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USID2008 Conference on Design Innovation & User Experience

In our personal space, we artfully manage a constant dialogue across our networks – whether on Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn, or via tools like Twitter and Friend Feed. We effortlessly forge new communities of interest, and participate in a wider conversation.

In contrast, our workspaces are far better at enforcing hierarchy than they are at fostering a sense of community. Our workspace tools help control the message, rather than start a dialogue that would encourage collaboration and participation.

What can businesses do to adapt and thrive in this new environment? And how can smaller businesses take advantage of these new tools and technologies to compete globally?

I will be discussing the above themes in detail at the USID 2008 Conference on Design Innovation and User Experience, being held in Bangalore, India from 4 – 6  September, 2008 (via a video link).  If you happen to be in Bangalore and would like to attend the USID conference, please register at their website.

And if you happen to have any specific queries based on the themes discussed above, drop me an email and I’ll try and cover it in my presentation.

Tiffinwalla 2.0

The dubbawallas of Mumbai are an iconic cog in the city’s complex infrastructure. Their persistence defies reason, and has earned them a certain celebrity in a city defined by its larger-than-life characters and institutions. The changing fortunes of the city have not dampened the prospects of the dubbawallas, whose business model has survived stock market crashes, train blasts, monsoonal ire, and even the arrival of the food court across city malls. Everyday, nearly 200,000 of Mumbai’s working class opt to have their home-cooked lunches couriered to their offices (and later have the empty containers collected and delivered home), all for a reasonable stipend. This simple value proposition masks a complex logistical undertaking. One that is all the more admirable considering that many dubbawallas are illiterate, and rely solely on a colour coding system that assigns each lunch box to a unique address.

Of late, I have observed my local dubbawalla negotiating his way through busy intersections, ignoring bemused pedestrians as he wheels his tricycle packed with lunch deliveries, onto the footpath. With a sense of urgency he frequently jumps off his tricycle to offload lunch boxes, and hurries into office buildings to make deliveries. What is remarkable is that my local dubbawalla is a German backpacker named Toby, holidaying (and now working part-time) in Melbourne, Australia. A cycling enthusiast, he’s forgone the cycle courier jobs he probably anticipated he’d be doing, for a “tiffinwalla” job (another name for dubbawalla). Besides, this job includes a hot meal.

Tiffins.com.au is the brainchild of Melbourne-based entrepreneurs Mikhil Kotak, 31, and his younger brother Maddy, 26. Now in their second year of operation, the brothers run their business from an industrial kitchen / office located in one of Melbourne’s trendier inner city suburbs, Docklands. Averaging 1500 deliveries a week, the business is adding on average 250 new customers to their database every month. Having taken twelve months to break even, the brothers have set the audacious target of over $800,000 in revenue for the next twelve months.

Founders

Founders Maddy and Mikhil

This is heady stuff for the brothers, who, while joking about owning beach front properties someday, are mindful of their humble origins. Both grew up in an industrial and decidedly middle-class district about 80 km from Mumbai. To help make ends meet, the boys would cycle around their local neighbourhood after school, delivering lunch boxes prepared by their mother. The popularity of their mother’s curries notwithstanding, the additional income from this family business was meagre. Years later, motivated by a greater sense of purpose, the brothers would save what they could, and borrow the rest to arrive in Melbourne as overseas students.

After graduating from University, neither brother seemed content with the monotony of a nine-to-five job. Mikhil would often stay awake at night imagining a different life. It was on one such occasion that he had what he calls his “unconscious dream”. What if they adapted the dubbawallas’ lunch delivery business for Australia? After all, they already had some experience operating such a business in India. Could it work in Australia? South Asian immigration was on the rise. Indian food was always a popular choice amongst locals. And, besides the crowded food court or last night’s leftovers, office workers had few alternatives for a healthy, nutritious and wholesome lunch meal.

