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Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.
I have a consulting business. When I launched it, my goal was to help new small businesses with their HR-related issues. Then I noticed they wanted to keep me in their back pocket to answer their questions (really, to get free advice), and it was hard to find the boundaries of the relationship. In a way, my business started to feel like it was about business development, which I love, too. But my mentor told me there is no money to be made in helping a small business that is having a hard time keeping its own doors open. My mentor suggested I create a few packages of HR services and market those services to doctors' and dental offices. What would you suggest?
The advice you received is very sound. Firstly, the target market your mentor suggested is inarguably solvent.
Secondly, with one product offering in your prospectus, a potential client has a simple "yes" or "no" decision to make. If you were to offer a menu of services, the options then are also clearly defined.
In developing and selling products and services for small businesses, it is important to spell out the deliverables: "At the end of this process, you will have a, b and c." Then, at the completion of that transaction, you can suggest the next package that would be most helpful.
There are certain personalities who want something for nothing and others who ask for help without even thinking that you should be paid for your efforts. But time is money, so you should have an hourly consulting fee for one-time situations or ongoing needs. Make sure this fee is clearly stated as one of your services.
As an example, my business offers a range of services: advice, resume and social media services, and coaching. The coaching is priced by the hour, and potential clients are told that this time can be used in 15-minute segments for phone or e-mail conversations to address issues of their choice. You might offer something similar for your existing, cash-strapped small businesses. Break down your services into discrete parts and bundle them in different ways to create more options for your customers—and more sales for you.
Spell out that you can be kept on retainer for ongoing advice.
It's smart to add e-mail communication as a line item to any hourly contract because while the average consumer e-mail takes just a couple of minutes, business e-mails are more complicated, requiring more time for analysis and a longer answer.
Remember, being a "good guy" and just getting thanks doesn't put food on your table. I have been in business for 31 years, and in all that time, not once have I given something away for free that resulted in a sale later on.
Diversify your product line and your target customer base, define the deliverables clearly, confirm they have been delivered, and finish with an upsell of another service and the option of having you on a very affordable retainer.
Have a question for Martin? E-mail your queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org. We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know. We look forward to hearing from you!
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