On Surviving the Economic Crisis Part II

Last week, I attended a roundtable discussion for business owners that was hosted by the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce.  The purpose of BIG: Best Insights Grow (Your Business) was to provide a forum wherein a dozen small business owners and consultants  could share some of our more vexing business challenges and receive some practical advice from the group about how best to resolve those issues.

I offer you a few strategies and action items that surfaced in our forum. You may want to integrate some of this into your practice, so you can grease the cash flow wheels as we enter the traditionally slow summer months.  Most of these things you already know–none of it is rocket science.  Nevertheless, selectively employing a few of these methods is bound to have a positive effect on your billable hours, in the short and long term.

  • Stealth Prospecting

Obviously, we must always keep eyes and ears open for new clients and new ways to engage our current clients.  One way to do that is to network: get out there and attend events, talk to people and let them tell you which products and services they like, why they like them and how they like them offered.  Also, remember to make sure friends and colleagues know what you do and who they can refer to you, so they can be your surrogate sales force.

Another way to set the stage for networking and prospecting is to put yourself on the panel guest and speaker’s circuit.  Meaning, position yourself as an expert.  Pay attention to the program schedules of a few business and professional organizations.  What kind of topics do they offer? What kind of audience do they attract? Can you offer up some of your expertise and give a presentation or join a panel discussion? Are you a member of any such organization?

Build relationships with the event coordinators for these groups and find out the protocol and requirements for their speaker’s bureau.  Have a clear understanding of topics that are deemed appropriate, so you can offer the right talk titles.  Local colleges may also accept proposals for workshops.  Check out noncredit continuing education offerings in a few schools and see who might give you an opportunity to teach. You might even receive a (modest) honorarium!

When you are showcased as an expert in your field, you will be approached by peers and prospects who seek your advice, want to do business with you or want to refer you to someone who does want to work with you.  Now that takes the cold calling out of prospecting, am I right?

  • Strategic Referrals

What better way to get yourself into the good graces of someone who you suspect could be a good referral source for your gorgeous self than to get the process started by referring a client to your object of desire? The chances of receiving some reciprocal billable hours are going to be good, I’ll say.  I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship…

  • Smart Pricing

Pricing is a tricky thing. It is both a science and an art. When it comes to services, honestly, who knows what anything is worth? The service is worth what the client thinks it’s worth.  Even in flush times, you’ve gotta know when to hold and know when to fold. You must become a very good negotiator.  No one wants to gouge and no one wants to be undervalued.  These days times are tough, clients know it and everybody wants a “deal”.

Freelancer, you need a good pricing strategy if you want to keep a roof over your head and food on the table!  You need a useful bag of tricks that will keep the billable hours coming in at rates that will keep you solvent.  Here are a few strategies that can help:

When you know or suspect that a client is going to knock down your price, try adding 10-20% to your proposed fee.  Some people love to bargain, love to think they got something at a lower price.  So give that client the satisfaction of “saving” a few dollars. When they press you for a price cut, slowly and reluctantly cave in– then smile like Mona Lisa as you collect your usual fee (or close to it).

Another win-win pricing strategy is to hold your price but add in a few extras or upgrades. Maybe you can even do some small something pro bono.  Many clients will be happy to receive more for their money.  They want to stoke that value proposition.

But alas, sometimes the clients have us over a barrel and we are forced to take a job at a lower fee because we either flat out need the cash or we crave a certain plum assignment. How to take the sting out of this one?

Start by trying to get more hours out of the project. Your hourly fee won’t be great, but the check at the end will be less paltry. You can also ask for future assignments, thus getting them on the hook for more work that you can count on.  Better still, giving a referral discount to this client may be the way to go: each successful referral the client makes means their next job will be priced at a 10- 20% discount.  Pricing is most definitely about negotiation.

This is also the time to offer your clients some flexible payment options.  Consider offering a discount on invoices that are paid in full within 15 days.  Invoicing like a general contractor might also be helpful: ask for a third of the project fee up front, the next third at the project midpoint and the final third within 30 days of the project’s completion. Setting yourself up to accept credit card payments may also prove to be useful.  The downside is the processing fee, but you will make it easier for cash strapped businesses to pay you on time.  As we all know, getting paid is the name of the game.

Good luck this summer and let me know how you make out!

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