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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Do you ever walk away from clients?

Look at this posting on from Atlanta-based consultant Bobby Darnell:

Absolutely! When we first started, our primary focus was on providing business development consulting for companies in the A/E/C industry... see more(Architectural, Engineering and Construction) There are so many companies in this arena that started out because someone ‘worked for the man’ and realized, “Hey, I can do this on my own.” Then they walked away and started their own business. This is a very “artisan” industry in the sense that designers LOVE to design, general contractors LOVE to construct, and subcontractors LOVE to install are they are typically very, very good at their craft. However, that does not mean they know how to run a business. Examples: No business plan No marketing plan No CRM system Never heard of EBITDA Never read a P&L Statement Poor internal processes Poor proposal presentation Poor collateral And more… We wrote a ton of business plans for companies who thought that having a business plan was some sort of ‘silver bullet’ and no matter how many times we would tell them that a business plan is a tool, they rarely followed up and worked the plan. So, we rarely do business plans alone anymore because we did not want companies out there complaining that they paid us a lot of money for business plan that did them no good in spite of how hard we tried to get them to understand: “It is not BUYING a Bowflex that gets you in shape; it is the continued and effective use of a Bowflex that will get you in shape.” Also, we have learned from the beginning that when you call yourself a “business
development consultant” in the A/E/C industry, EVERYONE will listen to you. They want to know what you know that they don’t. Sadly, we have had several clients who hired us only for us to accept the contract and realize they “called 911” a little too late. There was not much we can do to help a contractor who is taking a project in order to keep money flowing in the business to pay subcontractors who did work for them three projects ago. Scott makes some great points in his post and I am guessing, his proposals have “evolved” as his business has grown. I know for each project/proposal we do, we learn something from the last one that we “tweak” to make things better for the next one. Defining the terms is vital at the onset of the project. I know for small firms it is tough to turn down a project if work is slow but as you build your business and are able to better sell your value, you will be able to walk away from the “stinkers” with ease.

I tell all of our clients that when it comes to selling, my goal is to only touch a telephone when I am picking it up to answer a “call-in” to my unlisted number. In other words, I want to build my business to a point where I am getting so much referral business that I no longer need to advertise and have an unlisted phone number! (There is just a touch of an attempt at humor in that last paragraph as I have not yet reached that goal but my referral business is much, much better than it was five years ago.) What kind of jobs have we walked away from? Now that we have learned to read prospects better, we will walk away from jobs where we realize we cannot provide value to the potential client. We would walk away from a prospect with a poor credit rating We would walk away from a prospect who gives us “push back” from the beginning. One reason I use the BowFlex example is that in many ways, what we do is very much like being a personal trainer. We do not want to work for an out of shape client who starts whining or complaining when we tell them “Five more reps!!” We would easily walk away from a prospect that is really on “life support”. Who wants to hire a business development consultant with a list of clients that have gone out of business!!? I hope this helps… Bobby

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