Thursday, April 05, 2007

Finding Your Canary

One of the hardest parts about growing your business is losing clients.

Some clients you will lose because they're too small. I've discussed this elsewhere. If someone's worth $500 a year, they're not my client. If they have three desktops and no server, and they'll never buy one, they're not my client. etc.

Some of those people are old friends and you can't keep them as clients if you want to grow. Period.

Some clients fit your "profile" except that they're jerks. As they grow and get more successful, they become arrogant, pushy, abusive, etc. These are rare, but you have to recognize that they exist and cut them off before they suck time and money from your organization.

Some clients just won't be a good fit. For whatever reason, as you grow (and they grow), they'll be looking for something different than what you deliver today. It happens.

Now here's the meat: Some clients you love and want to keep, and they fit your profile. But they want YOU and not the technician who is now showing up to fix their stuff. To them, tech support comes from you, not your organization. You have been helping them for five years. You are the owner, operator, technician, chief cook, and bottle washer. You are tech support.

Those clients are key to your success. They got you here and you like working with them.

Virtually no one has a friendly, personable relationship with the xerox repairman or the mailman. You get invited to pot lucks and they don't. Your clients want to continue inviting you to pot lucks. They don't want tech support from "an organization," no matter how good it is. They want you.

You need to figure out how to keep these clients.


Every SMB Consultant should have an Ideal Client.

Your ideal client will be the right size. They will take your advice and pay their bill in a timely manner. They will comply with license agreements and buy new equipment on the schedule you recommend. Etc.

You must define your ideal client so you can go get more just like that.

And when you do that -- define your ideal client -- you will find yourself looking at your current clients. One or two names will constantly pop up.

"We love ABC."

"I'll take a dozen clients like ABC."

"Every client should another ABC."

"Every new client will be an ABC."

And then one day, ABC calls you and says "We miss you. Tech support hasn't been the same. We like the way things used to be."

You just found your canary.

And as you go down into the tunnel of your new job, building your new business, this canary will tell you how well you're doing.

If you begin to hear rumblings from your ideal client, you need to freeze your machinery and address the situation. Not the situation with this ONE client, but with your organization.

Because you've defined the ideal client and now you have problems keeping them happy. If this is really your ideal client, you need to completely organize your structure around making this client happy forever. Because if you start losing your ideal clients, then your entire operation is broken.

Key Lesson:
In addition to finding your ideal client, you need to restructure your organization to serve that client and keep them forever.

When the canary stops singing your praises, you have a major problem. You've put everything on this perfect client, but you don't have an organization that makes the perfect client perfectly happy.

Stop now and figure it out.

Is this still your ideal client? If so, restructure for success. Interview them. Listen, listen, listen. Do what they want. Have a heart to heart. Take them to lunch. Find out what they need.

If not, then you need to figure out who your ideal client really is. There's no point moving forward until you do this. You can't rush around delivering something that doesn't work.

Feed your canary. Tend to it. Make it thrive.

1 comment:

  1. This is so right on the mark. I have watched my canary (thankfully) over the past couple of years. I've lost employees rather than customers. I'd rather eliminate a customer's rumblings about service provided by my technicians by hiring a new technician. Now some of my customers would rather have a certain tech than have me come out. That's fine by me - I can work on the business and not in it, my tech is validated and complimented. Most importantly, my customer is happy.


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