Should You Put an Expiration Date on Your Interior Design Proposals?

Should there be a deadline on your proposals? Or should they be open-ended?

I'd suggest you always put an expiration date on your proposals. Here are six reasons why you should.

Six Good Reasons to Put an Expiration Date on Your Proposals

1. It creates a call to action and a sense of urgency. The prospect realizes she must act by a certain date or the offer will disappear or new terms could apply.

2. It gives you are reason to contact the client to move ahead with the project. You could call the prospect a week before the deadline and ask if she has questions about the proposal and remind her that the deadline is approaching.

3. It helps you plan your activity. If all your proposals were to be accepted during the same week, you might find that you have more work than you can handle. By adding a deadline, you'll know which proposals are active and which are languishing.

4. It protects you in case you need to raise rates. If your fees rise, or if the price of your supplies increases, you'll be glad you added this deadline as a form of insurance. For example, if gas prices increased, would you be able to do the job for the same amount of money and make the same amount of profit? If your landlord raised the rent, wouldn't you want to have the ability to raise your rates as well so you aren't locked into a contract that has lower rates?

5. It makes you look like a professional. Adding a date shows that you are a serious business and that you are willing to walk away from the offer if your terms aren't met. Remember to have some self-respect. We all want business but we should never be in a position to be taken advantage of.

6. Establishing boundaries is always a good idea in a business relationship. Setting deadlines for action shows the prospect that you are an equal business partner, whose work and experience should be valued.

Sample Language for Your Deadline

I should put in the standard disclaimer to check with your attorney when you put anything into a proposal or contract, but with that said, here is sample language your could use in your proposal, or run by your attorney.

"Terms, fees and conditions are valid for 30 days from the date of this proposal."

It is short and sweet. It says what it needs to say and doesn't impose any sense of judgment or pressure on the client. Yet it clearly says what you want it to mean. Of course, you could use whatever time limit you desire, either 30 days, 60 days, 90 days or whatever you like.

If you follow these steps, you'll have a better idea of where you stand with proposals and prospects so you can run your business more effectively.

By Daniel Janal
Photography by Photoeuphoria

Do you want your press release picked up in major media? Read my special report "How to Get Your Business-Oriented Press Release Printed on Top Tier Media Sites - Guaranteed," by visiting Publicity thought leader Dan Janal is Founder and President of PR LEADS PLUS which offers a variety of do-it-yourself tools to help small businesses get publicity, including media lists, press release writing and targeted article marketing services and press release distribution.


9 Ways to Turn Your Neighbors into Design Clients

1. Join A Coworking Space. “I am a member at a co-working space called the candy factory. Co-working promotes sharing space and promotes business idea sharing and expansion. It also increases economic develop in cities.” -Shanon Solava-Reid, Solava Consulting

2. Connect With Local Networking Groups. I belong to a professional B2B networking group made up of other small business owners and sales executives from small to mid-sized business that sell solutions typically into a complex (multiple decision makers) environment. I meet with these folks nearly weekly and have one-on-ones with each of them 2 or more times each year. They are a source of introductions to potential clients as well as others who I want to meet.  -Kent J. Gregoire, Responsibility Centered Leadership, Inc

3. Get To Know Your Banker. I will tell you that the best kept secret to networking is your banker. If you have a good, trusted bank with a long history in the community, they can turn a lot of cross-industry, b2b networking into real business. -Robert Sommers, RoX

4. Stay Connected To College Alumni. With college alumni, there is an emotional connection that can go a long way in giving you instant credibility. While at an “open” event, there’s a great deal more skepticism to overcome. But it’s also true that while meeting with someone who attended your school is helpful, it doesn’t necessarily lead to a new client. It may just get your foot in the door. -Carlota Zimmerman, Carlota Worldwide

5. Check Out Rotary Clubs. I’ve found for myself the best way to grow my network is to join an old-line business organization, such as Kiwanis International or Rotary Club. These clubs, especially in smaller towns, count the majority of other small business owners as well as the local high-level executives of larger companies amongst their members. -Westley Annis, Devacaps

