When I was sixteen, I decided I wanted to graduate from college in two years instead of the normal four years. To accomplish my goal, I started to take general education classes that most colleges require while I was in high school.
The first class I took was Speech 101. In that class, I had to give three public speeches… one of them was “How search engines work”. Luckily for me, while I was giving that speech, a gentleman by the name of Steve who worked at Elpac Electronics was in the class, listening to my speech. After the class, he told me that his company was trying to figure out a way to get more traffic from search engines.
To make a long story short, Steve introduced me to a consultant by the name of Andy Mindlin who was running all of the marketing for Elpac. Andy gave me a shot and paid me $1,500 to come into the company for two days and teach them about SEO.
Here’s what I learned from my first customer:
Lesson #1: Do whatever it takes to get in the door
When I first had my call with Andy, he mentioned that Elpac was only willing to pay me a one-time fee for training them. But once I got in the door and showed them everything that they could be doing to increase their online revenue, they were open to a long-term contract valued at $3,500 a month.
Before I was able to get that $3,500 a month contract, however, I had to prove myself. Sure, they were paying me $1,500 to prove myself, but I actually delivered more value than the $1,500. I was paid for two days of training their staff, but I went to their office for five days, taught them everything I knew and even told them how they could implement all of my recommendations without me.
Although I was giving away the farm, the company had no intention of stealing my knowledge. Instead, they felt it was cheaper for them to pay me to fix everything so that they could focus their time and energy on their multimillion dollar operation.
Lesson learned: Even if it doesn’t seem wise taking on a customer that isn’t willing to pay you much, do whatever it takes to get in the door. A low paying customer is better than no customer. Once you can show your value, there will be opportunities for upsells.
Lesson #2: People fall asleep in meetings
No, I’ve never fallen asleep in a meeting, but other people have fallen asleep in my meetings… numerous times. It wasn’t their fault. It was actually mine because I didn’t know how to run meetings.
Here’s what I did wrong:
- I held meetings that were a few hours long and unorganized.
- I continually rambled on instead of getting to the point.
- My meetings had no objective.
- I would hold meetings because I would want the customer to feel that I was doing the work, which I actually was.
- I used a ton of technical lingo in meetings when dealing with old school business executives who barely knew how to use a computer.
Once I figured out what I was doing wrong, I kept my meetings really short, I made sure they had an objective, and I showed key performance indicators that the executives cared about.
Lesson learned: Don’t just have meetings for the sake of having them. Make sure your meetings have one main objective and everyone within the meeting is laser-focused on it, or else nothing will get accomplished.
Lesson #3: If you are a small fish in a big sea, partner up with a whale
Saying that I was a small fish in a big sea is an understatement. I was more like plankton in a big sea.
I was a newbie consultant who didn’t know what he was doing. The only experience I had before Elpac was doing SEO on my own site. So, how was I going to scale my business so that I could make more than $3,500 a month?
Well, Andy, who was Elpac’s go to consultant, and the man I was working for was really well connected. So, when I did well for the company, it made him look good because he was the one who approved my contract. Besides Elpac, he had many other consulting gigs, so he slowly introduced me to a few other companies as I started to show results for Elpac.
In essence, I partnered with Andy, and he was able to drive me more customers. He even introduced me to the founder of Elpac and the founder’s son, who owned an ad agency. Within months, Andy and his network brought me enough business that I was able to make around $20,000 a month in revenue.
Lesson learned: If you don’t have what it takes to land big clients, partner up with someone who does. As long as they can white label your services and mark up your fees, there is plenty of opportunity out there.
Lesson #4: Focus on ROI
In the business world, companies care about Return on Investment (ROI). When I first started working with Elpac, I used to show them when their Google rankings were going up. The issue was, they never cared about it.
When I showed them that the rankings I got them drove more traffic, which turned into leads, they got excited because they were then able to figure out which of those leads turned into customers and how much revenue it created for the company.
Once I figured out that executes mainly care about their ROI, I focused my metrics on ROI and growth. Once I have shifted my strategy of explaining my work, it was much easier to convince them to continue to renew my contract for the next two years.
Lesson learned: If you are in the B2B space and company pays you for your service, you’d better be making them more money than they are paying you. Once you do that, continually show them how much money you are making them as that will encourage them to continue renewing your contract.
Lesson #5: Details matter
I got so focused on ROI that I only cared about showing my customers how much money my results made them. I didn’t want to explain what I did to get the company there as most of the people I was dealing with weren’t technical.
Boy, was that a big mistake!
Just because someone may not understand the technical lingo, it doesn’t mean that he or she doesn’t want to understand what you specifically did to achieve the results. People have the urge to learn, so feed it.
You don’t have to show every little thing you are doing, but don’t be afraid to dive into the details and explain how you achieved the results. Make sure you don’t use much technical jargon, and if you do, explain what it means.
The main reason you want to include details in your presentation is that it validates that the client is paying you for your work. If companies feel your work is easy, they won’t want to pay you a lot… no matter how much money you make them. Conversely, if you don’t provide results for some odd reason, they are more likely to continue paying you as they are seeing that you are actually doing the work.
Lesson learned: By including details in your reporting, you can easily demand a greater consulting fee. Plus, if you are unable to provide results, you are more likely to continually get paid if the company feels you are doing enough work for the money. Of course, they will expect results sooner or later.
Lesson #6: ROI isn’t enough
I had a great run with Elpac. I worked with them for around two years. During my second year, the company got bought out by a larger company, and a few months later my contract ended.
It wasn’t because my services weren’t profitable for the new acquirer or they themselves were able to do what I was doing, it was because they felt they didn’t need me.
The big mistake I made was that I didn’t network with enough executives within Elpac. If I did that and if they understood the value I was providing, they would have taken the time and effort to convince the acquirer to keep me on.
Lesson learned: Make sure you move up the food chain by networking with high-powered executives within the organization you are working for. The more executives you get to know, the better chance you will have of keeping your contract (assuming they like you).
Lesson #7: Always keep your relationships going
I’ve done a terrible job at maintaining my relationships that I’ve made with the employees and consultants at Elpac. Once they got bought out and I was fired, I stopped communicating with everyone at Elpac.
I’m not sure why as they are all friendly people who are well connected. From the owner’s son, who owned an ad agency, to Andy, who still works a marketing consultant, they could have continually driven me business had I made the effort to maintain those relationships.
Heck, Andy even reached out to me earlier this year, and I didn’t meet up with him. I should have flown to Orange County and at least had lunch with the man.
If you maintain your relationships, you’ll continue to expand your business. Over the last ten years, the one thing that hasn’t changed for me is the way I acquire new customers. Referrals continue to be the best way to generate new business. I bet that it will be the primary way your business will grow as well.
Lesson learned: Building relationships is something you should continually do. If you stop doing business with someone, don’t stop the relationship. You never know what can come of it in the future.
I’ll never forget my first customer. Elpac was a great company that I got to work for, and the lessons I learned while consulting for them will always be with me.
I hope you still remember your first customer because if you look back at them, I am sure you will see that you actually learned a lot from the experience.
So, in that spirit, leave a comment and tell me what you learned from your first customer.