Mikhil wasted no time in calling his younger brother. Both agreed the risks were enormous. Between them, they had a few thousand dollars, were still paying off student loans, and didn’t have an asset to their name. More important, if things soured in the business, what would it mean for their own relationship? And yet, their gut instinct was to put everything on the line. They’d borrow from friends and family. They’d max out their credit cards. And if in twelve months everything failed, they’d get ‘regular jobs’ and spend the next five to seven years paying it all off.

Six months later, they scraped together $150,000 – just enough money to lease an industrial kitchen, hire a chef, order tiffin containers from India, and buy 5 tricycles for deliveries. Calling in a few favours from their mates in IT, they spent a $100 on a web template and built their first website. The service officially launched on 5 April 2007, with Mikhil sending out a promotional email to his former colleagues at the bank where he’d worked. Their value proposition was simple – a vegetarian meal for $6, or a non-vegetarian meal for $7, delivered to your workplace every week day. In the first week, about fifteen orders trickled in, some of which ended up at the wrong address.

Tiffin Squad

Tiffin Squad

Today, though not quite on the scale of their Mumbai brethren, the brothers have built an operation that works with clockwork precision. Sitting in their Docklands kitchen / office, trying not to get distracted by the sound of industrial strength dishwashers cleaning hundreds of tiffin boxes behind me, I begin to appreciate the effort and personal sacrifices that fuel their ambition. Mikhil and Maddy explain how they researched the Melbourne CBD lunch market, right down to timing how long it takes for the average office worker to make the trip to the nearest food court, order a meal, and return to their desk. They talk about how they’ve continuously refined their market penetration strategies, realising early in the game that it wasn’t local Indians who were their biggest customers, but Australians, who account for 60% of all orders. They emphasise their decision to forgo any advertising and rely on word of mouth awareness, investing instead – in a stroke of brilliance – on custom fitted and eye-catching Danish tricycles for deliveries, that do all the advertising for them. They take me through a typical work day, starting at 7:00 am when their kitchen opens, and finishing well past 9:30 pm, every week day.

The novelty of their venture has earned them favourable local press coverage, the free publicity raising their brand awareness across Melbourne. Feeling vindicated, this public recognition has only fanned their ambitions. When on an episode of Gordon Ramsey’s “Kitchen Nightmares” the celebrity chef attempted to transform the fortunes of an Indian restaurant by starting a tiffin lunch delivery service for local office workers, Mikhil and Maddy received phone calls from loyal customers the following day saying Gordon Ramsey had pinched their idea.

The brothers have no plans to slow down. They’ve planned a café on the banks of the Yarra River (ironically, within walking distance from where Gordon Ramsey will be opening his own fine dining establishment). They’re working on taking their business beyond Melbourne’s CBD to other business districts. They’ve set up an offshore call centre in India to handle customer queries 24/7. And they’re in the process of overhauling their entire website – still a cornerstone of their operations – so it can handle the rapid increase in online orders coming through daily.

As I wrap up my interview, the brothers let slip something that conveys more than they perhaps intended. I understand at once what continues to motivate them, and gives them their sense of accomplishment. The person who got them started in this business back when they were still teenagers on bicycles is making her maiden trip to Australia.

The Long Tail and social networks

In Chris Anderson’s best-selling thesis “The Long Tail” , he lauded online businesses that go to market with niche offerings, positing that a sizeable (and profitable) opportunity exists that mainstream businesses typically ignore.  Last week, Anita Elberse, in her HBR article titled “Should you invest in the Long Tail?” countered that argument, citing data that showed that mainstream demand continues to trump obscure, niche interests for wallet share.

While a healthy debate has ensued online between the authors, clearly both notions are plausible. Indeed, their relevance even impacts the strategies corporate decision makers pursue when deciding on how best to participate in online social networks.

