7 Lessons I Learned From My Very First Customer

first customer

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:

  1. I held meetings that were a few hours long and unorganized.
  2. I continually rambled on instead of getting to the point.
  3. My meetings had no objective.
  4. I would hold meetings because I would want the customer to feel that I was doing the work, which I actually was.
  5. 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.

Conclusion

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.

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Comments

  1. Basically its the Pareto principle, 20% clients get you 80% results.

  2. Neil,

    The honesty of your share shines throughout!! These lessons can actually contribute to a life-long relationship with customers.

    Thanks.

    (I was there at the Content Marketing Session @ NPC 12 and in fact asked the question about writing grabbing headlines for content)

  3. I love to the point meetings! Without a doubt I have had those moments where I felt like if I tell clients everything I know or most they will think they can do it on their own. You are right that you have to had value and make them see what you are doing isn’t easy but so the realize that they need you and the cost it certainly deserving.

    Its never too late Neil, hit Andy up and do lunch with him!

  4. Loved this: “Always keep your relationships going”. It seems so simple but relationships are the gifts that keep on giving. Why? Because people believe in people. I just turned on a new customer this week – a big one – because of a relationship that I’ve had with my contact. We’ve known each other for 10 years and this is the first time we’ve done business together. Why? Because he’s in a position that requires the skills that my company has. We were his first call. Relationships matter. Always keep them strong and communicative!

  5. Great story. Keeping the relationships going is an invaluable tip.

    Not everyone’s good at that, but people with introverted personality should treat it as a skill that can be learned by persistence, – networking is a must.

  6. Neil,
    This is a phenomenal story. All the seven lessons have an incredible value and applicable to each and everyone in the marketplace today. Wow! Enjoyed reading your article, one more time! Thank you!

    Regards,
    Kumar

  7. I learnt that the customer always wants everything for the price of nothing :-) so keep yr contracts elaborate, well defined and do a sign off from either ends before u kick start!!!

  8. Well, nice post Neil,

    I am running a new blog on Recruitment’s in India. With in 5 months of its launch, i manged to get 100,000 Readers( thru Feed burner) and 91000 people like the Page of Facebook.

    Plus, The site has 40,000 UV per day

    But i feel, that i am not Monetizing the way, it needs to be monetized. I need your advise (whether Free or Paid) to get more money out of it.

    Hope, you will spare some time !

    Thanks and Regards
    Sumir Sharma

  9. So glad I found this article on Twitter. The lessons you shared were so specific and actionable. Thanks so much, Neil!!

  10. Neil pretty much has the best content on the internet…

    It’s a race between quicksprout, unbounce, hubspot, and a few others…

  11. Hi Neil, nice post. I like the part about Keeping your relationships. But is it really possible to keep in contact with EVERYONE? Esp for people how have a large network. Keeping in touch with everyone you know will sounds impossible.

    • It isn’t easy but it can be done. After you meet someone you would like to stay in contact with on occasion even if it is once a year reach out to them. You can do this by sharing something interesting or simply wishing them well and seeing how they are doing.

  12. Neil… WOW. I’ve faithfully read so many QuickSprout posts over the last few months, but this one particularly touched and edified me.

    I am a budding freelance copywriter (specializing in SEO and customer conversion) in Los Angeles, who obviously looks to emulate your empire and your philosophy on work and life.

    Implementing a number of the steps you’ve pinpointed here has helped me to land enough clients to sow the seeds for my own entrepreneurial copy enterprise.

    Thanks for the wisdom — yet again! -Jeff

  13. Hi Neil,

    It is never to late to rekindle old business connections. You are the “whale” now and it would be great to return the deed to someone who show you the path. Go grab that quick lunch! BTW, great blog. I have gone in the archives and read everyone of your posts. Thanks for linking up with me on LinkedIn.

    Be Amazing,
    Tangelia

  14. Great stories and lessons Neil! It’s really inspiring to learn from your success and failures and the honesty that share it with us is much appreciated!

  15. 20k a month at 16? That’s bad ass….

  16. Hey Neil, I can relate to a lot of what you’re saying here having run a web development company 2 years prior to creating our new product, SaberBlast.

