Whether you’re a yoga instructor, a bookkeeper, or a business consultant, if you have solid skills and a track record of applying them successfully, you could have the foundation for a service business. But talent and experience alone aren’t enough to win customers and keep them happy. To stay on top in the service game, you need to have a knack for dealing with different personalities, and an unfailing commitment to delivering reliable, timely service.
After you’ve identified the service you want to offer, consider these questions:
1. What will it cost to establish the business and keep it afloat until you have enough positive cash flow to keep it running?
2. Do you need additional training or certification in order to compete with other service providers in your field?
3. Do you have the resourceful, enthusiastic, never-say-die personality of a successful entrepreneur?
Develop people skillsAs a service provider, chances are you’ll be dealing one-on-one with clients, either in person, over the phone or via e-mail. Learn to work with various personality types.
Draw up a business planA business plan helps you stay focused by giving you a road map to follow.
The U.S. Small Business Administration provides an example of a business plan for a service business. Create your own plan with Business Plan Pro, which includes sample business plans and other tools.
Price it rightKnowing what to charge for your services can be a challenge. When setting your fees, consider factors such as the cost of doing business and what your competitors are charging.
Figure out what it costs to produce and deliver your service. Use the worksheets that are included in Score’s pricing tutorial. The Advantage Group and Rapt offer several tools and services to help you develop sound pricing strategies.
Mind your numbersAs a business owner, you have to keep a close watch on your income and expenses.
Take the tedium out of bookkeeping and other accounting tasks by using Intuit’s Quicken Home & Business software, or its more-advanced big brother, QuickBooks. If you bill by the hour or day, keep detailed records of your time with an online system such as TimeLedger.
Lay the legal groundworkTalk to a business lawyer about how to structure your company. While you’re at it, get legal advice on how to draw up customer contracts that protect your business and define the services you’ve agreed to deliver.
Find lawyers who specialize in working with small businesses at Findlaw.com or SmallBusinessLawFirms.com. You can have legal documents drawn up for you within 48 hours at LegalZoom.com.
Get out and networkAttend meetings of local and regional organizations where you might meet prospective customers or people who can refer you to prospects. Remember to always look for ways that you can return the favor and by helping your fellow networkers.
Join Networking for Professionals to meet other professionals in person and online. Visit business-to-business networking sites such as Xing.com.
Develop marketing materialsWhether you promote your business with brochures, postcards or e-newsletters, your goal is to remind customers of how they can benefit from using your services.
Send a monthly e-newsletter to your customer and prospect lists. Use templates available from Constant Contact, which also provides e-mail delivery and management services. Design your own postcard mailers using the United States Postal Service’s economical NetPost Premium Postcard Service. Make it easy for customers to spread the word about your company. Learn how to incorporate word-of-mouth marketing strategies into your marketing.
Promote your expertiseShowcase your knowledge by offering to be an expert source for journalists.
Journalists are often looking for authorities to interview for stories they’re writing. Pay to become a member of BusinessWire and ProfNet, two services that journalists often consult, and you can be listed as an expert source. You can also distribute press releases to business editors through BusinessWire. On ProfNet you can respond to queries posted by journalists who are looking for specific information from experts.
- When a prospective customer disagrees with you on too many levels, it’s smarter to turn down the business than to take the client on and be miserable. Customers who are extremely hard to please will ultimately drain you of the energy you need to keep your business growing.
- While you’re getting your company off the ground, it might seem like a good idea to reduce your rates in order to attract more customers. If you slash your rates too dramatically, however, you might become known as the cheaper, and therefore less competent, supplier.
- Show your clients that you’re serious about providing good service by contacting them after you complete a project to find out if they were happy with your service.