I recently was in the market to hire an IT firm to do some work at my home office. Not really having a plethora of contacts within that industry, I just so happened to meet someone at a networking function who (at the time) appeared to be a young, passionate, goal-oriented person who started his own business doing IT. Basically, he displayed the type of persona I look for when I hire out services. Then things got bad.

It started by me sending him a direct e-mail indicating what I needed to have done, and inquiring about both time frame to have the work completed and a price quote.

It took several days to get a return message only with half of the information I requested. After a few days and a few more e-mails back and forth; we were on the same page about the pricing and when the work would be done.

The day the work was to be done; I was driving to my home office when I received a call from him letting me know he would not be able to do the work that day as another project got in the way. He noted that the work could be done the very next day, and I agreed to the terms.

The next day came; but I never heard back from him. Instead I received a call from a different IT person asking what sort of help I needed. My project was not only passed on, it was passed on without any information to the new IT person of what I actually needed done. In the following days I received a call from a 3rd IT company (giving me the impression that my “work” was passed on yet again). At that point I simply just gave up.

Now this was a few weeks ago; but it got me thinking about how to demonstrate your value and credibility by being present. And I don’t just mean physically present. This means…

1… Responding to all inquiries you receive (e-mail, Facebook, chat, text, BBM, phone call, or regular mailed letters) extremely promptly. I always try to respond to all correspondence within 24 hours of receipt. Sometimes I can’t do it, but that is my goal. Even if my response is to indicate that I cannot provide service, or that I’ve received the message and will be looking into it shortly. Your prospective clients do not want to feel that they are being ignored or pushed to the back of the line by you.

2… Getting involved and being present within the industry or community. The original IT guy I met really impressed me in person. Sure, the follow-through wasn’t there; but when I first met him at a networking function, I felt he had all the qualities I needed in a service-provider. So where can you get involved? Industry associations. Networking functions. Seminars. Workshops. Take it a step further; which of these are your target clients attending? Might benefit you to look into those.

3… Being active. Someone once told me that the only thing worse than not being a member of valuable groups; was being an empty member of those groups. She called it an “empty chair.” So what can you do to get involved? Join a committee within the group. Perhaps look to be on the board. Help the group organize an event. Show your value by committing and contributing yourself to the cause of the group.

4… Following up. After any seminar, networking function, and so on I have a small handful of cards and people’s information that I collected. The easiest thing to do would be to throw them in a drawer in case I ever need them in the future. I strongly disagree with this. I encourage you to reach out and connect with everyone you met. Keep the conversation going. Even if you don’t feel they can really help you now; what if they could help you in the future or better yet; what if you could help them. That is a huge demonstration of value. This is about growing your network and showing that network that you are genuine and care more about making a simple sale here or there.

5… Be your main contact person. This sounds a bit awkward but allow me to explain. It was really disengaging for a second IT person to call me (when the first never told me that my information was passed on).  I completely shut off when a third IT person called me. Don’t send me to your underlings, or to your subconsultants without my permission. Take the two seconds to ask my permission to refer my work and my information to another party so that I expect their call. I had this happen with a model I was looking to book for a project. After getting some of the initial details set, I asked her to call me. The call I received was from her “manager” wanting to know the rest of the details. I was given to a middle person and she immediately lost the gig to someone else. Had she been the main contact person (or at the least let me know someone else would contact me) she would absolutely have had that gig. Passing off like that indicates to the client that you are not good enough for their time, energy or attention.

The ending of my story is that I am actually still in the market for a good IT firm to help me with my project. People that do not meet the above criteria need not apply.