Sunday, 1 July 2012

How to Increase Your Business Clients to Improve Your Profit Margins

Taking the step from being a computer technician fixing home PCs to someone running a business which thrives off planning, building, maintaining and repairing other businesses’ IT solutions is one which might seem daunting to some. However by doing so you can increase profit margins considerably and probably reduce your general stress levels in the process too.

Before you ponder on changing your business model, however I would advise taking a long hard look at the business you’re running at the moment. Have you ever thought of whether it is really profitable? If you were paying yourself (and your better half, who’s probably putting in quite a bit of hours with you) an honest wage would you still be running a profitable business? When was the last time you ran this exercise?

As part of this check I would also recommend analyzing the different jobs you’re doing. Which of them are profitable and which of them are you doing as a “service” to your clients? For example some home clients expect you to do the installation work for free when you sell them hardware. Even if you are charging them, there is a limit to what you can charge unless you want them to run to the Internet to look for advice and try it out themselves.

Business customers are very different. First of all they see IT as an essential tool. There might have been a time when a farmer would try and fix his own truck, but nowadays they all take them to mechanics. The same goes for computers – businesses see them as something they can’t live without (because they really can’t!) and therefore tend to do whatever is needed to keep their systems running smoothly. A home computer not working for a day means you can’t check Facebook for 24 hours. A business computer not working for a day implies loss of productivity and therefore precious income.

Because IT is so important to businesses, they tend to generate a significant amount of work. A successful business must take its maintenance seriously, its upgrades with enough foresight and its backups with the precision of a Swiss watch! In addition to generating more work per computer, when you’re hooked up with a business client, you usually have more PCs to work on too. If you take a look at the turnover generated by a single (small) business client over the course of a year you can probably equate it to four to five families’ worth of work.

It is not all fun and games, because expectations on your level of commitment increase too, but this is mainly the reason you can charge higher rates. It is also harder to win the client over because there is more competition and a higher chance that they are already in some form of a relationship with another supplier/technician.

If you have decided that it is worth exploring as an idea, you now need to find ways to get the word out there and start attracting business clients. I have a few suggestions that you might want to try out.
1) Tap your existing client base

Your existing clients are probably an ideal first step in trying to get new business. Statistically, most of them work at a small business, so if you approached them there is a good chance of them either being the decision maker at office or at least knowing who is. Don’t push yourself too hard with people who are generating your bread and butter income though, because you don’t want to scare them off from giving you their custom. You can either drop a hint when you’re at their place or else insert a new email signature which says you service businesses too. It might also be worth your while to offer a small bounty to friends and long-term clients who can introduce you to a new business client.
2) Approach the local business community

Targeting local businesses with direct mail, the local yellow pages or advertising in a local paper would be a great method to start offering services. Your major investment here could be your time. Offer a free audit of their systems – that way you can give them something of value. If you do your job well enough at this stage, you’re the one they’re going to want to implement the recommendations to fix the issues that arise.
3) Mixing at business events

Scour the papers and online notice boards for business breakfasts or any other business meetings organised in your community. These are a great source of new contacts and people are expecting you to discuss business opportunities. If there are talks, then try and get a speaking gig – even if you offer your time for free. Use this time to outline the importance of having a solid IT infrastructure. Businesses love having a thought leader consulting them – it inflates their ego.
4) Buy a set of golf clubs

Or join the local chapter of the Rotary Club. Every community has its own version of a place for businessmen to hang out informally. Whereas these might seem to be a place to relax, a lot of business wheeling and dealing goes on in between holes on the local golf course. You will have to take it more easily here. People are officially there to enjoy themselves and relax so you have to observe others and respect the etiquette in place.
5) Online

Building a good presence online is a crucial part of achieving your goal. I have left it to last for one simple reason – no matter which of the methods above you decide to go with, this should have to happen in tandem. Create a personal LinkedIn profile and build it up as much as possible. Get recommendations from former colleagues and current clients and keep the account active on a daily basis. Create Google+ and Facebook pages as a local business and post items to them regularly. Ideally you shouldn’t broadcast, but also interact with people who’ve liked your pages. Offer free advice online to business customers – and make these posts public so you can show your expertise.

Whichever of these tickles your fancy, I would suggest not trying out more than one or two of them to start off. Ease yourself into the market and there is far less chance of being overwhelmed. Slow and steady wins the race.


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