Tuesday 7 May 2013

The “Right” Client and Our Business

Fellow MVP Cris Hanna pointed to the following article:

It took us almost 5 years to be able to start being choosy about the work we took on and the client relationships we wanted to build.

In that first five years we had to learn _a lot_ of lessons from the school of hard knocks.

Everything from a long standing and ongoing client not paying for work they signed off on to folks that expected a whole lot of work for no pay.

Then there was the scope creep on big projects where the original job, say a migration, then included a bunch of Line of Business application upgrades and migrations . . . and were not in the original proposal/agreement but, “since you’re already here . . . “

One of the more difficult lessons was in communication. That is communicating with the client about ongoing scheduling, jobs, and other task needs.

A really bad habit to break is to _not_ communicate with a client we have an appointment with that we are running late or even that we may need to reschedule.

In this day and age where we are facing pressures from all sides to cut and run we need to be extra mindful of the one gem in the rough we have in SMB: The face-to-face contact and relationship with our client contacts.

  • Be a man, or woman, of our word.
    • Need to make a change? Communicate first.
  • Use the tools at hand.
    • Outlook calendar invites, ticketing system if you use it, and keep lots of notes!
    • Phone is best. Texting seems to be a close second.
  • Be legit, stay legit, and deal with folks that operate above board.
    • This is especially true for software licensing.
  • Be personable.
    • When on-site reach out, say hello to everyone, and especially ask them how their day and tech are doing!
  • Operate on principle.
    • Create a project scope and a set of terms & conditions.
    • Stand by them.
    • Add-on charge _everything_ not included in the original scope.

Having an established set of terms & conditions is one thing.

Abiding by them and following through on them are two _very_ important aspects of the business relationship. By doing so, we place the expectation ball in the prospect’s/client’s court of being honest and forthright in their communications and negotiations with us and ours with them.

By not following through on our commitments, and holding them to theirs, we place ourselves in a very awkward position where precedent gets set that the prospect/”client” may indeed be free to take advantage of us.

This is a very dangerous precedent to set.

The same is true for time spent on _any_ client related need. Any and all time must be billed for and tracked with a full set of notes. But, most importantly, the client _must_ approve that work in writing ahead of time.

Yes, on-the-fly this may be difficult to be had, but again this is where communication abilities come in to play.

An e-mail simply stating that we hit a snag and that extra time will be needed can be fired off from a Smart Phone in a matter of seconds. If the contact approves of it verbally confirm that by e-mailing them back with a “Thanks for your approval” note.

Keep a paper trail. Keep an e-mail trail. Keep all documentation and notes related to any and every project small or large. Get a scanner that can do scan to PDF with OCR so that any font text can be read into that PDF and be searchable later on.

Scan all handwritten content in and set it into a client’s folder called NOTEs or ticketing system.

In the end if a question about what we have done ever comes up then we have something to fall back on including any and all communication with the client/contact.

We also use SNIP in Windows to take snippets of all of the situations we are working with.

In the end keeping the above approach to running our IT business protects both our clients and us.

Philip Elder
Microsoft Small Business Specialists
Co-Author: SBS 2008 Blueprint Book

Chef de partie in the SMBKitchen
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1 comment:

Shayne Kawalilak said...

This was one of the best blog articles I have read in a long time. very succinct but with all the information you might need on an important subject. Good work.