Big Thinking for Small Businesses

By Pedro Hernandez | Posted October 01, 2013

Ever wonder how some small firms land lucrative contracts from multinationals?

Cynthia Kay, head of Cynthia Kay & Co., a video production and communications consulting company, knows a thing or two about attracting and winning contracts from large firms. Contrary to the small business versus big business narrative that often crops up in the press, Kay says that "the truth of it is that big businesses like small businesses."

That "love" is evidenced by the thousands of consultancies, agencies and other small companies that prosper, in part, by big contracts that are awarded by moneyed corporations.

In her book, Small Business for Big Thinkers, she explores how both small and large businesses can succeed together. Here she offers tips on how you can get your small business on a big company's radar, and then get them to stick with you for the long-haul.

How to Attract and Keep Big Business Contracts

Be a Plug-and-Play Small Business

When large companies outsource business functions or processes, they want partners that can not only take the ball and run with it, but also can seamlessly integrate into their environment, according to Kay.

That may require a little bit of investment on your part. Small business owners hoping to attract major clients "need to have the infrastructure to support the needs of big customers," says Kay. A common concern for large organizations is, "Do you have the capability to do electronic invoicing and billing?"

Large companies expect your systems, processes and procedures to conform to theirs, not the other way around. "If you can't navigate through their structure, they don't want to do business with you," she warns.

Hire Go-Getters

Large business customers oftentimes come with big expectations and outsized demands. Be ready to satisfy them.

Kay suggests that small businesses angling for big contracts should hire workers that exhibit an entrepreneurial attitude and generally have the "ability to think quickly [and] respond quickly." And since small companies typically lack a huge support system, their employees also wear many hats. Your small business team may be tasked with conducting a strategy meeting one minute, and lugging equipment around the next.

And don't expect to punch a clock. Those supersized "customers want [you] available 24/7," says Kay.

Build Relationships

"Most people don't really know what 'building relationships' really means," says Kay.

Research, networking and the requisite meet-and-greets are just the start. Building fruitful relationships—the ones that keep large customers coming back—requires that you go beyond what's usual and customary. A great relationship with a client "means that you know your customers as well as they know themselves—sometimes better."

Endeavor to "operate as part of their team," sayss Kay. "Pull out all the stops and over-perform," she adds.

Make a Great First Impression

What the best way to make a great first impression? "You have to give expert responses to RFPs," stresses Kay.

A less-than-thorough response to an RFP (request for proposals) or a statement of work will take you out of the race before you even reach the starting line. Fill in all the blanks, so to speak.

Better yet, "get creative and give big ideas," adds Kay. "Try something that helps you stand out from the rest," such as submitting personalized videos, she says.

Despite your best attempt, there's no guarantee that you'll get the nod. Even so, it's not a wasted effort. Make a good enough impression and you'll likely get shortlisted for future projects, sayss Kay.

Own Your Expertise

Humility will keep your small business' prospects humble. Instead, "position yourself, become known as an expert," says Kay.

Industry recognition goes a long way in positioning yourself as an authority or an expert in your field. Display those impressive and credible awards proudly. Also, consider joining industry, community and volunteer groups.

But beware, says Kay. Make sure that your participation reflects your company culture and a genuine desire to connect, give back, or advance a cause. "People will spot a fake a mile away," sayss Kay.

Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Small Business Computing. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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