At mainstream social networks like Facebook, My Space and Orkut, millions of members connect with friends to communicate and share experiences, forming clusters of people who have either something they identify with, or someone they know, in common.  Individual clusters expand and combine to form thriving online communities, where, as in the case of Facebook, over 250,000 new users sign up every day to participate.  The network effect inherent in sites like Facebook has challenged marketeers to embed their brands in the social experiences of their members.

The Long Tail theory applies spectacularly to online social networks too.  No matter how obscure your interest, idea, or obsession, there is likely a niche social network waiting to sign you up.  And where none exists, it is effortless to start one of your own, thanks to open platforms such like Ning (which had over 275,000 social networks as of May this year).

Niche online social networks can become a potent force, when they transition to full-fledged multi-sided platforms.  Consider LinkedIn, a professional networking site with more than 19 million members that renders the traditional Rolodex obsolete. Adding people to your LinkedIn network is akin to collecting business cards, except you get to view the person’s work history, and get a sneak peak at their network of contacts. And, whereas a business card is useless the moment a contact changes jobs, LinkedIn profiles are assiduously updated to ensure no achievement or career transition goes unnoticed. LinkedIn is well positioned to transform into a multi-sided platform serving the needs of individuals, recruitment firms, and employers.

As in the euphoric dotcom years, it is once again web start-ups who are rewriting the rules across industries. Still, significant opportunities do exist for traditional brands to extend their reach by embracing social networks, whether they participate in a mainstream social network like Facebook, or create their very own niche network. Last year, I posted a blog on how Choice magazine (a not-for-profit consumer reviews publication based in Australia) had squandered an opportunity to extend its brand online and tap into the collective wisdom of online Australians.

An equally compelling opportunity exists for another Australian publication – Vive magazine. This bi-monthly magazine for “women who mean business” has carefully cultivated it’s brand. Ambitious, sophisticated, and an astute sense of balance aren’t just Vive’s brand attributes -they could just as easily be traits their niche audience aspires to. The publishers of Vive have a tremendous opportunity to extend their brand values online, and to become an influential online destination for their key demographic. A hypothetical Vive online social network for women could allow members to comment on articles; authors and contributors could blog more frequently and initiate discussions on various topics; and, clusters of interest could emerge around subjects as varied as ‘working mothers’ to ‘starting my own business’.  Even the potential for advertising revenues would be amplified given the target audience at the site. 

There have been attempts by incumbent industry leaders – albeit limited in scale and ambition –  to extend their brands online via social networks (examples include Ernst & Young’s Facebook group to start a conversation with new grads, the HSBC Business Network, and Amex’s Open Forum). Perhaps the debate ignited by Elberse’s rebuttal of Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail will inspire corporate decision makers to revisit their own online social networking ambitions, and, who knows, maybe the next LinkedIn or Facebook will be the wilful foray of an old world company, attempting to rewrite the rules online.

The Importance of Being Authentic (or internet strategy lessons from the Obama campaign)

Deconstructing the remarkable ascendancy of Barack Obama, from political unknown to presumptive Democratic nominee for President, lessons emerge for political war rooms and corporate boardrooms alike. As much as the Clinton campaign’s foibles have provided a cautionary tale for political operatives, the Obama campaign’s successes have presented a compelling case study for business students and leaders.

Obama’s ability to inspire and command unswerving loyalty, not just amongst his inner circle of advisers and nearly 1,000 employees, but amongst the coveted millennials across college campuses, has intrigued marketeers as much as it has preoccupied journalists.

Obama built a groundswell of support amongst his most effusive of fans, the millennials, by tapping into a core brand attribute – authenticity. Obama wears his authenticity on his sleeve, it transcends his oratory and prose, and it defines him to a new generation of voters. No other brand attribute resonates more with the millennials, who, much to the chagrin of advertisers and marketeers, have a discerning eye when it comes to spotting a fake.