    The biggest thing I learned from my first customer was: if you solve a problem well in one areas of a customer’s business they will want you to solve “all” their problems. So, though more revenue is tempting, don’t get too tempted to stray from what you want your core focus to be.

    Other than that, I learned that being very responsive and truly taking the time to ensure quality service while also focusing on value delivered is key to keeping a relationship going. The client will keep coming back for more in the future, so it’s very win-win. Until your quality suffers for some reason, then you jeopardize the relationship and the trust you’ve built.

    Loved the story aspect to this post, thanks Neil.

  17. Hey Neil,
    This is a great post as I can also relate partly to this. But I have learned about Focusing on ROI, Explaining how you do the work and building relationships. This is definitely something I can implement in my own consulting business.

    Thanks for sharing and you should fly to Orange County and meet with Andy :)
    Thanks anyway.

  18. It always comes down to ROI. if you can demonstrate to customer ROI usually they will go for it. Problem is to connect the dots for some people. In some cases you have to use ppt. on children level

  19. Lesson 5 is part of what I have trouble with, are there any examples of SEO reports i can take a look at to compare to mine? Currently I’m including Onpage changes to link structure, headings, directory submissions, interlinking, sitemap and webmaster tools changes + Linkbuilding and content marketing for offpage.. but even to me it doesnt seem like enough for a months work on paper even tho it does ot me when I’m actually doing the work.

    Any good examples out there for a months report?

  20. Very good general business lessons.

    It’s so important to understand their business and how your skill set can grow their ROI. That’s where the opportunities for upsells come from.

    Having sat through more than my share of terrible meetings I strongly agree about having a clear objective. Sometimes even that isn’t enough – I have often circulated a clear objective and then at the start of a meeting asked each member to say what they expect to get out of the meeting – everyone usually drifts away from the agreed objective. That’s why a clear summary at the end of the meeting with agreed actions and accountabilities is also so important.

    • Definitely, there is always room for up-selling.

      Good point, summarizing the end of the meeting will make all the points and determined objective clear to everyone so that there is no confusion.

  21. I remember how once I started consulting, one of my initial training was to the company I worked for earlier. And I even ended up getting some of the trainees when they were no longer with the company – and those proved to be helpful to expand my work.

    One problem I often have as you is keeping the relation going. Putting some efforts there now.

  22. Awesome post Neil.
    I agree with your points. ROI is what the clients focus on mainly!!

  23. I believe this more than anyone.

    Only with referrals am making money, and those referrals came from my colleagues. One thing what I did is even though left company or I left any company I keep on relation with them. No this is not for any again, then after 1 year one among them called me and recommended me to their company who`re looking for SEO person. Not only this he brought me 2 clients in short period.

    Never expected anything from him, but it helped me.

    ~@Khajamoin1

  24. Hi Neil
    In a nutshell it is all about social networking.
    Partha

  25. Ronnie Manuel Joseph :

    Mind-blowing Neil, You are awesome. What made you stand apart is your attitude of sharing the so called trade secrets of a business. Thank you Neil, keep on inspiring us.

  26. Just a learning experience Neil. As long as you don’t repeat it, it will only serve to make you a better consultant in the long run.

    Cheers

  27. Great insight!

  28. Great lessons and very honest post Niel

  29. Hello Neil

    I’m in the process of going freelance at the moment so your advice is really well timed for me. I’m going to a local networking event tonight so I’ll bear in mind your advice about getting my foot in the door and partnering with a whale.

  30. Thank You Neil for sharing a nice and real story, your idea is really awesome. I aggre with your marketing strategy. Time and again, maketing strategy has been changed and foused on customer related service and cutomer handling process. New born business house has been facing the great challenges of marketing. Call center to online marketing are are guided by selling approached only but focus on customers base approaches. Thank you again.

  31. So true. I hate it when a service provider treats me like an idiot. And I want to know what I’m spending my money on. Give me the story, in broad brush strokes – I’ll ask for more information along the way.

  32. My first customer helped me to think that I also have some information that I can sell and make enough money to live like I dreams.

    Thanks for this article because now I’m thinking that what other lessons I might have learned from my first customer but not getting them here in my mind.

