Being ready when that big client comes along means you have put in the groundwork required.
Running a successful business is a bit like running a marathon. You can’t just turn up at the starting line and expect to win the race. You have to do some preparatory work if you are going to grow a winning business.
I also know from first-hand experience that one of the best triggers for rapid business growth is winning a contract with a big organisation. That’s what happened to our environmental consultancy. We started with one, small monitoring contract in the resources industry over 20 years ago. We scurried to get the resources together, learned a lot very quickly, and managed to pull it off. All these years later, we’re still working for that organisation, as well as almost every other major resources company around.
We were able to use the skills, equipment and credibility from that first resources project to bid for, and win, other, more significant contracts.
But it’s not quite as easy as just pitching to the big client and signing the contract. Your business has to be ready.
Back when we won that first resources industry contract, our previous company experience meant we were familiar with working with big organisations. It was the specific mining-company stuff that we were missing.
And that is the point of this post. Every industry or even every company that you work with will be different. If you want to play the game, you have to know the rules and do your training in advance.
So, to start off your training, here are some of the things that I have learned and the mistakes that I made. Hopefully, you can learn from my mistakes, and put yourself in a winning position.
UNDERSTAND SUPPLY CHAINS.
We all know what happens when a link in a chain breaks. No matter where in the chain the weak link is situated, once it’s broken, the whole chain fails. That’s how your big customers see you – as a potential weak link. They have customers to satisfy and contracts to fulfil. They don’t want to be let down by your small business not being able to complete your part.
YOUR FINANCIAL HEALTH.
The fact that many small businesses fail in their first 5 years of existence is also no secret. If you are likely to be one of those businesses, you are that weak link I discussed in the previous paragraph. That’s why you will often be grilled on the financial health of your business before your prospective big customer will sign you up as a supplier.
THEIR FINANCIAL POLICIES.
This is the ultimate irony. While big companies will examine your financial entrails to make sure you don’t present a risk, their own policies are often the precise reason for any financial weakness.
Payment times is a huge issue in Australia (we hold the world record for late payments), and the worst offenders are the major corporates. You need to be aware of what their payment terms are, and what effect they will have on your cash flow.
Big companies talk about DIFOTQ.
Delivery in full, on time, with quality. Quality, in this context, means “fit for purpose” – in other words, what the customer wanted.
That need not necessarily be the gold-plated, super-duper, best-in-the-world version of your product or service – just the one that the customer wants. And you must deliver it in full, on time, every time.
KNOW THE INDUSTRY.
Make sure you ‘speak the lingo’ if you are venturing outside your immediate comfort zone – as I was all those years ago. Every industry has its own peculiarities, so you need to be up to speed. I call this “paying the admission price”.
This is a very short introduction to what will be a major effort on your part – to get your small business sufficiently fit to be competitive with other suppliers. As much as I would like to pretend otherwise, you’re going to have to do the work if you want to reap the rewards of having that big client on your list.
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