Call me a sceptic if you like but once
you’ve been in business for a while there are two common elements to pretty
much every new client:
- Every client’s idea is going to be the next big thing (in their eyes anyway).
- Every client has so many contacts that they’ll generate you more business than you can possibly handle
Both statements are usually used to
encourage you to give them a bigger discount or agree to some form of
partnership. I’m not saying you should immediately dismiss what they’re saying,
the best business comes off personal referral from a past client but instead
take it with a pinch of salt.
Don’t feel that you need to agree to any
partnership etc on the spot, go home, have a drink and then weigh up whether
you feel what they’re saying can be backed by what you see or whether it’s
likely to be a load of baloney. You really should look at every client as a
long term relationship rather than a one-off squeeze.
While on the subject of investment
partnerships with clients I think in the right situation they are a superb
idea. Since setting up The Site Doctor we’ve setup a number of investment
partnerships with our clients which have in some cases been very profitable,
others not so. The trick is to form your own opinion, if the client suggests
you do all your work for free and they’ll invest their time, ask yourself why
they don’t have faith in their own idea to invest any capital. Sometimes they
don’t have the capital ready and it’s a great idea, sometimes the investments
can be quantified equally through doing this just don’t let them talk you into
something your gut says is wrong.
What I tend to suggest in the case that
they can’t raise the full amount for your services is suggest a part share,
part capital payment but again you must decide how much the shares are worth.
It does take a little time to investigate someone else’s proposed business but
you’ll be kicking yourself if you don’t!
Once you decided whether or not to invest
your time and you’ve negotiated the best deal you possibly can make sure you
get it down in writing. This is very important and we’ve been caught out with
this in the past. We had a client who suggested a 15% turnover share for the
first year to cover 50% of the development costs. We negotiated over email and
had the agreement written down, where we were caught out however was with a
misunderstanding on our behalf –we assumed that we would get 12 monthly
commission payments but what wasn’t clarified was the client offered the first
month of subscription free –so straight away we were down to 11 months. Then
thanks to WorldPay, the first payment wasn’t received
until 2 months after the customer paid which meant we only received 10 months of
payments –luckily we’ve got good relations with the client and it was resolved
So if you’re going to go into an investment
like this, make sure all the cards are on the table otherwise you may not be as
lucky as we were! Before finishing this point, I personally wouldn’t agree to a
profit share on the investment without having a breakdown of all the expenses
otherwise an unscrupulous client may over-inflate the expenses and so reduce
Having a portfolio is a great start, depending on your industry this may not be possible.
If you’re starting out and have no portfolio (and have time) then why not
generate a few mock-ups of your work, don’t spend too long generating them and
they don’t need to be perfect working examples but people do tend to respond
better to something they can touch/see.
The classic phrase of “it’s not what you
know –it’s who you know that matters” couldn’t be truer. When I setup The Site Doctor I was lucky to have some excellent contracts through a good friend
Vladimir Srdanovic, though previously a developer he felt that he no-longer
wished to develop but instead just generate new business. I was keen and ready
to develop on a mass scale so teaming up made sense.
If you’re not lucky enough to have someone
like Vlad within your midst already then networking
is an ideal way to generate new business and as you grow will become
invaluable, whatever hang-ups you may have (age, gender etc) don’t let them
come into the equation.
Your local Chamber of Commerce will most
likely host events, the fee depends on your local Chamber of Commerce, but the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce for example charges an annual fee, after which
the majority of events are free to attend. We were a member of Birmingham
Chamber of Commerce for a couple of years however last year we opted out
because of the mentality within our local chamber. On reflection I would
probably opt to try more dedicated events such as those run by dedicated
networking companies but be prepared to pay through the nose.
Don’t forget that networking isn’t just
about making useful contacts to sell to, it’s also a chance for you to meet
your competition and other people involved in your industry. I’ve been meaning
to find time to setup a new media type networking group up in the
Midlands for a while but I believe the Multipack [http://www.multipack.co.uk/] does
pretty much the same thing as I was proposing.
Meeting your competition and others
involved in your industry is also useful because they may be able to throw you
work that they’re not able to undertake for themselves, for instance you’ll
find many design agencies have a mutual agreement with a development company in
place by which they pass web development work to their partner and vice-versa.
It’s also worth noting that networking is
no-longer just a face-face meeting event thanks to online networking sites such
as SoFlow and LinkedIn to
mention a couple, getting involved in these online communities may not generate
any business directly but will again give you the opportunity to promote your
As time goes by, you’ll be surprised where
your business will come from –always be pleasant to people and whenever
possible have time for people as they’re bound to thank you in one way or another
later. It’s always worth thinking long-term with any new contact, they may not
contact you straight away but get in touch from time to time and you never know
what may come of it.
