As an accountant, bookkeeper, VAR or any other service provider, your business thrives when your clients’ businesses grow – but what that looks like for small businesses can be very different than for the big guys.
Small business owners are looking to work with accountants and other business service providers who truly understand their needs and will work with them to provide a personalized solution. So if you’re working primarily with small businesses, you need to understand how they think. You need to not just offer a service, but be a trusted consultants as well. Here are some tips to get you started.
1. Focus on the relationships.
In small businesses, relationships matter. Thinking about your work with your clients as a mutually-beneficial partnership puts the focus on your relationship, rather than on constantly selling to your client. Build a solid foundation of fantastic service, trust, and cooperation, and the services will sell themselves.
Staying in contact with your clients is key. Not all businesses are looking to hire consultants on a recurring basis, but you want to be sure your name is at the top of the list when they are looking for help. Send a holiday card, email them useful resources, and drop a note to congratulate them when you spot their name in the news. New projects can often spring from expansions and new ventures, so if you catch wind of that it’s an excellent time to check in.
2. Position yourself to fill knowledge gaps.
The main reason small businesses hire consultants is that they have a gap in their experience that they can’t fill by simply hiring a full-time employee. They may be exploring a new market, trying to solve a tricky problem, or making an organizational shift, so they’re looking for an objective outside perspective to fire up their in-house staff.
Successful consultants position themselves to fill these gaps in their clients’ knowledge. They succeed by providing a new view on a client’s problem, and analyzing the data to brainstorm (and help implement) actionable strategies.
3. Ask questions – then listen, listen, listen.
A client may be hiring you for your expertise, but before you can start providing answers you need to ask questions. Rather than just laying out a one-size-fits-all setup for all your clients, take the time to interview each about their business. What are they struggling with? What’s their plan for growth? Where are they feeling stuck?
Truly listen to your client’s answers, both what they’re saying plainly, and the message that’s under the surface. Developing an ear for recognizing where the problems really lie will set you apart from your competition.
4. Understand the limitations of small businesses.
Since they’re often faced with tight cash flow and fierce competition, small businesses come with their own set of challenges for a consultant. Tight budgets mean coming up with more creative solutions. A narrow focus on a unique local market may require a specialized set of expertise. Fewer employees may mean decisions get made more quickly, and new programs can be implemented without too much red tape. Keep the perks and perils of small business structure in mind when creating plans for your clients.
5. Keep your business model flexible.
To best serve a variety of small business clients, you need to keep your own business model flexible. Consider creating service packages, and offering continuing consulting on retainer. Recurring retainers are often used in situations when you’ll be providing ongoing monthly services – like bookkeeping, marketing, or PR – but you may also consider building in a retainer for projects that take a few months of solid work to implement, and would then benefit from having you in an advisory role as they go forward.
Because no two of your clients will be alike, you may want to cultivate a network of freelance contractors for when you need additional expertise. This allows you to better staff projects to meet clients’ needs while keeping your own overhead costs down.
6. Build trust by always following through.
If you’re building your consulting business around small business clients, you need a solid foundation of trust. Always follow through when you say you’ll do something – and be clear and timely when communicating delays or problems. When your clients know they can always rely on you, they’ll come back to work with you again and again.
Want to add value to your current solutions portfolio or consultancy practice? Learn more about partnering with Vend. We provide all the training you need to get the most out of our product for you and your retail clients.
About Tara Benedict
A former retailer (and unabashed nerd) who daydreamed about integrated POS software, Tara now delightedly recruits, promotes, and enables Vend's wonderful channel of add-ons and partners. An ardent sharer of Vend news and events, connect with Tara on Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+ and never miss an opportunity to meet up with the affable Vend team.
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Accounting for Small Business Montreal