Saturday, March 24, 2012

Ten Tips for Freelancers and SMEs/SMBs

1. Avoid being on the Road (too much)

As we all know, we spent too much time on the road. All these hours cannot be billed. Try to communicate as much as possible by email, phone and Skype. Try to schedule meetings in the same region on the same day. Check out the best way to travel: car, public transport or (my favorite) a combination. It’s best to schedule meetings outside of rush hour. It saves both of you time.

2. Cold Calls are Tricky

Cold calls as a tool for drumming up business is tricky. It is time-consuming and should therefore well-prepared. For many SMEs/SMBs, cold calling is not the way to go. WOM (word-of mouth) is far more effective and cost-effective.

3. Keep Communicating

Keeping in touch with your customers is the key to your success as a freelancer of SME/SMB. There are many ways to keep in touch: newsletters, emails with special offers, and social media. Make sure to call them once in a while to ask if everything is fine. Make sure to send out season’s greetings and personal congratulations (e.g., birth of a child). Use your business page on Pinterest, Facebook, and LinkedIn, as well as your Twitter account to inform update, and spread positive messages. Don’t underestimate the power of your corporate blog – you can position your business perfectly that way.

4. Presentations Should Rock

Presentations are still expected. But (potential) customers are sharp, so make sure your presentation is short and to the point. Keep your power point presentations short and avoid cutesy graphics/animation. Make sure there is a call to action on the last slide. It is a good strategy to send them the presentation in PDF later on by email.

5. Respect the Uniqueness of Your Prospect

Each prospect is unique and wants to be recognizes as such. You need to know what makes your potential (and existing!) customer tick. What are the pain points they are facing? What is their history with similar companies/offerings like yours? Doing successful and long-term business is based on trust. You will never be able to make all your customers happy all of the time. Be gracious, and when it does not work out, make sure your prospect or customer never looses face.

6. Make Sure You Both Have the Same Agenda

A lot of bad feelings between supplier and customer results from the simple fact that they are not “on the same page”. The prospect or customer believes that it will get A, while the supplier is convinced that the prospect or customer wants B. The best way to avoid this kind of Mexican stand-off is to send points of understanding combined with action items after each meeting.

7. References and Recommendations

References and recommendations are important. However, it is not always possible to supply them, especially if you provided services for the military, homeland security or other companies that required the freelancer or supplier to sign an NDA or confidentiality agreement. LinkedIn offers a great way to circumvent this issue as long as there are enough recommendations on the freelancer’s/supplier’s profile. A blog is also a good way to position yourself as a though leader without infringing on any agreements.

8. You Cannot Win Them All

Rejection is part of our professional lives. Job seekers are rejected for jobs they really want, and freelancers and suppliers sometimes loose out on juicy contracts. Proposals can be rejected for many reasons: the price is too high, they got a better offer, they had to hire a freelancer/company due to internal politics, the job/work is canceled or frozen, or there just is not any personal chemistry. The best way to handle this kind of rejection is to be gracious, leave communication channels open, and realize that you cannot win them all.

9. Know Your Target Market

Your product or service might be great, but it would not fit all customers. It is important to know your market. Who needs our products/services? What pain points do you address and how much are your (potential) customers willing to pay for it? Communicate with your (potential) customer to identify their existing as well as future needs.

10. Build a Relationship

Your attitude, skills, and aptitude determine if a customer wants to do business with you. Be generous with (free) advice and think with (and not for) your customer. Once you are seen as a partner, and not a mere supplier, you will have a mutual beneficial relationship that could span years. Nothing is forever, especially in this economy, so nurture good relationships. Even is a customer has to drop you, his or her recommendation and goodwill is worth its weight in gold.

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