Success in service industry: Retainers, recommendations and referrals

Knee deep in a service industry business, I’ve found a real, consistent rhythm of where financial success comes to these types of companies.

The act of selling products, of course, is like finding your Atman of the service industry, so, acknowledging that that is at the top of the pyramid and any kind of client work is the foundation, let’s look at what helps these service businesses thrive enough financially to ever endeavor to trial a product or two: the three “R’s.”

By service industry, I’m thinking of professional firms that do things like web design, marketing, consulting, strategy and other high-level tasks that many companies will look to outsource.

There are three “R’s” that every successful company in a service industry achieves in building into its revenue strategy:

  • Retainers — In most cases, you first work with a client around limited, deliverable-driven projects (or at least this is what we find valuable for both us and those with whom we work) for six months or a year. These are often big lifts that make heavy use of staff time, resources and insight. Good work happens here. But ideally, if value can be offered long-term with maintenance or further staff development, longer-term or continuing contracts of smaller value but steady income allow real stability and scale in the type of business (service) that isn’t very good at either.
  • Recommendations — I can remember questioning the value of someone else speaking good on your work — words pasted on some leaflet or buried on a website. But in the past few years, I’ve found occasion when those very words, even when detached from the human being who supposedly said them, have been requested. Having a list of published testimonials and the client list that comes with them is endlessly valuable to draw upon in discussions, sales and strategy. When you’re starting out, use past work or give up some free work to start building that network.
  • Referrals — This is surely related to the recommendations but quite a bit more valuable. Of our work at Technically Media, most of our clients come as a direct result of an introduction and private suggestion to work with us. Referrals are prized for a legion of reasons: cold calling sucks, you can better calendar-out clients, it becomes a curated list of clients with whom you want to work, the expectation is for you to succeed so winning is easier and more.