The hardest part of starting any business is getting clients. Whether you own a restaurant, are an attorney, an author, or an insurance broker, clients are your most valuable asset. The energy required to develop a client base at the start can seem overwhelming. However, if you treat each new client like the very first, your time spent prospecting will decrease as your business grows. It is better to have 50 clients who each feel like they are your one and only than it is to have 100 clients who think you're mediocre. Those clients will eventually go elsewhere, lured away by even the smallest dangling carrot.

So how do you keep your clients for life? It's actually very easy. If your clients like you, trust you, and feel that you have their best interest in mind at all times, it will take a very compelling offer to make them go astray. For example, I get calls on a monthly basis from clients asking my opinion on something they have recently heard.

"Gretchen at work told me that pre-existing conditions went away when Obama passed health care reform. When I told her that my anxiety medicine isn't covered because it was a pre-existing condition, she said I need to find another broker."

In this example, my client is coming directly to me with a concern over something she has heard. Do I think her reason for telling me this is because she wants to hurt my feelings? Of course not. I know her reason for choosing to share this criticism is because she sincerely wants to remain my client and to understand why A, her co-worker is wrong, or B, why I haven't recommended this course of action for her specific situation. My client has come to me with this information because she likes me, she trusts me and she knows I have her best interest in mind.

Therefore, as long as I don't respond with, "I dunno. Maybe your co-worker needs to keep her thoughts to herself," I will put her mind at ease and she will remain my client.

I consider questions and concerns to be just another opportunity for consistent communication with my clients. The more time we spend talking, emailing, or sometimes even meeting for lunch, the better chance that they will remain clients through thick and thin. At the very least, they will give me the benefit of the doubt and come to me before looking for another broker.

Constant communication is imperative to maintaining the proper relationship with your clients. You don't have to call them every day (in fact, that would most assuredly achieve the opposite goal) however, a monthly phone call, a monthly email, birthday cards and Christmas cards, and a monthly or quarterly newsletter are all you need to foster the right level of communication for just about any client/professional relationship.

This level of communication is not suffocating, but it ensures you are always in the not-so-far back of their mind when they have a question about their insurance or financial plans, or when someone tempts them with another offer.

The most important element to a life-long client relationship is that you truly have each of your clients' best interests in mind. This is the part that cannot be so easily taught. You either do or you don't.

Hopefully - especially in this industry - you do. I can almost guarantee that if you ignore high-commission products that may not be appropriate and instead offer what you know is best (and in some cases, this option might not pay anything) you will eventually, and probably quite quickly, be more successful.

I cannot tell you the number of clients I helped get non-commission products who within three months time had referred one or more clients to me. And as with any business, a referral is the best client you can ever get.

Spend your time and energy fostering the client relationships you have now, and the new ones you develop. Long-term benefits cannot be disputed, but you won't have to wait five years to realize these benefits. Nurturing client relationships can prove advantageous almost immediately.

Carst is a self-employed broker and consultant. She is the co-founder of Women Insurance Professionals, a non-profit organization that helps women with the licensing process and career support. Reach her at acarst@hotmail.com.

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