I’ve been meeting a variety of colleagues recently and discussing how their germinal businesses are coming along (in the rather demanding financial climate). A number of the issues they’re encountering seem common and it was interesting to read a good blog post at Brass Tack Thinking that discusses typical problems from a small business/knowledge worker point of view.
The points highlighted are (see details in the original post, below are my own comments):
1. Get better at qualifying new prospects
The trouble here can be that the enthusiasm of the (apparent) possibility of getting just the sort of work you’d like to do can cloud the judgment of how likely it is to come about. Unfortunately if a customer has an interest it doesn’t mean that he/she has a budget. Or alternatively, the budget is much smaller than really needed. I guess there might easily be frustration on both sides at this situation. Sometimes a direct question can be really helpful (and clear the air).
2. Learn to package offerings
I’ve always found it’s helpful to understand why the customer wants to do something via an external capability: lack of resources, less expensive, not core business etc. They may not appreciate that you can do more than immediately apparent.
3. Ballpark pricing and listening to the market (and colleagues)
Assuming they’re really interested in what you provide, then comes the issue of ‘for how much’. I’ve often found that colleagues are quite open about the rates they charge clients and, taking for granted that you’re not competing, this can be a good starting point. So, just ask.
4. Quit doing work for free
I’ve written about doing work for free in a previous post, covering both standard business development and also (charitable) volunteering. Where it might easily get tricky is where you’re hoping to do work for the Third Sector but wish to get paid for it. Once again, I think the first point above comes into play.
5. Learn how to respond to requests for your time
They make a really good point that it’s best to learn a practiced reply to avoid accidentally dropping into an unintended conversation which may then be awkward to get out of. A practiced response also gives the impression of being professional and business-like. I think there does need to be some flexibility here though as a little openness can help develop relationships. Here’s the example they give:
“That’s absolutely a challenging problem, and I work with several clients on just that sort of thing. I’d be happy to send you a quick overview of what I have in mind to help you, and the costs.”
“I’d be delighted to meet with you on a one-time basis. I have a half-day, single shot offering for just occasions like this. I’ll come in, do an education session for your team on a topic we choose together, and then we can do open Q&A for the remainder of the time. That’s a flat fee of $XXX. Is that something that could work for you?”
“I certainly have some input about how you could approach that problem. Here’s a couple of blog posts/ebooks/whatever I’ve written that tackle that topic. If you’re interested in some more specialized guidance where we can get into more depth about your particular situation, I’d be happy to talk about setting up a learning session. They’re usually about $XXX and there’s no commitment to work together, it’s just a chance for us to brainstorm on the spot about things that could help you.”
6. Deliver a valuable product or service
This means valued in the eyes of the client rather than supplier!