Patrick King has written an article describing the traits architectural, engineering and construction businesses should consider in defining their client relationships: The Picture of a Perfect Customer.
There’s nothing magical nor secret in his suggestions, which relate to three Rs — Revenue, rapport and results.
Clearly, it is right that you get along well with profitable clients, and in dealing with this combination, you deliver the results they expect to receive. This leads to two more Rs — repeat and referral business (my interpretation of the additional Rs).
Related (another R) to these themes, there are elements such as research and replicability. In theory, you should be able to build your ideal client profiles and then through research seek out others with the same characteristics. But replicability may be the challenge here — great clients and the magical relationships aren’t always easy to copy; the magical chemistry doesn’t always fit into an obvious box, and clearly the closest in character to your best clients may be their direct competitors — and it may be a conflict of interest for you to work with both the client and the competitor.
We can see as well the chicken-and-egg issue about marketing in the AEC world. If your business fundamentally has strength in its relationships, service quality and natural referral business, you will find marketing initiatives to be incredibly effective but you may be hesitant to pursue them because of (a) the cost and (b) the problem in scaling up your style and business volume to handle additional clients.
If you are struggling with client satisfaction, your marketing costs will be through the roof with limited effectiveness, especially in the interconnected world where negative word-of-mouth spreads really quickly through social media and bad publicity.
The conclusion: Treat your clients well, deliver value, and understand enough about marketing and business management to effectively maintain, replenish and grow your business/practice in thoughtful ways. There isn’t much rocket science here. Just some common sense and solid business thinking.