Sixteen years ago, I became an independent contractor. It was time to leave the safety of a full-time job and branch out on my own. Engineering was my profession — a Mechanical Design Engineer to be precise.
My first employment was with a small engineering company with about 20 contract welders, fitters, and machinists. I was to be the owner’s right-hand man — let’s call the owner Jim.
Jim was the classic entrepreneur stereotype… passionate, single-minded, an incredible salesman, an extreme workaholic… and slightly mad.
The company’s day-to-day work was welding and machining work. However, they specialized in building one-off machines for manufacturing companies and then installing them. This was my area — design, manufacture, commissioning, and installation of these machines.
In some cases, the client knew exactly what he or she wanted. However, most clients had only a vague notion of what they needed. Often, they would wave an arm vaguely in the direction of a machine and say, “This machine makes Product A. I want it to make Product B as well.”
That was the entire design brief!
Jim the “Can-Do” Man
Jim’s immediate response would be, “Yes, we can do that. Leave it with us for a week. We’ll come back with a proposal and a budget estimate.”
How was Jim’s company so successful and always frantically busy, while similar engineering companies were struggling to find any work at all?
Most of our clients were multinational companies. Normally they would not even consider engaging a small company. Yet there we were…
Jim’s Success Secret
Over several months, Jim revealed his secret to me. He would say, “Martin at Company Y doesn’t have much knowledge. You have to tell him what he needs.”
Or, “Mark at Company Z is a very clever engineer. But he’s so overworked that he can’t think straight. Help him out.”
Or, “David at Company X is lazy. Make him look good and he’ll give us more work than we can handle.”
Bingo! That was it.
Yes, Jim ran an engineering company. But it was far more than that. In his clients’ eyes, Jim’s company was a problem-solver… with fast and professional service.
But even more importantly, we were making clients look competent and professional in the eyes of their superiors. And Jim intuitively knew this.
In short, our job was to make individuals look like over-achievers within their respective companies. In return, we received enormous amounts of high-profit projects.
My Success Secret Mantra
My mantra henceforth became, “Make my client look good in the eyes of their boss.” Believe me, it pays dividends every time. Everyone wins.
This one simple sentence has guided me through a very successful and lucrative career. So how and why is this approach so effective?
Be the Problem-Solver!
Quite simply, your client is looking for a solution to a problem. They lack the in-depth knowledge, skills, or time to solve it themselves.
Your client wants a solution. They are entrusting you to get the results. Therefore, you need to make the process simple for your client.
You’re the expert. More specifically, you’re their expert.
This core focus must be front and center of every contact you have with your client.
Two Approaches… But Only One Works
Imagine you are preparing a proposal. You have many unanswered questions. One solution is to repeatedly call the client and see if they have the answers.
How does this make the client feel? Well, they’ll begin to doubt your competency. “Why does he keep calling me? I gave him the job to do, doesn’t he know what he’s doing?”
Very soon, they’ll cringe when they hear your voice on the other end of the line. “What does he want now? *Groan*.” You may get this job, but you certainly won’t be considered in the future.
Consider what you are doing. Every time you call, you will:
- Interrupt them in the middle of their work… wasting their valuable time.
- Make them feel uncomfortable, because they probably won’t have the answers. (Hold on, aren’t you supposed to be the expert?)
- Give the impression you are out of your depth.
- Allow them to worry whether the final product will be any good.
Take the alternate approach. Every time — before you pick up the phone or send that email — ask yourself, “What other resources can I use to get the answers?” In other words, research, research, and more research.
Then, once you have exhausted all avenues, compile a list of questions you need to ask your client. Call or meet with them once, at a time convenient to both of you. Only then should you go through your list of questions.
When you do meet, be prepared. Remember: research, research, research…
How to Generate Endless Work
When you talk with your client, approach the conversation as an expert would. “There is one issue we need to sort out — Problem X. I can see three possible options. They are… blah, blah, blah. I recommend we go with Option 1 because… blah, blah, blah. Would you agree?”
Here, you are a problem-solver. Your client simply has to agree or disagree with you. You have done their job for them.