Search & Social is reaching its one year mark, and Jordan Kasteler, Loren Baker, and myself are pretty in awe of what we have been able to accomplish to date. This post will not be a long pat on my own back, instead it will be a summary of what I have learned in the last year, the mistakes and the successes. This information consists of things we have learned from the smartest business owners in our industry (including Search Engine People's Jeff Quipp) and also situations we have had to deal with ourselves.
1. Do What You Do Best
Seems like a no-brainer, but often times when companies start out they want to be a one stop web shop. Durng our early days we took on project management, design, development, whatever to get capital rolling in. The issue is that once your core services begin to grow you are still stuck handling services that are outside of what your company focus may be, diluting your time.
I have learned a lot about this from great industry minds like Brent Csutoras, Chris Winfield, and Tim Ash. Those guys are known for their specific services, and it allows them to continue to be the pinnacle offerings for their respective services.
2. Don't Offer What You Don't Know
Another no-brainer right? You would think so, but so many business owners simply jump on the latest fad service offering without having any knowledge of what they are offering. This is most blatant in social media right now, where we have scores of "Social Media Gurus" offering services they have no business offering.
3. Be Transparent
This is something Search & Social believes strongly in.
When pitching a client, be transparent. Don't fake it till you make it. If you only have two employees, state that. The reality is that your client can see through the lies, so you are only going to damage yourself. Search & Social currently has 10 full time employees, including management. I sell this as a sign that we are nimble, and can out manuever larger companies.
4. Value Hard Work over Talent
There are a lot of talented people in this world. There are a lot of smart people in this world.
There are a ton of lazy talented,smart people in this world.
If you give me a hard worker, I can get 100% more out of that individual than I can out of someone whose primary quality is talent.
5. Develop and Retain
Further expounding on the above concept, take your hard workers and develop their individual talents. Once you develop those talents make sure you retain them. Too many business owners base an employees value on a time line. For example, lets say they hire an SEO at $45,000 and six months in the person has shown tremendous value, most owners would scale a raise between 3% to 5% looking mostly at the time line of the persons employment as an indicator of value. The reality is that an employee's value, in a service based company, is the amount of revenue they generate, either via production or sales.
Another great way to retain employees is to show an interest in their personal projects. If an employee is active on the web outside of your companies work, allow them to use company resources to develop those concepts. You of course have to setup limitations on this sort of concept, but showing an employee that your company is a place they can grow beyond their current role is great for long term employee retention.
6. Scale in an Appropriate Manner
The death of most companies is usually growth management. This goes back to the transparency concept. Small companies get themselves in trouble trying to be big companies to quickly. The downfalls can be expensive office space, fancy tech to put in that office, or too many employees to quickly. You have to scale based on your current business, and be ready to scale up based on projected business. Don't ever scale based on where you want to get, because this is a death sentence.
7. Get Everything in Writing
First get a good lawyer. Then make sure you have a great contract for every client that protects your best interests. Never do business on a handshake.
The same goes for employees. Create employment contracts, NDAs, and non-competes that protect your best interest, while not making your employees give up basic rights.
8. Be Willing to Turn Down Work
In the courtship process of service sales, you will note many indicators on how the relationship will proceed. If any red flags pop up, be willing to turn the work down, and move on.
9. Be Willing to Fire a Client
Not every relationship in life is based on mutual benefit, and this is true in business. Be ready to end relationships that are not healthy. Make sure you have a way out of your contract.
Educate yourself, educate your staff. If you are content that your current marketing practices will be enough to grow your business long term, you will likely be out of business in 5 years. You have to stay on top of the constantly changing Internet marketing game.
11. Get a Bookkeeper
This is a must. Seriously worth every dime. Just get someone to come in every once in a while and keep your books up to date.
12. Don't Sell Services, Educate Leads
Most leads you get will know what you do, and want those services. It is your job to let them know exactly how your services can benefit them, and how much those services will cost. At that point, if you have done a good job, the only decision to make is whether you are a fit for their goals and budget. Selling services, like it is a commodity, can often be a waste of time. Educate leads on what you bring to the table, and your cost, and then let them make the decision.
13.) Customer Service is Key
Bonus: Return every call or email within 24 hours.
Make sure you retain constant communication with your clients. Retaining business is more important than signing new business, but that fact is often overlooked.