Stuart R. Crawford (Calgary, AB - Business Development Manager of IT Matters)
We have all heard the saying that we must have the right employees on our business bus, but have you ever thought that you need to have the right clients on the bus as well? Just like having the wrong employees on your team, the wrong clients can hurt your business and create a lifestyle that you do not enjoy.
Many of us in our small business IT practices started out picking up every possible piece of business that crossed the threshold of our business in the early days; we called this picking the low hanging fruit. We needed to do this to pay our employees, bills, and maybe even have some left over for a salary. Unfortunately for many IT professionals they have never matured in their thinking and after several years of being in business they are still working for customers that do not value them, their own technology investments, haggle on every invoice, you can never satisfy them no matter what you do or they may even abuse you and your staff.
What separates the IT firms that have a satisfying business from those who struggle? Successful firms understand exactly what clients they are looking for and who they want to do business with. This message is posted everywhere in their business, on their website and every employee knows exactly what the ideal client looks like. However, they continuously strive to improve their client qualification process so they only attract the right type of clients that fits their business model. What can your business do to attract the clients that you want so you can have a fulfilling and satisfying business life?
- Do your homework – Before you even commit to a meeting or initial interview it is very important for you to do your homework about the prospect you are going to see. Research their firm on the web, check your local Chamber of Commerce or Better Business Bureau to see if there is anything posted about them. Find out what community involvement they have, ask your friends in the industry, or check out the local yellow pages.
- History – What happens if they are a new business or a startup? Entrepreneurs and business owners are always on the move, so check the history of the principals or management team of the firm. Research the past corporations that the management team has been involvement with, interview former employees or team members of the past corporations, discuss with industry experts and other companies on their experiences with the previous management team.
- Ask Questions – During the initial meeting ask some very basic questions. Remember in the initial meeting you are not there to find solutions to their problems, you are there to qualify the opportunity for your business. Ask questions like “Why did you and your last provider part ways”, “if the existing provider changed one thing what would that be”, “who was the past provider” or “how do you value technology”. There are many questions you can ask during the first meeting. What you are looking to achieve is a trend that may repeat with you. There are many small businesses that rotate through IT providers and it just maybe your turn.
- Financial Check - It is critical to do your financial research. The one thing that I have learned in business is to have a simple financial questionnaire prepared. This could be a client application form that the prospect needs to return prior to doing business with you. Tip: Always look for a complete form, if it is not complete you need to dig deeper to what the prospect maybe hiding.
- Establish Qualifying Criteria – Setup a score card system to qualify your prospects or qualifying criteria and then be firm with what it takes to become a client of your corporation. Never make exceptions, special circumstances, variables or one off cases. You must be firm when determining the clients that you want in your business. If you waffle on this, you will immediately loss the trust of your staff and team.
- Stick to your guns – Never jeopardize your values! When your company has come up with best practices and other standard ways of doing business, stick to it. Do not change the way you do business once you have proven it to be successful. Yes you must tweak things from time to time, however, don’t change what you do to win the business of a new prospect. If they are serious about working with you they will understand why you making recommendations based on your proven solutions and best practices.
- Business on handshakes doesn’t mean anything – Business can no longer be done on a handshake. As much of this hurts me to state this, it is true. The days of a person’s word are long gone. Get everything in writing. IT agreements, purchase orders and other forms of written confirmation and approval is a must in today’s world. Don’t allow yourself to be caught in a “they said/we said” debate. You will always end up with the shortest straw.
In order to grow a sustainable small business IT practice you must be very selective in the business that you want to work with. When you can become selective and know exactly what you want, these doors will start to open for you. You will find yourself in situations where these opportunities show up, you network with the right people that will introduce you to the right people and your business will thrive.
In order to get there you have to know what you want. Are you willing to take this step to achieve the life that you want in your business? Do you have what is takes to reach higher in the tree for the less picked fruit? What will it take for you to take this next step?
“The customer is always right, not every customer is right for us” stated Vlad Mazek of Orlando’s Ownwebnow in his blog on March 30, 2008. This is so true; there is nothing wrong with stating that the customer is always right when you have the right customers in your business. Do you homework up front and qualify everyone that you want to do business with so you limit the bad apples down the road.