While small business owners don’t necessarily want to join their clients as full-time employees, reliable, repeat business from a client, say a retainer over a long period of time, is a great way to even out the vagaries of cash flow that stymie many small businesses. Reliable, repeat business enables you to plan with a longer timeframe, perhaps go after other big clients with longer sales cycles because you don’t have to worry about immediate cash flow. A reliable source of long-term income enables you to invest in operational improvements – outsourcing more or upgrading technology. Knowing that you can convert a smaller engagement to a larger one also helps you break down the sales cycle – you can sell a smaller, shorter assignment first and be confident that you can turn it into a long-term relationship.
In a recent post for Forbes, I wrote about temp-to-perm conversion strategies for employees – how to turn an internship or contracting assignment to a full-time job. A similar approach can also help entrepreneurs sell larger, ongoing contracts:
Focus on where you are
First and foremost, you have to do the project, however small or introductory, that you were hired for. Your happy client will be a much-needed reference. S’he may introduce you to others within the company. Depending on how visible the project is, others can see your great work for themselves. Before you focus on the next project, remember to complete the one at hand.
And don’t just assume that you’re doing a great job — check in frequently with your client even on shorter assignments. Over-communicate before kick-off to ensure you understand the full scope. Maintain open communicate throughout. Finally, ask for feedback after completion. Ask for a testimonial or recommendation. Ask for introductions. Don’t assume that your client will offer, even if they really liked your work.
Broaden your network within the client
If your work is onsite, reserve time to network in other areas outside your immediate assignment. Get your immediate client’s buy-in and even suggestions. Think about what specific departments might benefit from what you’re doing – if it’s a training module for Sales, maybe Marketing may want to participate.
And don’t assume that the only networking is professional networking. People hire people they like, so don’t be afraid to start relationships on a social basis – as lunch buddies, for example – if you aren’t working with each other directly.
Continue to market
You never want your business to be overly concentrated with one client. A big mistake many solopreneurs and micro businesses make is to get so caught up in executing the current work that they let the pipeline for future work go dry. When you have a juicy client assignment, use that opportunity to market to other clients just like that one. Obviously you don’t share confidential information but because you’ll know so much more about that industry or nice or client type you’ll be better informed and positioned when speaking to their competitors. You want to use the projects you have to get you additional, similar projects.
Have you had success expanding an initial smaller assignment? What worked for you?