  33. All u said is true, many business people rush to make a sale and just disconnect with the client, which prevents them from having a relationship which might be fruitful, my friend had a great relationship with one of his client, just beacuse the client loved his work, offered him a greater job which completely changed his life….

  34. Awesomesauce!

    Not a bad gig to have when you are that young. Weren’t you afraid or nervous talking with those big bosses being so young? Didn’t you wonder if they weren’t going to take you seriously?

    Great post as always Neil!

    Thanks

    • During the first few meetings I was, but after a while you get used to it.

      I didn’t worry about the serious part as I tried to dress really professional. I know know that doesn’t solve it, but as a kid I thought it did.

  35. It’s easy for narrow-minded people to read lesson #6 as ass-kissing. I liked how you used the word “networking” to show people that it isn’t.

    There’s more to rubbing elbows with people in higher places than just getting in their favor. It’s hard to explain, but it is one of the so-called “laws of power.”

    Overall, awesome post.

  36. Thanks for the honesty and insight you provide in your blog posts Neil. I like how you broke it down into the background story and the lesson learned. Great piece.

  37. I loved your article. I particularly liked your lessons # 6 and # 7. It just proves that it takes a combination of the value you bring as a consultant together with the power of personal relationships to make you invaluable to your client.

  38. Great experience Neil. I love your story. I hope I can learned more from my past achivement.

  39. Great article Neil. Like they say you learn from your mistakes.

    BTW I like you cereal bowl on instagram. lol

    thanks

    Edgar

  40. Frankly I don’t like meeting, but I never fall a sleep in meetings. I cannot imagine if my boss knows I sleep when he is presenting a weekly report.

  41. I agree ROI is VERY important. If executives didn’t focus on this they would have chaos and inefficient project running wild. It’s great you saw this and used it in you arsenal. We also care about brand loyalty, customer retention, profit margin, among many other things. This is the language we speak and if your dealing with executives, it’s best to talk in this manner because it’s so relatable. Thanks for this post!

  42. Thanks for sharing your business mindset and what you learned from this experience, I’m in your case in a huge company, and moving up the food chain is definitely a must do. A tip : with internal community tools (like chatter on salesforce) you can make yourself visible quite fast ;-)

  43. Hey,

    Excellent post Neil. So this is how you get business? ;)
    I guess a good SEO expert will get a business easily if he knows how to do right SEO.

    Thank you

  44. Great Post ! Love it…Especially Lesson#7 ..Keep going.cheers!

  45. I really like lesson #7. I used to own a business that I ran for 5 years strictly on referals and had about 100 clients. When I sold the business I stopped keeping in touch with them. Now, several years later, I have re-joined the entrepreneurial world and I have to start from scratch.

  46. Some really good stuff in here, I especially agree with the ROI comment and I think especially with 2013 looking as through consumers and businesses are going to be looking too loosen their buckles a little with respect to spending that means to stand out and get each competitive dollar you are going to need to show each customer great value for money and a decent ROI

  47. I agree with keeping the relationship going. I would add that it’s best to minimize the effort on customers’ side, be some sort of “single-serving friend” :)

  48. Hi Neil,

    Like you I started off tiny in a world of big guys and it was daunting but I focussed on my USP’s and was able to carve out a great niche. The big guys never saw me coming and managed to take a lot of the mainstream larger clients from the big boys.

  49. Great story Neil. I liked your relationship point. In business, it is always essential to maintain relationships with your clients, business partners or with normal employee. Also I agree with your meeting point. Meetings should not be boring and lengthy.Well it should be well organized having a proper agenda.
    Thanks for sharing.

  50. Not everything you put forth is valuable to us in our small service business, and not everybody is equipped (for a number of reasons) to partner with a whale. Nevertheless, in every post I read I ALWAYS find at least one small thing to keep and use in the future. For that I thank you, Neil. As a result of this and many other similar items over the years, we have managed to remain solidly entrenched on Google’s page one in our niche, without spending a dime on advertising. We’re still considered small fish, but there’s enough room for successful small fish in a big ocean.

    In addition, all readers should carefully note how Neil never, ever, fails to respond to each comment, no matter how minor the point being made. That in itself is worthy of note. I shall not fail to do likewise.

