another sale.

    • edgandia

      What a fantastic, can-do attitude! Love it! And I totally agree with you on the "ATM" thing. As a consumer, I'm continually shocked at the short-term, transactional thinking out there. There's much more focus on lifetime customer value today. But overall, businesses are still way too focused on the current transaction... and not enough on keeping the customer for life.

  • Jennifer Nice

    These are terrific, common-sense tips. Thank you! I always send a hand-written thank you note. The other thing I do is send an evaluation via survey monkey at the end of the project so I can get feedback. Even if a client doesn't fill out the survey, they usually respond to my email with constructive feedback.

    • edgandia

       Jennifer -- LOVE the survey idea! Very cool.

  • Number 3 and number 11 really makes sense to me. I try to create the right energy for the situation, and love it when people do the same for me. Whether you call it emotion or energy or being likeable, it's a powerful and pleasurable space to occupy!

    • edgandia

      So true, isn't it? And yet I rarely read about this. Such an important point. Thanks for your comment!

  • Ed -- Sometimes I flirt with the idea of adding this tagline to my business cards, "I'm not a prima donna." I can't tell you how many gigs I've gotten over the years because the former consultant / freelancer was too hard to work with, not flexible, didn't meet deadlines, etc. etc. etc. 

    • edgandia

       Amen to THAT!!

  • Ed, I'm always appreciative of your solid, comprehensive (and friendly!) advice. Thanks.

    • edgandia

       Thanks so much, Tom!! You've made my day. 😉

  • Suzanne

    I've said before that probably 80% or more of being successful at what I do is being a good and willing listener. After that, it's doing the best that I can to provide a solution to the problems my clients are facing. Not providing quality work, or not meeting deadlines is only adding to their problems and therefore they would be smart to not use you again. If, however, you provide exactly what they asked for (or better) on time ... you are their hero for the day. And ... they are likely to think of you first when they need something similar again!! Especially if you were also friendly and nice to work with as well 🙂

    • edgandia

       Dead on, Suzanne!! yes, yes, yes! 😉

  • Noelle

    Great article Ed!  #6 made me smile - I think I might attempt it!  

    • edgandia

       Awesome!! Hey...... is this my friend Noelle A.??

  • Patti DeNucci

    This is one of the most spot-on and complete articles I've seen on this topic, Ed!  When you know, like, remember & trust someone, doing business or referring the person comes naturally and with confidence.

    • edgandia

       Oh, wow! Thanks, Patti! Glad to hear you enjoyed the info. Completely agree with you re: what it takes to get the biz and to get referred.