It is common knowledge that the Obama team expertly crafted and meticulously executed a masterful online campaign to introduce their candidate, mobilise support, and raise more funds via online donations than was perceived possible (although less surprising when you consider that 24-year old Chris Hughes, a co-founder at Facebook is championing Obama’s social networking strategy). It is not a stretch to compare Obama’s online operations to other celebrated internet success stories where new entrants have captured our imagination by displacing complacent incumbents. By successfully extending the Obama brand online, primarily through an elaborate online social network at my.barackobama.com, and through countless other means (a decent Facebook profile, Twitter feeds, widgets, You Tube posts, etc), Obama become one of his own people, or to put it another way, stayed ‘authentic’.

Businesses should be forewarned if they think the Obama campaign offers a checklist of online initiatives that will earn them street cred with Gen Y. Were that the case, surely Hillary Clinton could’ve stolen some of Obama’s online momentum. A cursory look at both candidates Facebook profiles is insightful in highlighting the importance of authenticity to building a brand online. Where Obama’s profile is at least somewhat realistic, Hillary’s is amusingly out of character with the medium.

Admittedly, the importance of social networks to businesses and the context for their participation is still being determined. But other examples abound of how the Obama campaign has innovated online in smaller yet effective ways, again providing lessons for large corporations.

For all the immediacy of the internet, when it comes to managing a company’s public image, most online experiences are disappointingly static. Browse through the public relations or investor relations sections of most corporate websites, and besides archives of annual reports and press releases, there isn’t much to engage site visitors. Worse, when many of these corporations are engaged in crisis management of some magnitude, their websites are embarrassingly opaque.

Contrast that with the Obama campaign’s launch last week, of their pre-emptive crisis management website, “Fight the Smears”. Acknowledging that in a world where 24 hour cable news channels feed off sound bites circulating online, they co-opted supporters, detractors and the media in their efforts to combat rumours directly online. The Obama camp invites anyone to forward a rumour they have come across online, and track official responses from the candidate. It has been widely reported that the urgency for this initiative came directly from Obama. By staying true to his instincts (as he did when he made a daring speech on race relations), he defied the conventional wisdom on responding to rumours. Both instances are evidence of Obama’s ‘authenticity’.

Election campaigns are in a constant state of crisis, and it is to be expected that extreme situations will necessitate fresh, innovative, and occasionally lateral thinking. The Obama campaign has broken new ground online, and done so in a very public arena, making  the current U.S. election historical and inspiring on so many levels.  Rarely have corporations had a front row view of what works and what fails online, without taking on too much risk themselves. Perhaps beyond the mundane world of politics, there is also reason to be hopeful for change.

The internet and the Fourth Estate

When commentating on the impact of the internet on business and industry, the news media, with its changing fortunes, is unenviably as much a part of the story, as it is scribe. During the frenzied dot-com days, publications such as Red Herring, The Industry Standard, eCompany Now (later known as Business 2.0) and Fast Company captured the ethos of the times. They informed and entertained, with anecdotes and evidence of entrepreneurial excellence, as well as excess. Ironically, the fate of these and other publications came to be inextricably linked to that of the companies they covered (of the four mentioned above, only Fast Company survives as a print publication).

Today, institutions no less mighty than the New York Times compete with The Huffington Post, an online newspaper. And a favourable nod by the blog TechCrunch for companies launching new products and services is more coveted for the right kind of buzz, than a mention in the mainstream press.

Websites like Digg.com have tapped into the power of social computing, allowing readers to submit news stories and vote on other reader’s submissions, democratising the quintessential editorial function of deciding what appears on the home page, and what is buried deep within. And across the internet, a plethora of social computing features like StumbleUpon, Reddit and Buzz Up integrate with ease into any website, allowing users to rate and share information with their peers.