6. Join Small Business Advocacy Groups. The past year I joined a group called the Small Business Advocacy Council or the SBAC. They are a bipartisan political group for small and medium sized businesses. There are ton of benefits from the group however what originally attracted me and continues to keep me fully engaged is the quality of people. -Brandon Lewin, Doughnuttz

7. Get To Know Your Neighbors. As a parent of two active boys, I can’t resist getting to know parents of other kids who attend the same school as my boys. They’re all great people. Both online and offline I like to introduce myself as warmly as possible, and try to keep a pile of business cards handy to make for easy contact. -Heather Taylor, My Corporation

8. Volunteer in the Community. We volunteered for various conferences, such as Twiistup, to get our name out there. We participated in Social Media Week LA, putting on two events. We also worked for free for people like Dan Bliss, who runs Perfect Business, a conference for startups and entrepreneurs. He gave us a speaking spot, free passes, and we landed clients from this. -Rex Freiberger, Highly Relevant

9. Join the Chamber of Commerce. By far the best opportunity to expand my professional network has come through the Chamber of Commerce. Nearly 80% of my business has come as a result of my Chamber Membership. However, I caution anyone who is considering joining their local Chamber that you really only get anything out of it if you put something into it. I attend every Chamber function, especially the gala events and “business buzz” events. I arrive early, stay late and I don’t drink. It’s networking, not netsitting, neteating or netdrinking. I meet other decision makers and the real players in the community. -Tony Marder, Action Coach.


By Tia Jackson
Excerpt from the Article "9 Ways To Turn Your Neighbors Into Clients" for
Photography by Gab

Tia Jackson is a Brand Strategist and Personal Brand Coach with 10 years experience in branding, marketing and promoting small businesses, Fortune 500 companies, and high-profile personalities. She helps entrepreneurs maximize their success by training them to build and manage their business and personal brand. For more branding tips, trade secrets, and coaching, visit ttp://


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How To Attract Clients: The Magic Formula

Ah, those magic words – "Attract Clients". Virtually every professional I know loves the idea of attracting clients, and would be even happier if there was a "magic formula" for accomplishing it. Well, actually there is a formula that works like magic for attracting clients to you. And I’m going to reveal it – right here, right now. (OK, to be more specific, it’ll be at the end of the article. But no cheating! You need to read through the article for the formula to make sense.)

First of all, this isn’t about simply "getting" clients. It’s about attracting them to you. It is the concept of building a business without chasing prospects, dogging down purchased leads, or operating a "quote mill" – turning out quote after quote hoping to have the lowest price. Unfortunately, many professionals are either trained or take it upon themselves to uncover prospects "at arm’s length". It seems that either intentionally or inadvertently, companies often train their team to build their business by pursuing prospects. Although many companies and managers praise the benefits of "attracting" clients, when it comes time to meet production quotas, all the methods which "pursue" clients are the ones encouraged. By the time "meeting production quotas" become an issue, drastic measures are called for.

The solution, of course, is to avoid being in that place of "catch-up" to begin with. By learning how to attract clients and by applying those methods consistently, you side-step the need to pursue clients altogether. Virtually every professional who has a sizable, growing business – characterized by high retention and a steady flow of client referrals – does it by attracting clients rather than pursuing them.

There are two key components to successfully attracting clients.

The first key is to understand that people will be attracted to you by WHO YOU ARE, rather than by WHAT YOU DO. While there will be a small group of people who will do business with you strictly based on your depth of knowledge, most people – in fact, the majority of people – will do business with you because of who you are. Having good knowledge of your products, services, and industry is important. And having strong technical skills is useful and important as well. It’s just that being knowledgeable and skillful isn’t sufficient.

The second key component in attracting clients is actually getting out, so that people get a chance to see you, know you, and be attracted to you! The reality is that when you are in your office behind your desk, prospects never get to experience you and those people skills you possess. The result? If you try to get clients from behind your desk, you end up having to pursue them. On the other hand, when you get out and allow people to interact with you, you end up attracting them.

OK, so here’s the "magic formula" I promised. The way to successfully attract clients is to improve your people skills, and get out and meet people. I know it’s a pretty simple formula, but … it works like magic.