When you’re at a networking event –in fact anytime you could bump into a potential client make sure you have plenty of business cards available with you. The best thing you can do to save fumbling through every pocket trying to find a card is to have 5-10 cards in each pocket (yes EVERY pocket!). That way no matter which hand you reach with you’ll quickly find a card. For those times you’re not expecting, keep a few cards in your wallet too or perhaps attached to the back of your phone* -basically with anything you take with you everywhere. Keep the supply refreshed too, I’ve been caught out before and you may just miss a great opportunity!
*I’ve not tried this but it’s a thought!
“Keep your hands free” -that was something I was told by a networking advisor and has always stuck with me and it makes sense, they always have a lot of free food/drink at these networking events so avoid the rookie mistake of piling a plate high of food and taking a glass of wine in the other hand –how will shake hands on introduction? Have a small plate of food and/or a glass of wine* –it keeps at least one hand free to shake hands with or hand out business cards!
*Some events shell out on fancy clips that hold the glass on the side of your plate but don’t get me started on those! Just don’t try is the best advice I can offer there ;)
Fantastic tip! This is something that we do
but haven’t pushed a great deal –a while ago, The Site Doctor teamed up with a Bristol based Mobile Development company called Mobile Pie, I grew up with one
of the owners Richard Wilson while at school and felt that his services
complimented ours. By teaming up we’re able to offer a broader set of skills
without taking on additional cost. By reselling their services you can also
start making money without needing to do all the work.
Along the same lines, if you’re going into web development, identify and be-friend good/great design companies, if you’re
able to get 2 or 3 design companies on your side then you’ll probably find
they’ll bring enough work to keep you busy all year around.
You’ll find your own style of meeting once you’ve had a few meetings with your new clients and the format of these meetings will obviously depend on your business sector but here are a few (some obvious) tips to having a successful meeting.
Before the meeting
- When arranging the meeting or at least before the meeting contact the client and ask them whether there is anything specific they would like to discuss.
- Prepare! It’s probably best to think of a meeting a little like a job interview, before your meeting do your research into the company.
The day before
Get everything together the day before your meeting, if needs be have a list of all the items you need to take with you and tick each one off. At the least I would get together:
- A pen and pad of paper (make sure there’s ink in your pen!)
- Contact details of the client –I would write these on paper rather than just relying on your mobile
- Directions to the client
- Any supporting documentation for the meeting
- Whatever you plan to wear. Deciding what you’re going to wear the night before the meeting saves time on the day and ensures that you’re not left needing to iron your shirt 10 minutes after you should have left…
What should you wear?
What to wear comes down to your personal feelings and what you feel is appropriate for the client. When I first set out I would wear a suit to every meeting as I felt it was what was expected of me –I expect this came partly from the fact that I went to a public school but also from the image I had portrayed in my mind but choosing what to wear isn’t always that cut-and-dry.
More recently I’ve been going to meetings more casually dressed, this is carefully judged however from my research of the company before the meeting (or after the initial meeting) but I’ve found that when dealing with SMEs –especially when you’re dealing with the founder of the business people seem to respond better. Wearing smart casual clothes also portrays the image that you’re comfortable with yourself and confident in what you’re doing.
Steve told me an interesting story about one of his friends who runs a very successful industrial heating and air conditioning company. This guy has a phenomenal turnover (his average contract is into 6 figures) but said that he soon realised he got most of his business when he turned up in a dirty boiler suit. His theory is that his clients feel that he as the MD is not afraid to roll up his sleeves and muck in.
That’s not to say however that there’s no place for the suit! I still wear a suit to corporate clients as it’s what’s expected, I love wearing a suit I’m just saying wear whatever you feels right for the client and industry.
On the day
- Be yourself, what you wear is crucial to this, if you don’t like wearing a suit or jeans then don’t. Getting a new client is all about being able to bond with the client, feel comfortable in yourself (and not putting on a front) and you’ll find it a lot easier to find some common ground. You’ll also find that people can see through you if you’re putting on an act, if this is your first meeting, that’s not a very good way of building your trust!
- Get there early. 10 minutes early is sufficient, if you get there earlier, wait in the car or around the corner but whatever you do, don’t be late. Yes you could argue that it’s because you’re so busy, but I feel it shows that you don’t care about the client more! If you’re going to be late due to i.e. the traffic, call the client and let them know 30 minutes – an hour before hand (with mobile phones you don’t have an excuse now!)
- Have fresh breath –nobody likes talking to someone with smelly breath and if you’re up against a couple of competitor companies you certainly want to be remembered but not as the “guy with the bad breath”. Keep some chewing gum, mints or even mouth wash in your car or laptop bag
- “To Tea or not To Tea” that is the question! I’ve found this can really disrupt a meeting if it’s a one-man-band. When the client asks if you’d like a drink, best respond something along the lines of “only if you’re having one” –if they walk in with a fresh brew you don’t want them to waste 10 minutes of your scheduled time making you a drink when you could be selling!
- Make notes. When you get into the meeting, open your notepad to a fresh page, head it up (client name, date, attendees etc) and leave it open with the pen/pencil ready to use. Pay attention to the client, remember what you can but if there’s something you feel is important write it down –all to often I’ve got out of a meeting, intending to make a note of something I’ve forgotten! Don’t make the same mistake. Make notes about the little things, names of the client’s family, birthdays etc as it will allow you to personalise future correspondence.
