Service-oriented home businesses are flourishing. From virtual assistants, Internet marketing experts, freelance writers to financial analysts, many new business owners are offering their skills and talents, instead of producing products.
If you are running a service business, the success or failure of your venture will depend on your ability to reach and maintain the right customers. However, it differs in the sense that you are primarily selling yourself – your skills, your talents, and your capabilities. You are your own product. More than any other business, your success will greatly depend on how you deal with your customers and how you package yourself.
Here are 10 tips for a successful service business and make sure that your clients will love and value your services:
1. Know your customer.
The key to good client relationship is leveling-off of expectations. Before taking on a client’s business, ask them what they expect to get out of your service. Then explain how you may be able to respond to their need. It is good policy to investigate your client’s needs by asking simple questions such as “How do you want this done?” If you are a hairstylist, for example, ask the client how she wants her new hairstyle to look. Unless you are the “best hairstylist” in the country with a reputation for doing-what-you-want-to-do-with-no-questions-asked, your customers will appreciate you more if you ask them first if they want a radically short haircut before proceeding to cut their long tresses.
If it will be helpful to you, keep a record of your client’s needs and wants, as well as their little idiosyncrasies. If they have previously used a service similar to yours, probe their experiences and learn from what they have to say in terms of what they want and don’t want. As you work with a client, express an interest in your client’s work. Listen to what your customer does, take a moment to learn something personal about them, and listen to what they need and expect from you.
2. Follow the Golden Rule.
Treat your customers well. The work you are doing is extremely important to your customers so you have to assure them that it will be done professionally and on time. Terri Seymour, founder of Web Success Central, says, “The customer is the reason for your business success. Treating people with respect and building those personal relationships are one of the most effective ways of providing your business with a solid foundation.” Janice Byer, Docu-Type Administrative Services, further agrees. “I believe in this statement completely! Your clients are your means of income and the best people to spread the word about you and your work. Keep them happy!”
Making your customers feel important is one of the best ways to ensure continued business. You want to remember how each client likes to have his or her work done.
3. Dependability is key.
If you agree to complete a project by a certain date, you must be prepared to meet that deadline even if it means sacrificing personal activities or money. Offer to go the extra mile at no additional charge. Thoroughness is part of being dependable; your clients will soon realize that they can count on you to catch their mistakes. If you build a reputation for dependability, you can rely on repeat, as well as referral, business.
4. Keep the business between you and the client. It is best to consider all work confidential. This means that you do not discuss your client’s business with anyone – even your mother. Make a habit of clearing papers from your desk before you go away. If ever you decide to use your work for them, maybe as part of your client list or testimonials, be sure to seek their permission first. If they refuse, honor their decision.
5. Let your customers know you.
There’s the maxim that the customer is always right. But the customer must learn to play by your rules. Right at the very beginning, set your guidelines and parameters as to what you can and cannot do. Deborah Brown, a noted Personal Coach and founder of SurpassYourDreams.com, stresses, ”Being straightforward with customers is critical. Why should they buy from you if they know you are not telling them the truth?”
Discuss your rules, and set the groundwork for working with you. Talk to them about your rules when the project deviates from the original agreement, its costs implications and procedures in dealing with new tasks. Don’t be shy to discuss your fees and payment schedules. It is best to clarify these things at the onset; after all, nobody likes surprises.
6. Protect yourself and your customers.
As a business owner, you must make sure that your business is protected from losses resulting from fire, liabilities and other hazards such as a client slipping and falling in your office. Call your insurance agent to ask for the right kind of insurance that will protect your business. If you have equipment like computers, fax and printers, don’t assume that all your expensive equipment is covered by your home insurance policy. It may not be unless you buy an add-on policy or rider.
You must also safeguard your business against professional liability. While no one wants to think of lawsuits when starting a business, you may be liable if your business causes harm to individuals and businesses. You could be sued for their losses, and as a result, your entire business and even personal assets could be at risk.
If you are operating in the United States, an insurance premium is deductible as a business expense, whether you work at home or in rented office space, so you do not lose by having it.
7. Accept only what you can do.
During the start-up phase, chances are you will try to accept as many jobs as you can. When you say yes to a client, be sure that you can deliver the service requested by the time the customer needs it and within the cost budgeted for it. Only accept accounts that you think you could do a solid job. Never accept assignments that are way beyond your head in your eagerness to prove yourself. If you feel it might not be possible, say so and request more time or suggest another alternative. It is worse to be late with a project than to ask for more time. If your clients are willing to take a gamble on you, make sure that you are on the same wavelength in terms of expectations as so what can be accomplished. As Deborah suggests, “Under promise and over deliver. This is the fastest way to grow your business.”
8. You can say “No.”
Like most entrepreneurs, I am sure that you never want to refuse a particular kind of work if you can help it. However, if there is a job you absolutely do not want to do for some reason, it is better to say that your schedule does not permit it rather than saying that you don’t like that kind of work. Or you can also be honest with a client and say that their project is beyond the scope of your expertise and they may be better off with someone who has the skills they require. You may want to suggest another service provider that you think will match their requirements. They will value you more for your candor, rather than take on the job and deliver a sub-standard service. If you really have to say “no,” say it politely and never, ever criticize a client.
9. When you are late in delivering the service.
Despite your very best intentions, you sometimes slip up and fall behind a project’s deadline. If you find yourself in that situation, don’t act as if everything is ok and hope that the client will not notice your delay. Talk with your client and offer your apologies, with the promise that you will complete the project as soon as possible.
Janice Byer, gives this advice. “By showing initiative and ensuring you have the right information for the project, your clients will see that you are professional and, even if you are late with a project, they will understand that you trying to make the end result the best you possibly can thus keeping them happy.”
As Terri Seymour has learned in her Internet marketing business, “Telling lame excuses or blaming this or that is not the way to deal with this situation. Simply apologize and assure the customer it will be done ASAP and maybe throw in a little discount or something for free. Let the customer know that you care about getting the job done and doing it correctly.”
Schedule a meeting with your client to discuss any stumbling block that are hindering the completion of the project. Maybe you have an unresolved question to one of the client’s demands, or some factors beyond your control are making your assignment difficult to complete. Keep the client abreast of what is happening with their projects or accounts. One cardinal rule you shouldn’t forget: don’t tell them that your reason for being late was because of your work for another client. No client would want to hear that his or her business is of less importance to you. You don’t want to be put on a spot where you have to explain why the business of client B is more important than that of client A!
10. The longer picture.
At the end of the day, you must ask yourself the important question: “Does this client’s business contribute to the growth of my business? Do I want to continue working with this client?” You accept an account for various reasons, maybe for profitability, exposure, or the learning opportunity that it provides. During the start-up phase, you may think that you have no choice; after all, beggars can’t be choosers. But as you go along, you will have a better sense about the true value of a client’s account. While an account may generate a sizeable cash flow for you, but if your client wreaks havoc on your mental state with her demands and attitude, you may have to rethink the long-range potential of the account. There are some accounts that are simply not worth it.
Recommended Books on Tips for a Successful Service Business:
- Seriously Selling Services: How to Build a Profitable Services Business in Any Industry
- Managing The Professional Service Firm
- 202 Services You Can Sell For Big Profits
- 1001 Ways to Market Your Services: Even If You Hate to Sell
- Managing The Professional Service Firm
- Project Management Best Practices
- Growing Your Business by Outsourcing to Freelance Marketplaces
- Project Management 101
- How to Use Customer Testimonials in Your Marketing
- How Great Managers Capture Profit Pools