New Day, New Client Acquisition
Food (and water), shelter, and warmth (clothing) – these are the bare minimums to survive. I am grateful every day that I have these things. There was a time when I did not have them all. And there have been more recent times that I was afraid I might not have them again. It’s not a fun place to be.
As IT Admins and Consultants, how do we keep from falling into that dark, fearful place?
Well, we increase our skills, we shore up holes in our business or department processes, and we grow our client satisfaction. We put our product and service offerings into a presentation, we get ourselves in front of a prospect or our manager/director, and we show them just how amazing we are.
What you present depends on how you want your IT relationship to be perceived. Do you want your clients/users to see you as a store — a purveyor of licensed products or services, where quantity of items sold/distributed is the measurement of success? Or do you want them to see their relationship with you as transactional, à la fixit shops? Or maybe you want them to see you as a teammate, a trusted provider, a partner? Or maybe none of that is as important as the type of business you work with — you may have expertise in and prefer to target a particular vertical instead.
I have no interest in influencing your decisions about your business methodology or which businesses you choose to market yourself to. Instead, I want to arm you with things to consider and tools to use when you finally find that fish — or, hopefully, a whale — you want to reel in. I’m not sure why I’m using a fishing reference; I’ve never fished in my whole life.
Step 1: Know Who You Are
Assess your skills, both technical and business skills:
- Do you have the chops to work for yourself?
- Are you driven for success?
- Do you have a solid understanding of business management, or just a great technical background?
- Do you have marketing or sales experience?
- Do you have conversational skills?
- Do you document your work and track your changes?
- Have you ever hired someone or managed people?
This is definitely not a complete list of questions to ask yourself, but it’s a start. Most importantly, can you take classes to supplement your current knowledge, or can you hire someone to fill in the gaps in your skills?
Once you’ve figured out what you have that others don’t, you can set about making that public to potential clients or potential/current employers.
Step 2: Is The Client A Good Fit?
Sometimes we get SO excited by an amazing lead that we forget to look at the fit. I’ve been reading stories of employers hiring people after two short interviews claiming it’s cheaper for them to run through employees trying to find the right one than it is to take the time to interview thoroughly and find the right candidate. I suspect those companies aren’t taking into full account the cost (money, time, other people resources) of onboarding a new employee. That seems unfair to the employee and to the company.
In my consulting life I certainly fell prey to bringing on a big-name client. Being swayed by the corporate name rather than assessing the proper fit resulted in poor expectations, high levels of stress, and a generally unsatisfying experience (but that’s a story for another day).
You want to have a proper fit with those you’ll be supporting. There should be mutual respect for each others’ experience, time, and ability. We can gain their understanding by being up-front and honest with our users. It’s nearly impossible to tell someone how long it will take to fix something. We can guess. But we can’t know. It seems that as soon as we’re “sure” it will only take 15 minutes to solve the problem, Murphy throws some weird thing at us and suddenly it’s two hours later. So, set the expectation up front. And pad it a bit. If you complete the project faster, you’re the hero. If it takes longer than it should, you’ve given yourself a cushion and you don’t feel pressured. Hope for the best, expect the worst.
Step 3: The Presentation
You’re almost there. Now you have to present your ideas and your company to the potential client. Yes, you will have to do some kind of presentation if you want to have a regular stream of income – nobody’s going to give you $1000/month based on your telephone voice, right? I have a whole article on how to speak in front of crowds, but for our purposes today, let’s talk about what the preso should look like.
If you are going to use a slide deck, remember that less is more. Less words, less detail, less slides overall. When I was doing 3-hour presentations, my goal was to have less than 15 slides and no more than 5 words on a slide. Is there anything more boring than having someone read their slides to you? Use pictures and infographics. Tell them how you will save them money. More importantly, be sure to show them how you will increase their profits. I recall one presentation I gave where I showed the client how replacing all of their design workstations (about 25) with faster systems would actually have an ROI that would allow them to save the equivalent of one salary.
The point is, the presentation is where you wow the prospect. You’ll deal with the details in the contract.
Don’t forget to practice the presentation — a lot. And in front of people — a friend, a colleague, your internal champion — whose opinion you trust. And on the day of the presentation, dress professionally. The prospect wants to know that you have good judgement and understand that needs vary based on the situation. Speak slowly and clearly and be sure to allow time for questions.
And when you are finished, don’t forget to thank them for their time and set the next meeting or call.
So you are finally and officially an IT Admin with responsibility for clients and users. Wheee! Now what? Users need to know exactly what services they can expect you to provide, and they need to know where to go when they need services you do not provide.
They need to know how to get in touch with you, when they can expect contact back, and they always want to know how long something will take to fix (impossible but not unmanageable, as described above). They also need to know what participation and responsibility they are expected to have. All of this should be covered in your contract (if you’re a consultant) or your employer’s IT Department Handbook.
Before you start helping users, and before you start making decisions, review those handbooks and contracts. Set up the explanatory tools that make those documents come to life for your day-to-day work with your users. Create the framework for how your relationships with users will look.
Don’t have the tools yet? It’s ok. We’re all in this together. You won the gig. You know your responsibilities. Your users know their responsibilities. Everyone’s on board. You accomplished a lot and it’s just Day One! Congratulate yourself and jump on over (see what I did there?) to the #Admin-Life channel JumpCloud Lounge—you’re not alone, you have a community.