Acutely aware of the changing dynamics of how news and information is created, distributed and consumed, the old guard is fighting back. Venerable publications like the New York Times have hypothesised on what the optimal business model might be, briefly launching a fee-based premium content service called TimeSelect, only to be convinced of the potency of online advertising as a more credible source of revenue. Time, Newsweek, The Financial Times, and countless other publications of their ilk have high-profile blogs, and support user-generated content. CNN aggressively promotes citizen journalism, inviting viewers to post their own video clips to their website for potential broadcast, if deemed newsworthy.

To gauge the shifting fortunes in the news media business, it is worth taking a look at Guy Kawasaki’s latest venture – Alltop.com. Describing itself as a “digital magazine rack” of the internet, it aggregates headlines from popular sources across varied topics. A quick glance at a topic like Politics is revealing. News feeds from The Washington Post, Fox News and the Guardian newspaper share real estate with online-only publications such as Politico, The Drudge Report and The Huffington Post.

Declining ad pages and a drop in circulation for traditional print media will no doubt claim casualties. In October 2007, a valuable chronicler of the dotcom years and a judicious commentator on online trends, Business 2.0 (owned by Time Warner), hit the stands for the last time.

A determined few are willing to risk reinvention to stay relevant. Earlier this year, Fast Company relaunched its website, creating a platform that encourages an ongoing conversation amongst its readers. Even the aforementioned magazines Red Herring and The Industry Standard have been revived as online-only publications, with the latter offering a creative twist on user participation.

An example of a new publication trying to carve out a niche for itself is Nett magazine (published in Australia), which offers practical information for small and medium-sized businesses with online ambitions. The handful of issues published to date showcase local entrepreneurial talent, and share insights on emerging online trends. Any early success notwithstanding, a bigger opportunity exists online for the publishers of Nett. No single website, social network or online community platform has as yet captured the imagination of the local entrepreneur. Across Australia and New Zealand, independent voices have emerged in the blogosphere, many of which try and fill the void with intelligent commentary and analysis on emerging online trends (rev2.org and Start Up are two really interesting examples from New Zealand). Nett has an opportunity to engage with the entrepreneurial community online, tapping into their collective wisdom for mutual benefit.

Years from now, when business students contemplate the consequences of the internet across industries, they will no doubt benefit from the meticulous reporting of the day as they go through the archives of various newspapers and business magazines. The question remains, which of today’s publications will still exist?

Stymied by tunnel vision

Of all the ailments endemic to large corporations, perhaps the most cancerous of all is tunnel vision. The symptoms are subtle, if visible at all. In fact, years of acceptable performance against key metrics mask any early symptoms and warning signs. And typically, a culture of rewarding continuity, stability and caution percolates across the organisation.

So what is wrong with this, you ask? Surely, we should put a premium on battle hardened leaders who appear impervious to any crisis or uncertainty around the corner?

Perseverance and resilience are admirable qualities in leaders – so long as they do not inhibit risk taking, creativity, pushing boundaries and continuous innovation. Business history is littered with examples of corporations that have fallen on either side of the divide – those who have stayed true to their original charters, and those who have rewritten their DNA to become market leaders in emerging industries.

In recent years, the threat of tunnel vision to established corporations has become increasingly apparent, thanks in large measure to the great level playing field that is the internet. A remarkably large number of new entrants have usurped market share and brand loyalty from powerhouse corporations who had the wherewithal to succeed, but sorely lacked imagination.

Consider the travel industry. Both airlines and travel agencies had enjoyed cosy relationships that guaranteed steady revenue for all. For decades, customers twisted and turned in their seats to sneak a peak into the mysterious and magical terminal used with aplomb by booking agents. When the internet empowered customers to take control of this experience, it was new entrants like Expedia and Travelocity that captured our imagination. They created services that would go beyond airline and hotel bookings, and include tools and advice that helped us plan our entire holiday. It wasn’t until a few years later that the airline industry retaliated with their online travel site Orbitz. Even the code name for the initiative termed T2 – apparently meaning Travelocity Terminator – conveyed better than anything else the reactionary rather than proactive forces at play.

