I’m approaching some major clients with the concept of my start-up, but am concerned that they won’t take me as seriously as the established players. What do clients generally like most about start-ups, and how can I emphasise that?
Start-ups have advantages over more established businesses in a few areas. It’s key to emphasise these up front:
1. Cheaper. Start-ups generally have lower overheads so, theoretically, are the cheaper option.
2. More agile. It’s easier to change direction on a brief or project with a 10-person team than with 100 people.
3. Hungrier. When you’re trying to make a name for yourself, you’re often willing to go the extra mile to make clients happy – and clients love that.
4. Newer. Start-ups often bring new insights that counter entrenched beliefs and can have a refreshing impact on their client’s business. It’s not as easy to do this when you’ve been around a long time.
If you can emphasise these factors you’ll get a foot in the door. To take the next step, you’ll need to identify the barriers to entry for each client. You need to be face to face, presenting yourself as a solution to an identifiable problem and making it easy for the client to say yes.
There are some basic questions to ask to see if you are on the right track.
Are you speaking to the right person in the organisation? Do they have the authority to sign off on a contract with you? How do their budgeting cycles work?
Will you have to work with their other contractors and if so, how will you manage? Who will you need on your side internally to make the product or service a success? How can you prove to them ahead of time that they’ll see a clear return on their investment with you? What’s the pain they have that you are taking away?
In some cases, you might end up with trial contracts or short consultancies where you work on a small piece of the client’s business to prove yourself. Once you’ve done that, you can graduate to more significant investments of time and money.
The key is to remember that you will become known for doing what you do. There’s a lot to be said for holding out for the right client and the right project.
Balancing this factor with the cashflow pressures that come with being a start-up is one of the toughest things any new company will manage, and one of the defining factors in how a company builds its culture and reputation.