The hard part is to just get the initial meeting.
That is what I used to think when I was a young gun. Not that I am old now, just . . . older. We all know what comes with age, right? No, not wisdom – scars. After the scars have healed and you have had ample time to reflect on how you earned those scars, then those scars can turn into wisdom.
To develop business acumen, most business developers and business owners go through a process similar to what our agency, bloomfield knoble, experienced when we were a start up in 2005. It looks like this:
- Struggle, live on bread crumbs 2-5 years (more likely 5)
- On the brink of failure, last minute saves come from unexpected angels
- Longevity turns to trust in marketplace
- Trust turns into small success
- Success builds momentum and attracts strong talent
- Talent puts you over the top
- Struggle to remain on top as long as you can
Most small businesses, like bloomfield knoble, are 10+ year overnight success stories. When we look back at the hard, lean times we tend to think of that first meeting that “made us” and started the forward momentum.
In reality, it was not that first introduction or meeting. It was how we conducted ourselves in the second, third and ongoing meetings, calls, discussions that “made us.”
Yes, that first introduction is hard to get, especially if you are new, inexperienced and everything is actually aligned against your success. Those that have been there know it is the later interactions that build the relationship to make it a reliable source of business and revenue.
In my experience, it is the seeds of long-term trust that are planted in those second, third and ongoing meetings. The reason there is ongoing business is “they” trust that you will personally get the job done well and you take it personal. It means as much or more to you as it does to them. Over time, you will make certain that that understanding rubs off to your talented staff and the words honest approach and hard work become your company-wide ethic.
Anyway, I’m preaching again. Probably to the choir at this stage, but that never stops me. So off my box and onto the rules I sold you on in the title.
- For your first meeting, don’t change who or what you are.
Establish your personality, your goals and be sure that whomever you address understands your hunger for success is tempered by your ethic. Never forget that people hire you to make them look good. Make sure you don’t leave that meeting without everyone knowing that is your goal.
- For your second meeting, establish your demands.
Even if you are on your last nickel and your doors are about to close, you can’t sell yourself if you are desperate. Don’t let your business become an indentured slave! I always had a “walking price” before I entered second meetings. Even if it is not about negotiating price at this stage, make sure you establish you are worth whatever you ask.
- For the third meeting, make sure you can and want to work with them.
This is probably your last chance to avoid a terrible business relationship. If you don’t respect them now (and vice versa) it will not improve. We all have horror story clients. It would be great if you could have fewer than I have after being in business nearly 20 years. (I have two.)
- For the ongoing meetings, DON’T BE A “YES” MAN.
The desire to close a deal can be intoxicating. Stay sober and think before you agree to anything. Memorize this: Your 5 minute conversation could cost your staff or your business partners 40 hours of extra effort, causing a possibly irreparable rift.
That’s it. If the title led you to believe that I was going to share rules on how to land business and charm clients, I apologize. I just don’t play it that way. You see, there are so many things in motion of which you need to be aware. You need to take care of your future client (they often don’t know what is for their own good), your internal team, your vendors, and most importantly, yourself.
Setting client engagement rules to stay true to yourself and your values ensures everyone has the chance to be successful.
If you do this, maybe you can become a 10+ year overnight success some day.
Eric J. Hirschhorn is a principal at bloomfield knoble. For 17 years he has helped lead the Dallas-based advertising agency from start up to becoming a premier, full-service agency whose clients include some of the most influential companies in America. Eric lives to spend time with his family, to work and to travel the world in search of unique fishing adventures.