Tunnel vision is especially acute in financial services. Some of the most interesting innovations have come from new players in the industry. The most notable of all is PayPal. To date, leading banks have had a lukewarm response to PayPal, especially for small and medium sized businesses who, having trusted existing relationships with their banks, would certainly feel more secure about using their banks online payment gateways. And yet, setting up an online merchant account via your local bank is a technical exercise that can frustrate and intimidate – compared with the simple and efficient process offered by PayPal. Other innovative examples in financial services include websites like mint.com, a site that aggregates a person’s financial activity across multiple service providers, and makes offers and recommendations that can help save the user money. Or peer-to-peer lending sites like zopa.com, and socially conscious services like kiva.org that have created a new platform for lending and borrowing small sums of money.

Large, established corporations are fully capable of innovating, and even reinventing themselves. Consider the example of Finnish company Nokia, which began as a wood-pulp mill, and over the course of its history produced bicycle and car tires, and even footwear. Not every organisation has to endure such extreme transformation. But combating tunnel vision is essential to survival today – and risk taking, pushing ourselves to be creative, and to innovate continuously should be the new mantra at work.

Besides, remember the battle hardened leaders traditionally cultivated in large organisations – surely they can steer the rest of us as we push boundaries.

Pitching services to entrepreneurs

When Thomas Friedman had his epiphany about the Flat World, he eloquently connected the dots, fragmenting any activity into divisible and distributable tasks that could effortlessly be reassembled, creating a whole truly greater than the sum of its parts. In his tome titled “The World is Flat”, he proclaimed a new trade in bits and bytes across international borders, where information was the only currency that mattered. Reading his book, I started to believe in this levelling of the playing field, which made plausible comparisons between global institutions such as IBM against India’s Infosys. And I started to better understand the forces behind the groundswell of confidence and energy that now most metros in India exude.

Over the course of the year, I would experience first hand the opportunities and rewards, as well as the short comings and frustrations of offshoring. The wealth management firm where I worked at the time decided to engage a tier one offshoring vendor, identifying a sizeable program of work that would allow the vendor to demonstrate their global leadership and experience, whilst at the same time would expose any pockets of resistance and insecurity around offshoring in our own backyard.

As much as there was plenty to discern from that experience, I was far more intrigued about how entrepreneurs could eventually benefit from competing in a Flat World. The dotcom boom years showed that upstarts could take on old world stalwarts, with varying success. More recently, the commoditisation of underlying web technologies and ubiquitous broadband access has further levelled the playing field – for every budding entrepreneur, there are a multitude of service providers who specialise in UI design, writing code, or providing maintenance and support services.

So how might the better and brighter amongst these service providers distinguish themselves, and get noticed? In this post, I’ve listed 10 things small (and ambitious) service providers must do to in order to get noticed when an entrepreneur starts Googling web designers or developers. By no means comprehensive, and in many ways obvious, I have encountered numerous service providers who have ignored these basics –

1. Introduce yourself

Clients need more than high search engine rankings to gain confidence in their service provider. After a potential client has ascertained from basic info on your site that you could provide the services they seek, they will inevitably try and glean a bit more about your company and the team behind it. All too often, there is vague information about how the company has a terrific team with years of experience etc, but no real names or bios of the key people in the business. At the very least, introduce yourself and include a short bio, and if relevant, do the same for key members of your team.

2. Give real examples of past work

Expect all potential clients to ask for examples of past successes. Wherever possible, provide case studies explaining what role your company played on a project, and provide URLs to websites. Avoid listing big name clients (or for that matter, obscure ones) without explaining in what capacity you helped them achieve their goals. Did you conceive the entire visual design concept for a site, or merely slice up PSD files into XHTML/CSS? Did you design the database and build the backend connectivity, or write a few lines of ASP code? Clients want to know.

