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Resourceful Designer podcast: Offering tips, tricks and advice for starting and growing your graphic or web design business.

Generational Clients: A Cautionary Tale and How to Retain Them.

Hello, fellow designers! I want to dive into a topic that hit me like a ton of bricks only recently—generational clients. More importantly, I want to discuss how to ensure you don’t lose them like I have. To get the whole story, listen to the podcast episode.

As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20; in this case, I’ve learned that the hard way. Let me recount some tales involving long-term clients and the pitfalls of not preparing for generational changes within their businesses.

The Reality of Generational Clients.

A generational client typically involves a family-run small business where the owner passes the baton to a younger family member. This transition sounds simple, but if you’re unprepared, you might find yourself in the cold.

Just recently, after 22 years of designing t-shirts for a dance school’s annual recital, my client’s daughter, who is taking over the business, decided to go in a different direction. Reflecting on this, I realized it wasn’t the first time I’d experienced such a scenario. I had lost clients twice before when the business transitioned from parent to child.

For instance, I had a home inspection client for whom I’d done everything from logo to website design. Upon his retirement, his son took over and immediately opted for a different designer—someone he knew from high school. Similarly, a plumbing business passed from father to son led to no further calls for my services simply because I had no relationship with the son.

The Crux of the Problem.

In each case, my relationship was solely with the original owner. I never invested time building a rapport with the next generation, leading to a complete cutoff when transitions occurred. My hubris made me believe the parent would ensure their child utilized my services, but that was far from reality.

The lesson here is stark—relationships are the bedrock of loyalty. The new guard, stepping in, had no ties to me and, thus, no reason to continue using my services. This disconnect can happen in any business, not just family-run operations.

Turning the Insight into Action.

So, if you have clients with such dynamics, here is what you need to do:

  1. Identify Generational Clients: Pinpoint clients who might pass their business down to the next generation or another leader.
  2. Build Relationships Early: Start integrating yourself into the family or company structure. Know the potential future leaders as well as you know the current ones.
  3. Communicate Your Value: Regularly showcase your contributions and the value you bring to the table so it’s clear to everyone involved.
  4. Initiate Interaction: If possible, involve the next generation in current projects. Let them see firsthand the quality and reliability you offer.
  5. Be Proactive: Have conversations about the future and make your intentions clear. Suggest meetings to discuss how you can support ongoing and future business needs. I’ve already identified two key clients I need to reach out to and build relationships with their next-in-line successors: a family-run business led by a father in his seventies and an organizational leader nearing retirement. I aim to make myself indispensable to them just as I was to their predecessors.

Take the next step.

If these stories of lost clients resonate with you, it’s time to act. Evaluate your current client base and forecast potential generational changes. Don’t let the transitions catch you off guard. Start today by reaching out, engaging, and building those all-important relationships that will secure your business continuity for years to come.

Your homework: Take a moment to assess which of your clients might be preparatory for a generational shift. Then, create a plan to establish those crucial connections. Trust me, your future self will thank you.

Until next time, keep designing and nurturing those valuable relationships.

Stay Creative!

CLICK HERE to download a PDF transcription of this episode. This transcript was created with the help of AI and transcription tools. It has not been edited for errors or accuracy.

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