So you’re a skilled developer or design freelancer who has established a handful of customers who pay your bills and provide you with an income. That’s great. You may wish to keep things just the way they are or you might want to build on this and build up your own small business. If you’re opting for the later then here are a few tips to help you ride the bumpy road from freelancer to fully-fledged small business.
1) Move Out of Your Back Bedroom
If you are moving from freelancing to running a company then you need to show your potential customers that you are 100 per cent committed to the business, thus allaying their fears that you won’t be around in a few months time. If you can, move from your home workspace to a dedicated office. This doesn’t necessarily mean huge expense but it can instill a great deal of confidence in you from potential clients. Depending on where you are, office space can cost from as little as £130/month ($190) and should also help with your work-life balance. An additional benefit is that it will give you a postal address that you can publish on your stationery and website without revealing your home location.
2) Dress for Business
Now that you’re running a business (for better or worse) you will need to take a look at your appearance. Many may disagree, but personally I think nothing says business more than smart dress. Of course, it’s up to you how you dress but think about it this way. If you want the conversation to centre around your professional skills, don’t wear anything that will steal the conversation away from this. A T-shirt with a witty slogan on it may be just the thing for a night out with your mates, but a lunch with a potential client? Maybe not. Why do anything to stack the odds against your company winning the project?
I am happy to accept that this is a controversial subject and would be very interested to hear your thoughts about this. What works for you? Do customers react to you differently when you are wearing smart dress as opposed to casual?
3) Centralize your Data
When you are a freelancer working on your own it’s fine to store information about your work processes in your own head, or contact e-mail addresses in your personal AddressBook. But the moment someone else is involved in your business then this isn’t good enough anymore. You may start to find that you spend a lot of time imparting knowledge to others. You will need to move that knowledge somewhere where it can be easily shared. For example, Highrise (www.highrisehq.com) is great for keeping a database of your customers and tracking conversations/activity with them.
As much non-skill related information should be documented as possible, this will assist you in building business processes to ease any future expansion that you may have planned. You should encourage others working with you to do the same and attempt to cultivate a culture of ‘centralised knowledge.’
4) Be the Person Your Customers Like
Building good relationships is key to running a successful business. There are thousands of web development/design studios in the country and there’s nothing to stop your customers moving to your competition if they feel they are not getting value from you. People rarely choose based entirely on price. They buy from people they like and whom they think will support them in the best way. It’s this support that will win you a customer for life (even if your services are more expensive than your competitor’s). As a general rule you should try the following:
5) Reply to Emails Promptly.
Even if you cannot compile a meaningful response/resolution immediately then acknowledging the message with a reply will let the customer know that you are on the case.
6) Always Return Voicemail Messages.
This is really important. If a customer knows that based on your history that you always call them back after leaving a voicemail then they will not feel the need to keep calling you or bombarding you with email. This can help alleviate stress in busy periods when you deem answering the telephone of secondary importance.
7) Maintain a Verbal/Email Relationship.
You should contact the customer on a regular basis (every 3 months if the job is over) to inquire how things are going. This will help to make the customer feel important and that you are still interested in their business even though the project is finished. It will also help to keep you in their mind for future projects. Try to avoid a sales push with every contact else this goodwill will be broken and they will dread your calls.
8) Express Interest in your Client’s Business Sector.
Keeping up with trends in your customer’s industry can be invaluable in generating recurring revenue from existing streams. Tracking changes in their business will allow you to suggest improvements or additions to their application or website. This can be as simple as following their RSS feed and needn’t take up much of your time.
9) Welcome Customer Complaints.
Complaints are great! Complaints allow you to fine-tune your business so that future customers don’t suffer from the same irritations. You must handle every complaint about your business seriously and be prepared to make good on any deal that a customer doesn’t feel you’ve delivered on.
10) Don’t be Afraid to Pass
Many people believe that you should never turn down work. I disagree. If a potential customer is looking for services that you know in, your heart, are not your speciality then don’t be afraid to pass the work on to another trusted freelancer or business. Although not earning you revenue immediately it will benefit you in two ways:
Firstly, you will earn the customer’s respect for passing them on to a
3rd party. This will show them that you are looking after their needs rather than taking the money and delivering a poor job. You will be surprised how quickly you become a ‘trusted advisor’. And Always send a follow-up email to the customer a few weeks into the project inquiring about how things are progressing with the 3rd party and ask them to keep in touch.
Secondly, forging strong relationships with other companies and freelancers can pay dividends in the long run. Approaching a 3rd party with a business lead will buy you a great deal of goodwill and allow you to introduce yourself and services to that person with a view to working together in the future. Networking is the way that you might get your next big job.
11) Work on your Sales Technique
Working on improving your sales technique with prospective clients should be something that continually evolves throughout your career. There are no strict rules for selling; you just need to be better than your competition! You can be the best programmer in the world but unless your potential customer likes you and is confident that you can do a great job then your skills and experience will count for zero. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
12) Build ‘stock’ proposals.
Especially, for common projects such as content management and ecommerce. This will save you time when pitching for a job and allow you to reply to an enquiry within a day or two of your meeting with them. The longer it is left silent between you and the customer the smaller your chance of winning the project.
13) Always be On Time.
But be aware that arriving early can be as disruptive as arriving late.
14) Learn About Personality Types.
Learn how to spot them and how to deal with different people and groups.
15) Use a Notepad to Take Notes.
If a customer sees you taking notes then they are much more likely to tell you more information about what they need.
If sales is an area that worries you then there is a wealth of great information on how to sell effectively by Warren Greshes (www.greshes.net).
Good luck with your new venture!
Thanks to www.flickr.com/photos/tanfacedprairieboy for use of the main image