The Small Business Beginner’s Guide to Customer Relationships

on July 6, 2017

While it’s likely that many key points were discussed during the sales cycle, now’s the time to get everything in order, and on paper.

The approach you take depends on many factors, with the following among the most important:

  • The systems your company has in place
  • The wants and needs of the client

Here are several steps you must take when setting up a new client relationship:

1. Share Key Contact Information

Depending on the client, you may already have the key contact, as the decision maker may end up being the end-user. In other cases, the decision maker might step aside once the contract is signed.

Before you get to the point where important emails and calls go unanswered because you’re reaching out to the wrong person, make sure to ask who will be your main point of contact. What is their full name and title? What is their email address, physical address, and phone number?

In addition to collecting this information, be sure to share the same for any employee in your company that the client will have regular contact with, and define the roles and responsibilities on your team.

Communication is key to an ongoing relationship, and if you lay this groundwork upfront, you will likely not have to worry about issues down the road.

2. Statement of Work

This is exactly what it sounds like. A statement of work (SOW) defines the specific activities associated with the project, including but not limited to:

  • Scope of work. This is an overview of the work to be completed, including any specifics that have been agreed upon, for example, things like hours allocated to given functions within a project.
  • Location of work. Will you work with the client from your office? Will you work on-site? Will you meet at a third party location? If travel is required, is there a client approval process or limit to incurred and billable travel expenses?
  • Delivery dates. This section details all important delivery dates, including milestones and final completion, as well as any penalties for timeline slippage.
  • Objectives and KPIs. It’s important that your statement of work outline key objectives for the project, which can be further categorized into tactical and strategic goals. These will help frame up how both parties will measure if the project is acceptable. This section outlines the KPIs to be monitored to meet expectations on both sides.
  • Miscellaneous. Some details don’t fit into a particular category, but must still be included in a statement of work.

Note: a statement of work is often included with a request for proposal, but once you decide to work together you may need to edit this document to reflect final requirements.

3. Contract

This goes hand in hand with a statement of work, acting as a legal document that touches on important project details and the parties involved in the agreement.

A contract is not legal unless both parties sign it, so make sure this is done before kicking off your work relationship.

Tip: a business contract can be difficult to create and understand. For this reason, rely on the services of an attorney when creating and/or signing a contract. If you have standard offerings for your business, it is worth the investment to create legally sound templates that can be repurposed from project to project.

4. Billing Terms

Let’s face it: one of the most exciting things about landing a new client is the revenue it will generate.

You’ll want to take particular care that your billing terms don’t include any major loopholes that can put the financial stability of your small business at risk. You can create a separate document related to billing terms, or include this in your statement of work. Either way, it should touch on:

  • Total value of the contract
  • When payments will be made (NET 30, NET 60, etc.)
  • Options for delivering payment (check, bank wire, PayPal, etc.)
  • Invoicing process
  • Late fees
  • Cancellation terms and conditions

Note: it would be worthwhile to have your billing terms reviewed by a lawyer as well, to ensure you are not putting yourself at undue risk.

When you take care of these details upfront, it can save you a lot of time, money, and stress in the future, and ensure a smooth path forward.

Of course, there will be times that projects and relationships don’t go as planned, even if the planning is meticulous. In those cases, it can be challenging to navigate how to salvage the relationship and the associated revenue.

As a small business, there’s no better feeling than landing a new client, whether it’s your first or your 50th. Before you celebrate this “victory” and turn to other things, you’ll want to spend some time on the finer details of the relationship.

This article originally appeared on the SurePayroll blog