By Michael Beck
Image by Photodisc

Mr. Beck's credentials include an MBA from the Wharton School of Business along with degrees in Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania. Michael has held a variety of executive positions including CEO, COO, CFO, EVP, VP of Finance, and VP of Business Development. In addition, he worked several years overseas as a Business Advisor to a member of the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia. He is a Founding Member of the International Association of Coaches and a Past-President of the Denver Coach Federation.



10 Easy Ways to Ask for Business

Top 10 Easy Ways to Ask for Business

Very often, the number one fear around marketing for my clients is asking for the business. Oh, sure, they're happy to go on and on about the successes their own clients have had, and they'll wax positively eloquent about the special discounts that they're offering this month, but even the thought of asking a prospect to work with them makes them clam up.


"I don't want to appear too pushy," confesses one client.

"If they want to work with me they'll say so," says another. "Won't they?"

"What if they say no?" shudders a third client.

Although intellectually these people understand that asking for business does not make them beggars, nor pushy salespeople, the very idea of asking makes them quake with fear. To dispel that fear, I have developed a two-part solution model that works like this:

First, conduct a needs-assessment conversation to find out if there is a good fit with your prospect's problems and the solution that you offer.

During this conversation, imagine that there is no question of money. Imagine that the only question that needs answering is: Do you have a way to help this person solve his or her problem?

If the answer is no, say so, and if you can, refer the prospect to someone who might be able to meet this person's needs.

If the answer is yes, you do have an appropriate solution, then ask the prospect if he or she agrees that you have a good solution, and then ask when you should start.

It's that simple. Need + solution = potential sale.


But even when you know the potential for the sale is there, asking can be scary, unless you already know how to ask in a way that feels natural to you. Here are some phrases that might help you ask for the business comfortably.


1. Now that you know what I can do for you, shall we get started?

2. It looks like we're a good match on this project, and I think it would be fun to work together. Shall we go ahead and get the paperwork started?

3. You mentioned that you needed this immediately; does that mean you like us to begin today?

4. I'm glad you think the XYZ package is the one that will work best for you, because it's the one I would recommend. Shall we work out the details now?

5. Yes, the ABC program begins next week. Would you like to take care of your enrollment right now?

6. If you have no more questions, there's just one left for me to ask: When do we start?

7. Now that we've tweaked this proposal to your specifications, do we have a deal?

8. I'd really like to work with you on this project. What will it take to get started?

9. It looks like we've created the right solution for you, and we'll come in just under budget. Are you ready to move forward now?

10. Earlier you said that you'd like to have this in place by the end of the month. Working backwards, that gives us two weeks to get all the elements in order, so I'd recommend starting on Tuesday. Does that work with your schedule, or would you rather begin on Monday?


Remember, asking for the business is the natural conclusion of a successful needs analysis discussion. If you have the solution to your prospect's problem, all you have to do is say so, and ask when you can get started, so then all that's left to do is work out the details.

Yes, there is a chance that your client will back-pedal, but all that means is that the solution you've proposed isn't perfect (yet), so go back to working on resolving the problem, and ask again.

If it just plain isn't working out, accept it, acknowledge it, and ask if you can refer this prospect to someone else. (You just might close the sale yet!) But even if you don't, you've shown that your goal is the satisfactory resolution to your prospect's problem, and that's just good business.

By Veronika Noize
Photography by Andre Klopper

© Veronika Noize 2003. All rights reserved. This article was written by Veronika (Ronnie) Noize, the Marketing Coach. Ronnie's web site is a comprehensive marketing resource for small office/home office business professionals. For free marketing resources including articles and valuable marketing tools, visit her web site at, or email her at


Insights: The Interior Design Business Plan

Interior Design Business Plan

One of the most exciting businesses to be in today, interior designing is a fast growing business with a huge potential as more people are buying newer homes or remodeling the existing ones. According to Home magazine, around 46% Americans plan to remodel their existing living spaces today. Like any other business, interior design businesses need the drawing up of an interior design business plan before beginning operations.