  51. Hello Neil, one of the point which i have personaly experienced is that the customer will never be impressed if you just tell him that his google rankings will go up, that does not actually matters to him what matters is how good this would be for his business. So explaining the final end result in a way which fulfils customer’s exspectation is also important.

  52. I really proud of you dude I’m the regular visitor of this blog this is the best ever seen article in any blog it is useful great article Neil Thank you !

  53. Hey,
    Excellent post, I really like the way you have explained lesson 1 and lesson 2. it is true that people fall asleep while meeting so we should care about interaction with people.
    Great work and i will do care about these problems in future.

    Thank you

  54. Hi Neil,

    This was a good piece I enjoyed. Well said! To be honest, I only clicked on this link because it was RT’d by @TriKro. Maybe I’m the exception but I generally glaze over titles of the format “X ways to _whatever_” because I know why it’s written that way. Even when I first landed on this page, the stock image actually made me even more skeptical because I thought it was cheesy and I know it’s just a tactic to improve getting eyeballs. But I stuck around for just a little bit more because it was RT’d from a trusted source, and had your top point not deliver any real value, I would have hit the back button immediately. Good post! :)

    cheers,

    Jay

  55. Awesome Neil – this article was great as usual. I have been learning a lot about being more of a consultant for the businesses I work with, which has resulted in huge earnings increases.

    However, one thing that really bugs me is I don’t really understand how I can track and show my Clients what ROI I am giving them. I try to focus on meeting their needs, solving problems etc. But I need a better way to show something like “What we did resulted in a 5% increase in sales”. I’d love to hear any books you’d recommend or any ideas you have on this subject.

    Thanks again – Caleb

  56. Hey neil!

    what i said man to you,you are fantastic in your skill.
    thank you so much for such a nice article.

    Thanks!

  57. Great post dude. Thanks for sharing such an useful information. Certainly a great article and really valuable to us.

  58. Neil, thanks for sharing your experience! The biggest one for me is continuing with the relationships.

  59. Thanks Neil for sharing your experience with us.

  60. Hello!,,,,,
    Hi!,,,,Great post dude. Thanks for sharing such an useful information. Certainly a great article and really valuable to us.Thank you so much!…….

  61. Really a great post. Good dude. Thanks for sharing such an useful information.

  62. Excellent post. I think that when you get new customers then always try to satisfy them. Always show them that you are dedicated and you can do every thing what they want.
    Make a good relation with clients and always increase his ROI :)
    Thanks

  63. Hey Neil !
    It’s true that sometimes when we know something we try to convey each and every word to our listener regardless either they are willing to listen us or not. The ultimate result is sleeping of the audience. Well the lesson which you have learned is very true.
    Thanks for sharing your experience with your first customer.
    Brian

  64. Hi Neil,

    Nice article – I agree with your points and general philosophy of the post. Meetings are usually such a waste of time in most corporates and often have to be re-done because of a lack of clearly defined outcome/objectives/agenda or the meeting just not being well facilitated (‘talking shops’). I used to have a default of 30 mins for my meetings (instead of the usual hour) and my default question instead of ‘why do we need the meeting’ would be ‘what do we want to achieve with this meeting?’ or ‘what do we want to get out of the meeting?’ and unclear answer would result in ‘well, what’s the point in having the meeting then?’. So much time is wasted in pointless meetings…

    I like your point about the whale too – I know plenty of people who have made their entire career out of attaching themselves to the right whale (in a nice way) and nurturing that relationship and any others related to it…

    In any case, the last point is the most important, whether to a whale, a chicken or a fox… relationships count in so many different ways – also both directly and probably more importantly indirectly (people taking about you when you’re not there) – so it pays to get along with EVERYONE as best as you can and in as genuine a way as you can.

    wow that was a lot of words, well, those are some of my thoughts on the subject, anyways…

    take care & best wishes,
    Alan

  65. Thank you for sharing your experience and advice. As a new SEO this helped me much. I will try to follow and obey your learning.

  66. Hey Neil !
    This post is worth reading. These are important points to understand.
    Specially the point of holding your meeting. Your are right that meeting should have some purpose or objective. Well the most important thing which I have learned from my first customer was “importance customer care services”. Your customer are your every thing for your business.
    Keegan

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