February 6, 2004
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This year my business is undergoing a few changes.
In the past, I have had alternate sources of income which allowed me to
limit the amount of consulting work I do. Now, though, I have a need to
think about this work more as a primary source of income. In that light,
I am gearing up a series of initiatives to present a more business-like
manner to my clients and, hopefully, increase my billable hours by a significant
amount. Whether you are just starting out, or looking for ways to revitalize
an existing business, these tips should serve you well.
The most important action you can take in any business is to increase
the amount of communication between you and your clients. Sometimes, we
can start to think that no news is good news. Unfortunately, this limits
the possibilities for helping your clients with their small, but annoying
problems. These are left to fester until a larger problem prompts the
client to call you. In an effort to increase communication, I have initiated
One of the most important aspects of communicating with your clients is
consistent and thorough follow-up on every telephone call, email and service
call. I automatically schedule a call in my PDA immediately following
each client visit. I usually date this follow-up for 1 week in the future.
I do the same for telephone service calls and email. This relatively simple
procedure can go a long way towards improving relationships with your
clients. Out of every 10 support calls, I would guess that 5 have additional
questions after the fact. This is only normal, as it can take some time
to insure that everything is working properly or to notice additional
issues that need to be addressed. By calling or emailing, you insure that
the client is satisfied with your work and you can generate additional
work by immediately addressing new issues that need to be solved.
Monthly Email Newsletter
As I go about my Internet travels each month, I collect interesting news
items, information on new software upgrades and a variety of other information.
This material then makes it into my monthly newsletter. This newsletter
gets emailed to all my clients. Every month I find that I will get several
emails or phone calls from my clients. Regardless of the content of the
newsletter, its arrival is a reminder to them of questions and problems
that need to be addressed. Additionally, the content can drive requests
for appointments to install new software, perform system cleanup and maintenance
and a host of other duties.
Along with this newsletter, I also publish a weblog entitled, My Word.
(http://welchwrite.com/blog/) Many of the same items that appear in my
blog also appear in the newsletter. Here I announce new software upgrades,
stories from my personal life, interesting photos, information on Los
Angeles events and more. Readers of the blog get a more personal glimpse
of my life, as well as getting timely delivery of information.
In addition to the methods above, there are several other ways to build
your business. One simple method is to cultivate referrals from your existing
clients. While you might think it commonsense that these clients would
recommend you, it never hurts to remind them. Some people simply don’t
think about referrals until you make it easier for them. Leave behind
business cards, brochures and other material that make it easy for them
to recommend you to a friend or colleague. Once you a start a referral
program like this, I can almost guarantee that you will start to see new
Invoices and statements can be turned into a promotional tool instead
of just a reminder for payment. Include interesting tips and hints with
the invoice. Include an easy-to-use referral slip/business card on the
form. Use these items as one more opportunity to assist your client.
Just like a farmer, it is up to you to cultivate your good clients while
weeding out the bad. Not every referral will result in a good client,
so it is important to recognize problems quickly so you can ease out of
the relationship. Working with difficult clients is a drain on your energy,
resources and time. You should be more concerned with the quality of your
clients, rather than the number of clients.
Finally, be open and caring with your clients. All of them deserve your
respect and attention. Treat others as you want to be treated and, more
often than not, this is how others will treat you. This is exactly what
makes a high-tech career (or any career, for that matter) worth living.