- Listen to what the client is saying. I can’t stress this enough, showing an interest in what they’re saying is important as the client is bound to give you lots of useful information –not necessarily about the job in hand but perhaps information you can use to your advantage later i.e. knowing they don’t like Whiskey would come in useful when sending them a gift.
- Don’t invite distractions to the meeting. I’ve decided against taking a laptop into meetings these days because they make the meeting very disjointed and it’s often unneeded –especially in the initial client meetings, opening your laptop screen between you and the client is like erecting a large wall between you! Make sure your phone/BlackBerry/PDA is turned off and any.
- Thanks to Mike A: Try to avoid talking business for the first 10-15 minutes of the meeting, use this time to talk about anything else possible. Look around the room and pickup on anything you can use as a talking point –perhaps it’s an example of their product or a family photo.
After the meeting
Whether you consider it successful or not make contact with the client after your meeting thanking them for their time and remind them of any information they’re meant to send you and/or any tasks you’ll be doing for them.
Client and Supplier Relations
Personally I think having good relations with all your clients is incredibly important. As I’ve said several times in this series of articles already, the best business comes from referrals, never underestimate the value of a good word. It really must speak volumes when a potential client contacts you and you’re able to say “look through our portfolio and feel free to contact any of the clients listed for a reference”.
Having excellent client relations isn’t really hard, give them an shining service, keep it personal, be open and honest and keep in contact after they’ve paid, I don’t mean call them up and talk for hours everyday but drop them an email or a call once in a while asking if there’s anything you can do to help them and if you supplied a service or good to them such as a website ask whether it’s still meeting their needs. Making this little effort can often land you more work as there are numerous times I’ve contacted a client to say hi and they’ve said “Oh hi Tim, I’ve been meaning to call you about xyz for a while”… Remember that your clients are no-doubt just as busy as you so make it easy for them to contact you.
The theory behind excellent client relations is that a happy client who has received an excellent service will come back -and- refer you to other clients. An unhappy client however who feels they have had a poor service will not only not give you their next piece of work, but they will tell a number of other people about the bad service they received. Someone once told me that 8 happy clients may refer you to one other client by one unhappy client will let 8 other potential clients know!
If you’ve had a good service, let them know. All to often people are quick to criticise and point out the faults with any given situation so thanking someone for a good service is a real breath of fresh air, it can really lift someone and make them feel that all the hard work and effort that they have put into the product and/or service given to you has been worth it. Remember that even if they’re a supplier, they may very well need your services later down the line and taking a little effort to thank them will go along way!
Absolutely, I feel karma has a lot to
answer for in business. At the end of the day, you’re the boss, if you’re seen
to be open and honest with people, they’re more likely to respond well, as your
parents have probably always said, honesty is the best
policy. If you’ve got a technical issue you may find they have a solution to it
that means less work for you. If you call them to confess to some service
downtime before one of their clients tells them, that’s got to be a good thing!
I like sending out cards and I think
excellent client relations are very important but every Christmas I hit the
same question “What should I do this year?” Each year it generally ends up with
me doing nothing but this year I actually got my act together and sent out a
couple of gifts which seemed to go down well.
Steve, my father-in-law has a client that
makes luxury hampers and he recommended I contact them to see if they could
help as the hampers were pretty darn impressive, he was right. The issue I
quickly realised was however, who should I send them to? Some of our clients
only bring in £20-30pa which didn’t really justify a £20 hamper. This year I
had already decided which clients I should send to, but while doing my books I
noticed a couple of other clients that I would have liked to send them to so
in-line with my current business reforms we came up with a system of grading
clients which I think will work well for next year.
It’s quite simple really, work out the
turnover and profit generated by each client/contact you have and grade each
one. For instance, you could spend £10 for every £1000 of business the
client/contact brings. I wouldn’t stick strictly to this however as you may
have some lower profit clients who you enjoy working with –don’t be stingy,
Then you have the issue of deciding what
gifts you would like to send out, the first year I was going to send out a few
bottles but a friend said that it was tacky, over-done and thoughtless (especially in the
city) so I didn’t bother. Try and make it relevant to your
company and different i.e.
Cocoa Creative [www.cocoacreative.co.uk] this year sent us a bar of chocolate wrapped in pink
paper, I thought that was cool, Stacey thought it was tasty. Either way it got
them a mention here which clearly means I’m thinking about them…
A word of caution: before sending out extravagant gifts to your client it is advised that you check any restrictions that may be in place on the total value of gifts allowed. I say this because there is a limit imposed on the value of any single item for doctors -at one point drug reps were giving away holidays for doctors to use their product over another so it may also apply to other industries as well.
I keep referring to clients and contacts
here because I would thank anyone that generates your business more work, it’s
a great situation to be in if you’ve got several mini-sales people!