The benefits of making an interior design business plan are:

1.  It gives you a framework within which to operate your business.

2.  The plan outlines the main action points to be done to set your business in motion.

3.  The drafting of the plan gives you a thorough idea about all the facets of the business and you get an insiders view of your business.

4.  The plan outlines your mission, company profile, target market and products and services to be offered thus giving you a broad framework for your business.

5.  The plan will also give you an idea of the expenses that you will need to incur to start your business and thus greatly reduce the risk of overspending and unproductive expenditures.

6.  The plan is also the basis on which you can approach banks and investors for funds for your project.

The key points that are to be included in an interior design business plan are ( This is an indicative list and actuals may vary for different individuals):

1. The business plan should begin with an executive summary of the company. This is actually a short summary of your entire business plan. This executive summary is normally drafted once you are done with preparing the entire plan.

2.  The plan should include a list of  objectives of the business- what it aims to achieve in revenue and market size and how it aims to do so.

3. Your plan should include a mission statement which will highlight the reason for operating the firm and how you plan to achieve yourobjectives.

4. The interior design business plan should include a company summary which will contain a brief note about the company along with the name and address of the owner. Apart from this, it will also contain the address of the registered office of the firm along with the locations and addresses of branch offices if any.

5. The organizational layout of the company should also be included.

6.  The interior design business plan should contain details about the all products and services being offered to the clients.

7.  A market analysis survey based on geographical area and demographics (specific preferences and tastes) will help you to understand your potential clients better and design products and services to suit your clients needs.

8.  Your plan should include a report about the future potential of the market in terms of the growth expected (to help you analyze the scope of the market). This will help you to select a niche which has scope for growth and has a low entry barrier.

9.  Details about the target market (in terms of the geographical area, segment and the size of the market) that you have chosen to operate in and a list of the services and products that you will be providing to your target market should be expounded upon in detail. 

10. A Competition analysis report can be included to give you a picture about your competitors (their strengths and shortcomings). This can be very useful to you to decide the segment you want to work in by analysing the level of competition in each.  Thi analysis can also help you to build up on the weaknesses of your competition and to learn from their strengths.

11. Include a SWOT analysis. A SWOT analysis spells out strengths,weakness,opportunities and threats of yours firm. This anaylsis helps you to understand how your strengths and weaknesses and threats and see if could be converted to opportunities.

12.  The report should contain a list of different vendors and suppliers, and preferably quotes from each,  to help you zero in on the vendors that you wish to work with.

13.  The marketing strategy to be undertaken by the business to penetrate the market should also be included.


14.  Personnel and human resource policies to be followed are an often overlooked component. You may want to include this in your plan.


15.  Financial projections and estimations are a very important element. Run your numbers carefully.


16.  Pricing strategies to include the credit terms for clients and  the rules to make tenders to
participate in bids shold be a part of your plan. 


17.  Future growth plans for the interior design business should be included, as well.

18.  A section containing details of why you think that the growth assumptions made by you are realistic will be very important if you're looking for outside funding. Investors will want to see the facts listed here.

You should try to incorporate as much data and as many figures in your plan that you can manage to collect. Data pertaining to market size,market trends and even competition will give you the correct picture of the business you are  in and will help you formulate a realistic interior design business plan.

After collecting  this data and preparing the plan you will begin to see a outline for your business. Now you can begin to execute your plan on the ground. Begin by following the plan in the listed order and begin to undertake the activities that you have listed in the interior design business plan.



The Networking Playbook for Growing Your Design Firm

The Networking Playbook

Every successful networker has a plan of operation. They have mapped out their goals and agenda for practical networking. Whether it is strengthening their brand, acquiring more business or building professional relationships, these individuals are focused on reaching their target. One of the ways to be a star player in networking is to formulate a playbook or game plan. Networking is becoming more and more of a necessity in the work, business and social sectors. Organizations are incorporating networking into their corporate strategies and encouraging their employees to embrace this phenomenon.

Listed below are ways in which individuals can create a winning agenda for their objectives.

