We recently had a fence built in our back yard. The story is relevant to this blog because the gentleman who owns the fence building company, Gary, is turning out to be one of the most clued-up small business professional services people I have ever met.
Gary showed up one evening to look at the yard and discuss options. He had some great ideas about materials and designs that would make the fence durable and aesthetically pleasing.
Observation 1: Inspire your clients and prove that you know your stuff.
We subsequently had a conversation about being able to go look at a fence he had previously done so we could get a better impression of what our fence would look like. Gary explained that our fence was different from other fences he had previously built, but he shared some examples of close matches and offered to do a 3D rendering of our fence at a cost of $200.
Observation 2: If the sales process requires you to do actual work, charge for it.
Towards concluding the agreement we wanted to make sure all the relevant details were given proper attention. What kind of fasteners would be used and how would the wood be treated? Gary responded to our questions but also told us politely that our project was a small project which didn't justify further meetings. However, he would drop off some wood and fastener samples on his way past our house in the next few days.
Observation 3: Avoid getting caught up in long sales cycles, detach yourself from the conversation when you have provided your client with all the relevant information to support a decision.
I looked over the proposal one last time before making our decision. That's when I noticed that the proposal didn't say "Proposal" on it, it said "Invoice".
Observation 4: If you can skip the proposal and go straight to invoicing, do it.
We decided to start the project. The invoice detailed the payment schedule as 60% up front, 40% at completion. Gary explained that the larger up front payment was required because a significant part of his costs were materials.
Observation 5: Design the payment schedule so it reflects your cost structure.
When the work started, Gary showed up with a co-worker. They worked hard in the sun for three days. A few times, decisions had to be made and Gary involved us in the decision making.
Observation 6: Stick with the project and ensure continuity until the client is satisfied.