There are many skills required to run a successful business. In general, being a distinctive performer comes down to your client or customer having the best experience possible. How do you achieve this? Do as many things as possible to make their life easier (which usually means saving them time, or money, or both).
Some of this chapter is specific to those running a service-based business, but most of this information can be applied to negotiations with suppliers as well.
When arranging work with small and medium businesses you will usually write a "proposal". This typically comes in the form of a letter which contains information regarding:
- The scope of the work and a review of those who will complete it.
- The timeline for delivery of the work.
- The cost and terms of payment for the work.
- The date and other pieces of identifying information (e.g. your ABN).
Depending on your industry, the requirements of a proposal vary. For example, some projects will publish an official "request for proposal" which lists the requirements of a letter of proposal. However, for small businesses dealing with other small businesses, it usually comes down to identifying what information is required and being sure to check that what you write is correct.
Once a letter of proposal is accepted (e.g. an email from the client who confirms the project) you are then required to deliver the proposal to the letter. Make sure that you can deliver what you propose, and that you have made reference to things you may need from the other party (e.g. one consistent contact person at the client).
Two sample letters of proposal can be viewed using the buttons below.
Writing a good letter of proposal is all about providing the information which your prospective client wants to see. Put yourself in their shoes, what's important to them? Use this is as your guiding principle of "what good looks like".
Communicating your point clearly in all modes of communication (e.g. text, email, letter of proposal) is critical. Top-down communication is the art of synthesizing the most critical point as the headline in your messaging, followed up supporting elements, which are in turn followed by supporting facts.
A sample of top-down communication is shown in the graphic. Note that the headline message conveys the one line the reader needs to know, followed by supporting information which links in consistently with the headline (see the "1", "2" and "3" trackers in the graphic).
There's nothing less user-friendly than hitting a wall of text on an email chain. Apply the principles of top-down communication and be brief and succinct. The first paragraph of your email should state clearly what is required by the recipient, and the subsequent paragraph provides supporting information as context for the recipient.
Text-based messages (including Slack, iMessage, WhatsApp etc.) are an extremely handy way of communicating within teams. The same rules apply here:
- The shorter the better.
- Land your agenda clearly and early (so the reader knows what's required of them).
- Always check for typos or grammatical errors (often leading to a second or duplicative message).
Looking Bigger Than You Are
It sounds crazy, but perception is reality. Having a slick website, brand, business cards and communications is 95% of the battle in gaining credibility with customers or clients. The beauty is, it just takes some care in what you say about yourself, and how you say it.
Example: When a small digital agency was founded it had a presence only in a bedroom in Brisbane. However, the website displayed the location of three cafes (one in Brisbane, one in Sydney and one in Melbourne), and the website copy said "you can catch us in any of our favourite east-coast coffee shops". It was implied that they operated in all major cities, which was true, but didn't state that they didn't have an office. The listed address was a PO box.
When clients enquired, they could meet at those coffee shops and the entire discussion of "having an office" could be avoided. All the benefit of being in several cities, none of the hassle of scale or office space.
All elements of looking bigger than you are relate to credibility: the quality of being trusted and believed in. There are a number of easy wins which help in looking bigger than you are:
- Have a PO box or business mailing address which doesn't show that you have no office.
- Use several email aliases (e.g. "contact@", "enquiries@", "media@") on your website, where all of these actually point to just one email mailbox (see how to do this on G Suite and Microsoft Exchange).
- Make your website look clean and spiffy, using royalty free stock imagery from Pexels to fill pages if required.
- Publish well-known brands who you've worked for or with on your website, as this builds legitimacy and credibility.
Word of Mouth
In Australian culture, word of mouth has huge impact in purchasing decisions. Research from Roy Morgan shows that over 91% of Australians aged 14+ have either sought advice from, or been the source of advice for their friends or family. As such, developing (and retaining) a reputation is a good way of growing a business. Asking family of friends to share their experience of your product/service with others could be a useful lever in increasing traction in your community.
Using particular language can help in building credibility. For example:
- Always use "we": "We'll get in touch..." is a whole lot better than "I'll get in touch...", even if you're the only person on the team.
- Choose role titles carefully: Calling yourself a "Founder" can have a bad connotation, perhaps use "Partner" or "Director" instead (depending on your business structure).
- Avoid abbreviations in public material: Not everybody will know every term (even in a specific field), so avoid abbreviations.
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