Quarter System

Map out a 12-month plan for your networking mission. Create a timeline and markers for achieving specific goals for your business, career or social endeavors. Divide your plan in to a quarter system. Within this system, highlight groups or organizations to join or increase existing membership involvement. Select conferences, trade shows and meetings to attend for broadening your networking reach. Also include training and development sessions to sharpen your communication and other relevant skills. Be eager and enthusiastic about building relationships and connecting with others. After each quarter, evaluate your networking results and identify ways of improving for the following quarter.

Time Outs

Similarly to a professional sports game, time outs serve many useful purposes. Plan periods of breaks or time outs within your networking playbook. These are excellent ways of re-energizing, redirecting and re-evaluating. It eliminates the tendency of burnout and confusion in your networking process. These breaks also allow significant time to refocus or even reinforce your networking objectives. It offers a margin of relief which can increase productivity in the long term. Use these opportunities as a means of reiterating the purpose and mission towards networking.

Key Players

Coaches and team leaders have a responsibility of identifying their key team players. They are instrumental in positioning these individuals to carry out the winning goal, hit or score for the team. Be consciously aware and identify key individuals in your networks. Position them in your sphere as those who can assist you in your networking journey. Whether they are your counterparts, mentors, customers or service providers, make sure they are executing their roles effectively. In regards to any sports game, it is ok to substitute or rearrange players for maximum efficiency.

The above tips give a detailed description of how individuals can capitalize on their networking agenda. Using these strategies increases your chances of success and progress.

By Chi Chi Okezie                                                                                                                  Photography by Franz Pfluegl

Chi Chi Okezie is owner/producer of SIMPLEnetworking, LLC in Atlanta, GA. Learn tips, tactics and techniques from this Champion Networker! Visit the SN Official Website: to read excerpts of her books, listen to the latest radio podcasts and visit her blog!


6 Tips to Get More Referrals From Business Holiday Cards

The holidays are the one time of year everyone thinks about sending greeting cards. This time of year is also one of the most important times of year to send cards. These tips will help you get more referrals from your cards and avoid some common mistakes.

1. First and foremost business Christmas cards tend to go on display more than any other cards you send.

It doesn't matter if you send cards to other business professionals or to consumers we all like to display our them during the Holidays. We may put them on the office shelf, the office door, the cubicle wall, or our consumer clients will place them on the fireplace mantle, refrigerator, or book shelves.
Because our cards go on display we want to take extra special care and make them really stand out. This simple strategy is one of the easiest to ensure we get more referrals.

2. Whatever you do, don't be boring with your business Christmas cards.

Boring store bought cards won't ever be picked up and examined. I recommend putting extra special attention into creating a fun and unique custom Christmas card. You can use technology like Send Out Cards to make a fun card with your photos. Use a photo of the staff having fun instead of a simple logo. Human nature is that we're attracted to photos of people, especially if we are in the photos or know the people in the photos.
If you make it boring, no one is going to pick it up and ask "Who is this from?" How many opportunities like this do you get for a referral if you send a boring store bought Holiday card?

3. Send your cards early. Don't wait until the last minute!

What happens during the Holidays? Holiday parties! If your Christmas card is first, and it is fun and interesting, it will definitely go on display. When people come over for the Holiday party many more of them will see your card and have an opportunity to pick it up. If you send it late there may not be any room left on the shelf for your card. Not only that, but it may arrive after the Holiday parties are all done. By procrastinating and sending your card late you will have missed an opportunity for free referrals.

4. Send yourself a test card NOW.

Since we're talking about custom business Christmas cards it is important to send yourself a test now. Don't wait until the last minute. That way you have an opportunity to proof it and make changes before you send it to your clients. There is nothing worse than sending out 300 custom Christmas cards to clients only to realize you had an obvious misspelling or that your photos don't print correctly.

5. You'll have a lot more chances that your card will go on display if you use a vertical design instead of a horizontal one.

Since Christmas cards tend to go on display you want to make sure you don't use a horizontal design. Since horizontal cards tend to fall over easily they won't go on display as long. Additionally you can fit more vertical cards on a bookshelf or fireplace mantle so you'll have greater chances of it being selected to go on display.