3. Let clients choose their preferred method of contact

I was surprised that it mildly bothered me when a particular service provider I wanted to hire did not have a phone number for me to call and discuss my project requirements in more detail. To be fair, the work itself was of low monetary value, and I reminded myself of all the eBay and Amazon activity I had engaged in without once dialling a phone number. But simply providing alternate means to contact you – if not a landline phone number then via Skype or Instant Messenger – makes your company that little bit more real and less virtual.

4. Give evidence of process and project management discipline

Often, if you are dealing with an entrepreneur, it is possible that they also have (or had at one time or the other) a full-time day job in a large organisation where they were trained to be process tsars. Expect them to expect the same standards and competencies when dealing with you. Clearly describe your project methodology and your own expectations over the course of the project. Early on, even during the sales process, send a possible high level project plan that shows you are thinking and planning ahead. In short, build confidence with your potential client.

5. Be transparent when it comes to costs and effort estimates

Leaders like Infosys have built their reputations on the high standard of transparency they bring to their engagements. Every bit of effort and corresponding dollar cost is there for the client to mull over. Even if you are running a small software development company, you should build trust with your clients by communicating all costs and estimates clearly. Your clients will be better educated about your pricing model and are likely to increase the scope of their engagement with you. When asked to provide a cost estimate for a project, attach a high level breakdown of the costs and effort involved.

6. Leverage as many opportunities as possible to build your profile

It can be hard to stand apart from your competitors, especially when your potential client is overseas and is relying on Google to find you. Look for opportunities to try and build your company’s profile within your industry. Participate in online discussions on popular blogs by adding insightful comments and feedback (and don’t forget to include a link to your site!) Even better, if you are so inclined, start a blog on your domain of expertise to engage with a wider audience. Your next client may find you via one of your posts, and you may already have earned some credibility with them.

7. Be upfront about what you can do, and especially what you can’t

Avoid putting yourself in a situation where you’re pressured to pull a rabbit out of a hat. If a potential client wants you to deliver something that is at odds with your competencies, be honest enough to admit it. If you feel you would like to take on the project regardless, and may need outside assistance to deliver a part of the project, let the client know how you would address the gap. If you want to build a relationship that drives more business and eventually referrals, invest in building trust first.

8. Explain how you will manage risk during the project

Potential clients are understandably paranoid when outsourcing work to overseas companies. What if I pay the 25% advance and never hear from the vendor? Could the vendor take my idea and pawn it off to someone else? Who owns all the IP developed as part of the engagement? What if I am dissatisfied with the quality of work? I keep dialling my vendor’s mobile number, but it rings out – who do I contact now? These and many more questions are probably going through the mind of the client. Demonstrate your sensitivity to these matters before commencing any project. Offer to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement. Ask the client if they have prepared a contract, or if they would prefer to use your standard contract for the engagement. Be flexible where you can afford to be. Taking the lead on these matters offers you yet another opportunity to show your professionalism.

9. Communicate, communicate, and communicate!

If this hasn’t come through in all the other comments so far, then let us restate the obvious – the single biggest risk to your relationship with any client will possibly stem from poor communication, miscommunication, or no communication at all! Get into the habit of sending out project status reports. Maintain an issues log, and keep a risk register. If you can, provide secure online access to project artefacts and documents. Little things, such as a short email or SMS alerting your client to when a web build is starting so that they do not try and test or do a demo during that time will go a long way.

10. You have more passion and hunger than the big guys, so show it

You biggest asset is your own hunger and passion for the work that you do. When the opportunity presents itself, demonstrate your commitment to seeing your client succeed, and to making a significant contribution towards that end. Entrepreneurs have great ambitions for their start-ups, and are willing to make many sacrifices along the way to see their dreams realised. Let them see that you’re no different. Chances are, you started out like them and persevered against all odds to succeed. Now you need only to stand out.

Have more tips to help both entrepreneurs and service providers at the smaller end of the market? Share your thoughts.


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