October 8, 2004
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Over the past several months I have had both
a desire and a need to focus intently on my freelance consulting business.
Lately, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the nature of my work.
What am I trying to accomplish, both for my clients and myself? How am
I going to go about accomplishing those goals? Like everyone, I can get
caught up in the rush of daily life, jumping from task to task without
focusing on the big picture. Sometimes I need to be reminded to take a
few minutes to think about what I am doing to insure that I am still headed
in the right direction. It is time to “get serious” about
your work and your career.
All of this thinking has led me to develop a series of guidelines, methods
and checklists, etc. for dealing with my clients. Your relationships with
clients can bump along haphazardly or you can actively work on these relationships
to insure that everyone is getting the biggest benefit for their time
and money. Instead of taking each call as a one time event, I have begun
thinking and managing them as one, small part of an on-going process.
While I am sometimes reacting to my client’s immediate problems,
I am also actively pursuing ways to address future needs. Over the next
several weeks, I am going to open up my process to you with all its shining
points and ugly warts, so you can start to develop your own process for
building your high-tech career.
In the beginning…troubleshooting and more
Starting with the first contact with a new client, I begin to follow several
simultaneous processes. First, I work to address the immediate problem,
of course. You can’t move forward with a client until you get their
basic problems fixed. This procedure calls for a few basic questions.
What is needed to solve their problem? What do they need to know? What
do I need to know in order to assist them? What research do I need to
do? We then address the practical issues of setting the appointment, ordering
equipment and such.
While we work through these basic issues, though, I am also thinking along
another, parallel path. Your knowledge of the client may be somewhat limited,
but you need to start thinking about their future needs. Your discoveries
during the troubleshooting above will help to generate ideas and recommendations
almost from the moment you start. This is why these processes should happen
at the same time.
Are you finding old hardware and software that needs to be upgraded? Do
they need to install a network? Are systems having chronic problems that
affect their day-today work? Do they need recommendations for training,
books or web sites to help them move forward? Do they need a custom solution,
like a database developed specifically for their needs? All this information
gets notated and filed away for future use. It will become the single
most useful tool in developing your relationship with the client.
Note: If you want to make a great impression on your clients, start
carrying a journal. While I have always taken notes during my appointments,
earlier this year I started carrying a black, cloth-covered, hard-back
journal. I use it to notate software versions, questions, IP addresses
and a host of other information for future reference. While I did this
mainly as a better way to contain my notes in one location, several
clients have commented on it. The act of committing your notes to a
hard-back journal seems to offer up a feeling of professionalism, commitment
and trust. Who would have known?
Yet another parallel process is the issue of business itself. How much
of your time will this client need in the future? How much can they afford?
Are there other clients in their geographical area that you can service
on the same day so you can make the most of your travel time? Will this
client generate a lot of income or remain an “every once and a while”
client? While these questions shouldn’t effect the way you treat
the client, you need to be aware of how the client fits into your stable
of clients and the goals for your business. Are you a good personality
match or are there significant differences in your thinking? Are they
too geographically remote for you to service them well? Start asking these
questions, and more, today.
Getting off to a good start with your clients
is more than half the battle. In fact, it can dictate the future success
of the relationship. This week, take the time to “get serious”
about your career. Engage yourself in some deep thinking about what you
want and need. Put yourself in the place of your clients and imagine what
you would want in that position. Finally, start implementing the processes
above, and developing your own, so you can start enjoying the benefits
Next week: Maintaining your client relationships over time.
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