6. Don't ask for referrals in your business Christmas cards.

If you ask for referrals in my Christmas card I know you really didn't "care" about me. I know you're only sending me this to try to get more referrals.

You want your clients to feel like you care about them. If you make them feel like you don't care then they won't trust you with referrals!

If you follow the advice outlined above you'll be making fun and interesting holiday cards and you will naturally get referrals from them. Just by having fun and letting your clients know you are a real person you will receive more referrals.

By Benjamin Fitts
Photography by Tomasz Tulik

Ben Fitts is a top distributor with Send Out Cards. This service allows you to create your own custom greeting cards from any computer (and some smartphones). The next day they will print your custom card, in your handwriting, with your photos, lick the stamp, stuff the envelope, and mail them for you. All for less than store bought cards. Try send out cards and send up to 3 complimentary greeting cards



Outsourcing Renderings for Your Design Firm

Outsourcing 3D Interior Design and 3D Exterior Design



Project Management Tips for Designers

Project Management, Task Allocation and Leadership Training

What is the best way to allocate tasks and resources to team members? What are the implications for project management and leadership? What should be included on task allocation in project management training materials? These topics are discussed in this article.

You have been assigned to function as the team leader. You are fairly new to managerial role and now find yourself in charge of leading and tasking other members of the team. Your design ability is very good and people can easily relate to you. So you are confident that you can successfully lead them. There is only one area you are concerned about and that is tasking. So far you have been given tasks by others, but now you need to allocate different chunks of the work to different team members. What is the best method to use to address this problem systematically?

Fortunately, there is an established task allocation method that enhances your leadership skills and helps you to systematically address this problem. Here are the main steps:

- Break down the project into small tasks.
An established method in project management is to create what is called WBS, or Work Breakdown Structures. These are tasks that are formally defined which include details such as what is required as input to them, what needs to be done and what comes out of them. If you have a small project, you can simply divide the overall work into logically distinct tasks.

- Rank all tasks based on importance.
Here you want to distinguish between those tasks that are critical or need to be done early than those tasks that are easy or that the quality of their output is not as important as others.

- List the competencies of each team member.
Identify who is good at what. This is usually a combination of what they have done in the past, what their field is, what they are enthusiastic to do and what they are good at doing (whether they know it themselves or not). You can refer to previous project managers, historical records, etc. to obtain more information about each individual’s skills. Large companies usually keep an online skills database that staff can tap into to find who is good at what.

- Match competencies with tasks.
Now go through the tasks and match them with team members. A critical task should be given to someone who has a proven track record. You may need to allocate challenging but not critical tasks to aspiring team members who may not have previous experience but are eager to get involved. Enthusiasm for particular jobs can go a long way that could easily compensate for the lack of experience or familiarity. Besides, after the project you will end up with a loyal experienced team member who you can use in more sophisticated and challenging projects.

Experience or Cost

When assigning tasks you are usually deciding between the two sides of the spectrum. You can allocate a task to individuals who are really good and experienced. This adds certainty and is useful when you have tasks that are critical to get right. On the other hand, use of staff at lower organizational level allows you to get the job done cheaper. This can be a critical factor if your project’s budget is strictly limited and you need to somehow compromise on something to get the project rolling.

An Alternative Project Management Solution

Fortunately there is another way to approach this and that’s through training. You can train staff to become better in certain skills and then use them in the project. This way you minimize the risk of failure of the task while taking advantage of cost savings. In many organizations, there is a dedicated budget for training which a project manager you can tap into without affecting the available budget of the project. In addition, this is beneficial to your organization since the training is specifically used in your project to save costs which also frees up experienced staff that can be used elsewhere. In other words, use of training in this way creates a win/win situation for all parties. You can send team members for leadership skills training and allow them to be in charge of a subset of the team, in turn reducing the demand on your time.

Dealing with Gaps

If there are gaps in the competencies that you have identified, you have three choices; you can recruit individuals who have the right expertise, you can train your current staff or you can outsource the task to external suppliers.

