In May 2021, I launched my consulting company, The Silver Palette, https://thesilverpalette.com/, focused on helping startup founders get funded. Prior to starting The Silver Palette, I did a “soft launch” where I reached out to friends, classmates, and professional contacts who had their own businesses. My goal was to do “market research” and understand their needs to help with my customer pitch and business offering. Through the soft launch, I ended up getting my first customer. I wanted to share what I learned from working with my first customer and welcome input from others on their experiences.
Protecting Intellectual Property - Finalizing the Proposal
I drafted an initial proposal where I assumed I clearly laid out what I would accomplish for the customer. Unexpectedly, my customer took my proposal and added layers of legalese focused on intellectual property. When we met to finalize the proposal, what I thought was a straightforward work agreement veered over to listing out all prior innovations and not owning any new collateral that was a direct product of our engagement. My customer was concerned I was asking a lot of questions around the legalese in the document which made them feel I might take their ideas.
However, with honest and clear communication, we were able to come to a consensus on the proposal. I emphasized that I was not interested in taking their ideas but was doing my due-diligence and would only work with them if they were comfortable.
- My initial concerns with the proposal were what I could own and share. But in the end, I realized that the customer startup was taking on more of the risk by sharing their product idea with me. Although I might still ask clarifying questions, I might not go into so much detail or discussion on what constituents an innovation to give them reason to pause.
Texting Status – Setting Communication Standards
My customer preferred to communicate via text to coordinate meeting times, status updates, or even to do some basic brainstorming around work deliverables. Although I honored their preferred method of communication, I would still follow-up with an email when I completed work as part of the proposal or to provide updates. I wanted to maintain a level of professionalism and set the communication standard that I was their business partner.
- Texting is a great way to build camaraderie and show responsiveness but it is hard to track time spent. The standard should always be maintained with formal communication via email on progress and work deliverables, and on setting the right expectations on the timing.
Brainstorming Sessions – Pricing for your Time
My current customer did not appreciate the value of “brainstorming” as they felt they would have come to the solution on their own in due course. So as an incentive for being my first customer, I did not bill an hourly rate for any working or brainstorming sessions (email, phone, scheduled 1-hour to deliver progress or findings) only for actual work-effort.
- Looking back, I spent 30% of my time on these tasks, and although it helped build rapport, I know my pricing strategy going forward will need to consider time spent on these tasks as getting to the solution faster is a value - added service and it should be accounted for and priced.
Executing Deliverables - Managing my own expectations
I was nervous when I got my first customer. I worried if I would be able to deliver, but I realized open communication and clarity are the keys to success. As long as I was clear on what I did, created and iterated on the necessary deliverables, I was helping my customer.
- I am not there to solve for their customer needs, that is their idea. But I am there to help them make progress and take steps in the right direction at a much faster pace so they can help their actual customers. My customer is not their customer.