Your small business is up and running, and you are anxious to bring in new clients.
Now take a breath.
It's important to stop and consider if you are comfortable and enthusiastic about the clients you take on.
That's the advice from Geoffrey Weill at
Geoffrey Weill Associates, a public relations firm in New York whose clients include
Conservation Corporation Africa,
Canadian Mountain Holidays and
Weill says there are other criteria as well. "There has to be great chemistry and they have to be clients that don't conflict with other clients," he says. He looks for clients that he believes in and not clients that he thinks want just basic public-relations service.
Fine. But what about if your business is just starting out and you desperately need clients -- any kind of clients?
One of Weill's earliest clients was
La Mamounia, which he calls his favorite hotel in the world. He offered them his services for free for three months. The company was pleased and eventually hired him.
"I know one is hungry, especially in the beginning but it doesn't usually work," says Weill.
Are there any clients he avoids? "We're not into super corporate clients because it's not the kind of environment we work best in. We work best with clients who look upon us as specialists in what we do," he says.
Weill also knows when to say "no." He recently turned down a Web site, for example, because he believes his company's strengths are in publicizing "places to go and places to see."
Service Is a Must
Michael Gonzales, president and founder of
Monthly Coupons Franchises, a direct-mail franchise based in California, says his company looks for "clients that have a great product/service, and a need to tell more people about them."
The selectivity has increased his sales. "Because we are selective, we experience a higher amount in gross sales, because our clients will listen to our advice," Gonzales says.
While being selective in choosing your clients is essential, servicing your clients is even more important. Gonzales says it does not matter how many clients you ultimately get. "What matters is how many clients you keep, and make happy," he says.
Honesty is a key trait he looks for in clients. "If they are not honest up front, it is hard to maintain a long-term relationship," says Gonzales.
Nat Kurok, senior vice president of
Publicity Guaranteed, a public relations firm based in New York, says that his company considers itself a partner with their clients. "The best fit is a client that understands that," Kurok says.
Kurok places an emphasis on ensuring that the client and Publicity Guaranteed will have an open relationship. Trust is very important, he says.
Kurok says away from clients that he believes have unrealistic expectations. "I try to educate them as to what is realistic -- a time line, what we can do short and long term. If that fails, it's best to politely walk away," he says
His other advice: Be upfront, open and clear in communications. Don't leave any questions unanswered before moving forward. When the client feels rightly or wrongly, that they were misinformed or not informed properly, the relationship will usually end very quickly.
"We're selective with who we work," says Kurok. "Our quality of clients and volume has steadily increased, and sales and business with it."
Dr. Antonio Alvi Armani of
Alvi Armani Hair Transplants, a hair-transplant clinic based in Canada, makes sure all his client's questions are answered thoroughly so there are no misunderstandings later. "All questions presented by the patient are answered and all issues clarified before booking the patient for the procedure," Armani says.
Armani stays away from patients who have unrealistic expectations of the procedure. "For example, if a patient has very little donor hair and wants to cover the whole head, this is something that is not possible even with multiple procedures," Armani says. Having unhappy clients will only hurt your business in the long run.
Martin Lehman, a counselor at
ScoreNYC says a small-businesses owner must ask: Is this something up our alley? You have to interview your client to find what kind of services they are looking for, Lehman explains. This will help you avoid misunderstandings later. If you can't help this potential client, try to refer him to someone who can.