Why being a good customer could drive your startup’s future success

Launching a startup is weird. You have a big idea driving you, with lots of small things to do to get going.

You don’t necessarily have lots of business coming in or staff on board yet, but still you have to run this fledgling business the way you are going to run your future super-successful business.

The way you behave, now, at the start, will set the scene for what your business will be like in the future. This is where being a good customer comes in.

The chances are, your new business is going to need to invest in some things early on. Maybe getting a web designer to build you a website, hiring an accountant, finding premises and buying machinery, or a van.

How you decide what you are going to buy, how you behave with your suppliers, how you deal with challenges, set the tone for the kind of supplier, the kind of employer, the kind of entrepreneur you will be. This is your legacy and it is being written from the start.

What are you going to buy?

There are so many options out there for what you will invest your startup cash on, so many things saying “buy me!”.

Are you going to do your research and work out what is good value versus what looks good because it is cheap?

Are you going to prioritise your investment and plan it out over time, in line with your growing income?

Or are you going to be seduced by the people who say “you can’t afford not to do this if you are serious about your business”, and then realise you have spent thousands of pounds on something shiny but empty?

When I started out, I was told I needed an accountant, but I was nervous about approaching them – it all felt so big and scary.

At the beginning, I just accepted what they told me. As it turns out, they were OK, but I played no role in making sure they were fit for purpose. That was a bit of a metaphor for my business early on, which took a while to get off the ground, because it took me a while to be really clear about what my business was for.

The decisions you make now are a signal for the business decisions you make in the future. Which products and services you will invest in, which employees and partnerships you will nurture, to make part of your future vision of success.

How are you going to handle power in your relationship?

When you are running a startup, it is possible to feel quite small and powerless – you have yet to prove your idea to the world, yet to show everyone you did the right thing in getting started at all.

But here is one part of your working life where you do have power – because you are the customer, you are the one with the money to spend. How you behave now, with these suppliers, sets the scene for how you will behave when you have employees and customers of your own.

I know one entrepreneur who treated his suppliers really badly – full of promises at the beginning but invisible when it came to paying. He could never retain good employees, and couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t stay.

The problem was that those employees knew that if they were ever in trouble, he would be invisible then too. So they made themselves invisible first.

Will you be a safe person to speak to if things go wrong? Will you give them constructive feedback or give them a verbal beating if there is a problem? Will you pay them on time or delay it to the last possible moment when they have chased you hard?

Or will you be fair, considerate and approachable? I recommend you are – because your future employees and customers will be able to tell whether you are good to do business with.

In order to get the best employees and lots of customers, you need to handle these relationships well, so here is the perfect time to practice with your first suppliers.

Are you going to be the kind of person your suppliers recommend?

They say “it’s a small world”. It doesn’t take much for a prospective employee, partner or customer to meet with someone, like a supplier, who knows you already.

The question is, what will that supplier say when they are asked about you? Will they say that you went for the cheapest option and then gave them a hard time when it wasn’t as useful as you expected? Will they say that you cheated them out of payment?

One of my first customers was a supplier of mine. He liked the way I worked and wanted to know more about what I had to offer. It was a perfect start for me – a new customer, and I didn’t even have to make a sale!

It’s up to you to create a world where your suppliers say that you were a dream to work with – constructive, collaborative and you paid on time.

You never know, it might be those suppliers themselves who realise that your product or service is the right thing for them. Because they know and trust you, they chose you. It’s all up to you.

It’s the way that you do it…

I believe that everything you do influences the kind of business you build. That the way you treat one group of people creates the culture that pervades everything that you do. The culture you create determines the level of success that your enterprise achieves.

So this first group of people that you deal with in your startup can act as your experimental zone, to try out the kind of business you want to have. Here is the time, right at the beginning to set the scene for your future.

About the author

This article has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Jean Gamester. Jean is founder and director of consulting business, Semaphora, where she delivers change programmes and helps organisations to make change happen. She is also a volunteer leader with Toastmasters International, a non-profit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations.

Jean is a regular contributor to ByteStart, and her other articles include;

More on starting and running your own business

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