Building a business empire is tough, despite what today’s Silicon Valley whiz kids would have you believe. Very few, however, have been able to replicate with lightning swiftness the genius born out of a Harvard dorm room or a Palo Alto garage. Reality is quite different: long hours, little rewards and no guarantees, not even if you find an investor or score an impressive seed infusion.
When you are first starting out, it’s hard to say “no” to any client project that comes your way, whether it's good, bad or ugly. Because let’s be honest, you do what you have to do to pay the bills.
I will be the first to admit that I signed on to some unsavory projects in the early years of my mobile and web development shop: projects I knew would never be successful but would keep my company running for at least another month.
Don’t fall into this trap. You need to decide whether you want short-term results or long-term value. Ideally, this decision should be made from the onset of your business ventures. If you aren’t planning to stay in it for the long haul (say just one or two years), then perhaps generating as many sales as possible -- without weighing a project’s potential success or failure — might be the right strategy for you.
However, if you are looking to build a name for yourself and your company, then I suggest a more circumspect approach: It is important to thoroughly vet your clients and their projects. They may have a ton of money to invest, but if you feel their project won’t succeed, then turn it down. Trust me; your reputation is at stake.
For those who are worried that your youth and lack of a track record don’t afford you the luxury of being selective, I get it. I’ve been there. But these are not excuses. Instead, strive to become a thought leader in your field. Conduct research, publish your ideas, volunteer to speak at events and conferences, and get your name and your company's name out there as frequently as possible.
Too often, people consider these scenarios in retrospect. While I never turned down an opportunity to speak at public events, it took about a year after I launched my business before I learned the value of saying “no” to poor client projects.
I was young and had relatively little real-world experience with what it was like to be an entrepreneur in the fiercely competitive tech industry. But I had high hopes and lofty goals. I arrived on the scene just at the beginning of the mobile app craze and thought I would easily be able to grab a piece of the action. Needless to say, it didn’t go quite as planned: Client traffic was sparse in the first few months, the “cool deals” I had imagined coming my way never materialized, and I reluctantly took on a couple of projects that today I would never even consider.
Predictably, taking on these bad projects wasn’t propelling my company forward, and after many months of misfires, I changed tactics. I decided to concentrate on the long-term and became more selective. Rather than focusing on closing the deal, I looked at ways I could help the client in front of me. If their project was a non-starter (which many of them were), I poured resources into finding ways to make it better.
Before this reckoning, the only question I would ask a prospective client was: What is the project you need help with? Now, the questions I am asking are more wide-ranging: What is your biggest challenge? What would you like to achieve with your business? What are your personal growth goals?
Once these questions are answered, I present the client with options, and when I see they aren’t ready for development, I tell them so. Some may call this approach naive; I call it good, honest business sense.
It was a risky gamble, and in the beginning, I often questioned whether I’d made the right call. I scrutinized the numbers at the end of each month and worried that the results would never come. But as time went by, I realized that this was the path I wanted to take my company down, one I wish I had started to navigate from day one.
The strategy has paid off tenfold. Many of my clients, satisfied with doing business with my company the first time around, have returned with second (and sometimes third) product ideas they’d like to take to market. Ultimately, the success of a client, as cliche as it sounds, is also your success. This line of thinking could decrease the number of deals you close in the short-term, but it will also build the long-term value of your network, which was always – and still is – my primary goal.