Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s alone.
As a startup, it takes hard work to get a potential client through the door.
You have to get them to believe in your business model and product or service you’re offering; wow them with your expertise and industry knowledge; and finally, close the deal. I’ve been through the process many times in my career and have been fortunate to land some big ones (and also fortunate to learn from the ones that got away).
With that said, there’s no shortage of advice about how to land your first big client, but I’ve noticed there are far fewer resources to answer what to do after you’ve landed them. In my experience, you’ll want a game plan before the ball starts rolling.
Agreeing on deliverables
When it comes to the contract, be as upfront and transparent as possible. A successful partnership only exists if both parties know exactly what the deliverables are. For startups, implementing strong communication tools and processes with new clients will help everyone involved understand what to expect and when.
“Clear, effective communication might sound like a nice-to-have quality rather than a must-have, but it’s the needle and thread that keeps your growing company from bursting at its seams,” Ash Rust writes for Entrepreneur.com
You’re putting yourself and your business at risk if you don’t establish a clear scope of your partnership and clear lines of communication, both internally and externally. While it sounds like basic project management, it’s easier said than done.
Building a strong, successful team
Until now, it’s possible you’ve been functioning in an environment of “controlled chaos.” And that’s what just about every startup has experienced at one time or another. Whether you have two employees or 10, landing your first big client likely requires adding to your team. It’s absolutely imperative to hire employees who not only see your vision, but are willing to execute it day in and day out. While it’s important to hire for skills and expertise, in my experience, the most critical criteria is how that employee will fit into your culture. That doesn’t mean that everyone must be alike; but it does mean that there is united energy, passion and commitment to you, your clients and your vision for where your company is headed.
Shoring up funding
Today, there are simply more startups vying for funds, and the competition is fierce. Consider these startup statistics from Forbes:
- About eight out of 10 entrepreneurs crash within the first 16 to 18 months of starting their venture, which makes up for 80 percent of all startups that fail, mainly because of cash paucity.
- More than 50 percent of small businesses that commenced in 2011 failed within the first four years, and only 3 percent were able to get into the fifth year.
- Only about 30 percent of all small businesses can break even while another 30 percent end up losing money almost continually.
So where do you begin? First, your business plan matters to potential investors; not only will you need to know it inside and out, you’ll need to sell it. Be prepared to speak knowledgeably about your competitors, target audience and financial metrics. The more specific you’re able to get, the more potential investors will believe in you.
Develop a strong, personal banking relationship. Good bankers work with people they trust; help them gain confidence in your plan, vision, team and most importantly, in you, as the owner. While they might be more conservative than other sources, you need them early and as you grow.
Other financial sources include grants and loan programs. Maybe your startup is in the agriculture or biotech industry; in that case, it makes sense to see what federal grants might be available to you. Do your research, know your market, and find out which funding sources are suitable for you.
You’ve closed the deal; you’ve hired your A team; and you’ve shored up your funding. Now, it’s all about servicing the client. It’s about the processes you put in place, the way you manage and the people you trust to get the job done; because at the end of the day, if they aren’t happy with the service you’re providing, your big new client won’t stick around.
As you move forward and your startup gains more traction, you’ll have a whole different set of challenges staring you in the face, but landing your first big client and how you prepare for it could be your defining moment.
Denise Kruse is the CEO of AdamsGabbert, an Overland Park-based consulting firm. She has nearly 30 years of corporate general management experience, entrepreneurial leadership and a passion for making a difference in the Kansas City community. Connect with her on Twitter at @AdamsGabbert.