This past year many of our clients faced cut backs that frequently resulted in either reduced or, in some cases, lost business for us. We, like so many other small businesses, are accustomed to quickly adapting our services and business development approach to our customer’s needs and the larger economic climate. Whenever a project was cut loose we would usually reassess the customer’s initial needs to see if we could propose a modified solution that fit in to their new budgets. If the interest was still there we often revised the project scope and deliverables – shortening the length of a course or restructuring ancillary materials to be more multifunctional- so that a slower economy didn’t also mean suspended business development for our clients.
Why, you may ask, did we not simply turn around and pursue our client’s competition? They would surely be interested in services and content which would help strengthen their market position. Well, the answer boils down to loyalty. We have always tried to work with companies and individuals whose ethics and goals are complimentary to our own. We like to dig in and really understand their business in order to determine how we might best serve them. This is much easier to do if the people are just as curious and hard working as we are. It is also a much more sound investment of time and effort to develop quality relationships with our clients if we know that by providing them effective and loyal service they will continue to bring their work to us.
When the economic climate shifted dramatically and our clients’ budgets drastically reduced it was not as though that professional investment also took a dive. In fact, if anything the spirit of alliance was only strengthened. These were people and businesses that needed our help to keep their eye on the long term; needed to improve their workflows, continue their training and adapt their business development/marketing plans.
Yes, we could have probably made more money last year by abandoning this sense of loyalty. But, we chose as a company not to panic and begin taking business from anywhere. Instead we decided the greater potential for long-term profit was in continuing to invest our loyalty in long time customers.
This isn’t to say we didn’t pursue any new business. In the instances when a project could not be afforded and the lost revenue needed to be supplanted we took it as an opportunity to explore new verticals and expand our services. We found opportunities in new arenas, like marketing and higher ed, that were conducive to our existing services. We also mined Bizucate’s current employee skill sets and identified new services –social media consulting, for example -- which we could offer to our clients. Both of these exercises carried the unanticipated benefit of reinvigorating our company’s core passion for embracing chances to learn.
We know this level of flexibility is more often the luxury of small businesses –- especially those well versed in ways of bootstrapping -– and that, at the end of the day, practical needs (payroll, accounts payable etc) need to be met. However, the basic philosophy behind remaining loyal to your client base is one that can be exercised on a number of levels. Whether it is the decision to give a little of your time “off the clock” to provide advice or to serve as conduit for information or introductions that could help a struggling customer where you can’t companies large and small can benefit from the loyalty investment.
As we start a new year (with some cautiously optimistic forecasts) we have already seen a slight return on the loyalty investment from clients who have reinstated previously suspended projects and have expressed interest in the new services we added to our roster. By keeping our focus on the larger picture we will continue to grow our business ethically.