Outsourcing highly depends on the nature of your project and in many cases it is not a viable option due to confidentiality, ownership of work done, etc. However, always consider it as an option. Recruiting can be lengthy and time consuming and any employee will take 6 months to 1 year before he or she becomes truly productive.

On the other hand, training current staff is usually quite easy and cost effective. It is not subject to business familiarity since the team member is already familiar with the nature of your business and might have worked with others in the team already. When confronted with gaps, always consider training as a strong solution. For this, you can send staff to specific training courses or if you have many people to train, you can obtain editable training materials and customise them based on your specific needs. This is usually the most cost effective method and you get to retain control of the training as well.

As discussed in this article, good leadership skills require an ability to carry out effective task allocation and there are systematic methods you can use to achieve this.

By Chelsea Elm
Image by

Chelsea Elm is a training consultant with many years of experience in the training industry. She is interested in soft skills, management, corporate training, productivity and train the trainer. Based in the UK, the training company provides Training Resources, Workbooks, Power Points Slides and Course Notes for corporate trainers and organisations.


5 Great Questions to Ask Vendors

Most of us tend to consider ourselves savvy professionals. After all, if you own a business, you clearly have some level of aptitude when it comes to the business world around you. Yet there are still situations where we may end up taken in, tricked, misled, or just plain romanced. The problem is, all around in the world there will always be some new technology or feature that could help change your business.

If you are smart, you at least take the time to listen to new ideas, but the downside of that openness is that you might unintentionally open yourself up to being the victim of a scam of some sort. Not every scam stinks the first moment you see it, because not every one is malicious in nature. But your time and money are valuable and you need to be able to protect yourself from those who might waste one, or both — whether they realize they are about to do it or not.

Here are five questions you should ask anyone who might be selling you something to test whether they will be a good partner to work with or if they might just be full of hot air:

1. How will you measure if our partnership is successful?

Most people will be ready to answer a question of how to measure success for you and your business — or at least they should. The more challenging question is about what makes entering a relationship with your business successful for them. The answer they give you will tell you a lot about how they see the relationship they are about to enter with you.

2. What else will I need to budget for next year?

Many technology buyers are familiar with a concept commonly abbreviated as TCO — or the Total Cost Of Ownership. This simply refers to your overall cost of buying something over time. Asking the question about budgeting for the next year, though, can get a sales person to open up about ongoing costs in a way that asking about ongoing costs might not, because they can see dollar signs for future money. And the upside is that you will get real info on what your total cost of ownership will be.

3. Who else will I be working with (or what other products will I need to buy)?

One of the oldest tricks in selling services professions is bringing the "A-team" to a first meeting with you and getting you to fall in love with the stars on the team (who you may not necessarily work with). To make sure you are not getting romanced by one superstar, insist on meeting more of the team members and individuals who will actually work on your business. If you are buying a product, make sure you see the other products in the range that you may need or want to purchase at some point in the future.

4. Where will I be in your range of customers?

It is a fair question to ask to find out how important your business is likely to be to a new company that you will be working with. This does not, however, mean that you always need to find a company as a partner where you will be a big part of their customer list... it will just give you a sense of what you might expect and also help you ensure that you are not paying a premium for service when you know you are just a small part of the overall portfolio of customers for who you decide to purchase from.

5. What do I need to do to get a better deal in the future?

Once you understand the costs that are involved in whatever you are purchasing, you should also get an answer for the future on how you might be able to negotiate a better deal. This will be valuable to know because if your business increases and you end up purchasing more, you need to know the thresholds to get more preferential pricing, or how else you can improve your contract moving forwards.

Asking these questions will not only help you make sure you are getting the best possible deal, but also to see your way through any unscrupulous marketing or exaggeration that you may encounter. If you have other tips that have worked for you in the past, please share them in a comment on this post as well.
By Rohit Bhargava
Image by Paul Moore  

Rohit is a marketing speaker, author, blogger and founding member of the 360 Digital Influence team at Ogilvy, a marketing agency. He published the award winning new marketing book, Personality Not Included in 2008 and also writes the Influential Marketing blog, one of the most popular marketing blogs in the world which has been called "intellectual and educational" by the Wall Street Journal.