How To Build A Successful Service Business [wins & mistakes I’ve made]

February 2, 2013

How To Build A Successful Service Business by Justine Parsons


We work the hours, deal with the stress and basically bust our guts in our business in order to make it a success.  If I look at my goals, vision and strategies – they all equate to building a success of my business.  What is success?  Well that’s a whole other post but put simply, for me, a successful service business is one that provides an income for myself and my team; provides a valuable service to a sustainable client base; and ultimately, is one that can be sold at a point in time due to a successful exit strategy.

Having been a virtual assistant for 14 years, I wanted to share my mistakes and what I have done right.  The principals apply across all service industries and the object of this article is to:

a)  Share with my you more about who I am and how I got here,

b)  Help those of you on the same path to learn from my mistakes (and wins), in the process becoming a successful business entrepreneur in your own right.

What I’ve done well

  • Pick clients I enjoy working with.  If you love what you do, this translates to how your clients perceive you.  I have had clients over the years who for whatever reason I haven’t clicked with.  These clients are phased out with an honest conversation and assistance in finding a virtual assistant who is a better match.  You spend all day (and many evenings) working in your business … it’s essential that you enjoy who you work with.
  • Make my clients feel special – because they absolutely are.  If a client asks for help you can’t provide, work with them to find a solution (whether that be another company, an application or a product).  Nothing is too much trouble because your clients are special … they are your business.
  • Said thanks.  Goes without saying yet often goes unsaid.  When a client thanks me for a job well done, it makes my day.  I thank new prospects for giving me the opportunity to propose, my contractors for working over a weekend or coming up with a suggestion for improvement, I thank clients for just being great clients and suppliers for delivering a great product or service.  I always thanks for referrals…my budget doesn’t go to gifts, but my thanks are sincere and heartfelt.
  • Did the hard yards.  The early days of building my business were spirit breaking.  A virtual assistant was unheard of and companies still preferred to be able to actually see staff working … onsite.  There was no social media offering the myriad of online marketing opportunities, I literally spent hundreds of hours cold calling, emailing, mail drops and letter campaigns.  Every new client was a huge buzz and got me through the long hours of no responses in between leads.
  • Used LinkedIn.  As a service business LinkedIn has been a fantastic tool, both as a resource (as in, help .. what do I do about this) and as a lead generator.  In general, clients I have gained from LinkedIn have been clients who referred me to others, are successful in their own business and who understand and embrace online tools.
  • Owned up to mistakes.  No-one’s perfect, I definitely am not, and we all make mistakes.  I make sure I credit easily (without being asked), apologise and rectify any mistakes.  Learn from the mistakes and put systems in place to make sure they are not repeated.
  • It’s never been about the money.   Don’t charge for every email or those quick jobs if you can avoid it.  Give extra value for money; for example if a client comes to you with a problem you don’t have an answer for, take some time to research a solution.  I work 10 to 13 hours per day and charge out about 6 of those.  The rest of the day is spent learning new tools, reading articles, answering phone and emails, catching up with clients…If I worked out my actual hourly rate I wouldn’t be happy, but by doing so I have happy, satisfied clients and plenty of work…a successful business.
  • Love, love, love what I do.  I’ve saved the best till last.  If you love what you do the hours don’t matter and your clients will win.  Life is too short and our working life too long not to get 100% job satisfaction.  That’s not to say your work life balance isn’t important, it is – but we wouldn’t live with a partner we don’t love (hopefully), why work in a business you don’t enjoy?

Mistakes I’ve made

There have been plenty.

  • Making systems and procedures a priority. Initially I focused on bringing in new clients when I should have been putting procedures in place.  That wasn’t a problem when it was just myself working and a small client load.  Once referrals started coming in and I had a team of contractors to help manage workload, I had to scramble to get procedures in place.  This is still an area of improvement for me.
  • Measurement and reporting.  While I happily report and measure for clients, for my own business, measuring my financials, marketing strategies and business KPI’s often get shunted down the list.  Not the way to grow a successful business.
  • Being too friendly.  Working so closely with clients and their business, for so many years, I sometimes forget they are clients … not friends.  Always maintain that professional yet friendly persona, it’s key for your professional image and ensures that your own challenges stay in your office (where they belong).
  • The ability to say no.  I believe that you should move heaven and earth to meet client requirements.  In reality this is not always possible (and too many 1am finishes).  There are times when you need to be honest with yourself and your ability .  Instead of saying no though (which, contrary to advice I receive, I don’t believe a service industry should use the word) where you can’t do something offer solutions rather than a flat out ‘no’.

There are many more do’s and don’ts .. but the above points are the biggies that come to mind.  In truth, I owe the success of my business to my clients for referring me to their associates and their own clients, to my family for their support and patience, and the many people and connections I have made through social networking who offer their advice and support.  By surrounding yourself with successful business professionals and connecting with them online, you create a network of support.  Like they say, there is no i in team and we all need help.

If you are building your business and need someone friendly at the end of an email or phone, please get in touch with me.   I have benefited from people who offered the same and would be delighted to be there for you.


Your Turn: Share a comment about what has (or hasn’t) been a part of your own business success.



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