The bottom line: Demonstrating that you are a trustworthy small business starts long before you land the job and continues long after the job is done. It also requires seven key practices, all with “big” mindsets behind them. Which practice are you most inspired to put in place, starting now?
I’ve been running a small business for 13 years that just happens to be dedicated to leading client workshops on being a trusted advisor and trust-based selling. This blog is a distillation of seven critical lessons I have learned from the intersection of the two (mostly the hard way) about how to earn—and keep—good business.
There is no better way to communicate your value proposition than to give away a sample. Rather than telling prospective clients about your products and services; give them an experience of your products and services. You’d be surprised how few Big Companies do this. It’s a great way to differentiate, not to mention level the playing field.
Be willing to walk away from business if it is not right for the client. Yes, do this even if you’re “small” and think you need every penny you can scrape up (because that very mindset will keep you small). I’m definitely not suggesting that you use this disingenuously as a negotiating tactic; I’m saying if there are reasons why your client may not need you, or may be better served by someone else, let her know. You’ll gain immensely from the initial trust you establish, and will be one step closer to a future productive relationship.
I’m certainly not the first person to extol the value of systems for small business success; what’s worth calling attention to is the importance of relationship-oriented systems for small businesses where relationships just may be your biggest competitive advantage. You don’t need to spend a lot of money of high-tech CRM systems—I use an Excel Googledoc CRM. And you don’t need to spend hours with every person on your list—sometimes my reach-out is a quick phone call to say hello or an email with the subject line, “Drive-by hello” as little as twice a year. (Once again, you’d be surprised how few Big Companies do this well.)
I regularly do business with global firms and am sometimes asked to sign standard contracts with requirements that are unreasonable for a business my size (for example, certain types of insurance coverage). I won’t sign something that I can’t honor (and yes, I suck it up and pay an attorney to review documents that are written in legal-ese). I’ve learned that even contracting officers for the Big Guys are willing to amend their documents if I’m transparent (and nice) about what I can and cannot do with integrity. In the process, clients learn that they can trust me not to give my word lightly.
There is no trust without risk. It is the very act of taking personal risks that builds trust, which means going outside your own comfort zone for the benefit of the relationship. In doing so, you become someone who is experienced as a “safe haven” for others. People know where they stand with you and have a real sense of who you are as a professional and as a person.
I used to have virtual office space at a fancy-shmancy downtown Washington DC address because I thought it made my business look impressive (although I told people I had it in case I ever needed the work room). Translation: I spent money every month for facilities that I never used and wasted energy being something I wasn’t. Now I have a home office and a UPS Store mailbox for receiving business mail and am just fine with being candid about it if it ever comes up in conversation. I run a nimble and lucrative operation and spend money where it makes the biggest difference for my clients, which I think they appreciate. If it matters to someone that I don’t have a corner office with a view, that’s OK—I’ll graciously refer them to someone who does. (It hasn’t happened yet.)
Be generous with your samples, ideas, time, curiosity, and more. Resist the temptation to hold your cards close, and to charge for every little thing because you think that’s what you have to do to survive or earn respect—that mindset will cost you dearly in the long run. Be generous because you genuinely care about the people you serve, and trust that your good will be returned in some way, shape, or form (it will). It’s the best way I know to be a small business with the clientele and balance sheet of a big business.