If you started your own business after a stint in the corporate world, you may find that your former employers make prime prospective customers. Gerry Baker knows that firsthand: When he formed Corporate Consulting Inc., a crisis management public relations firm in Edmond, Oklahoma, one of his first clients was his most recent former employer.
"You have significant advantages [selling] to your former employer," Baker says. "You know the system, the company way." But that inside knowledge of the company will only help you get your foot in the door. "There may be a honeymoon for a while, but at some point, you're going to be expected to perform as good as or better than anybody else out there."
It's very important for you to recognize that your relationship with the company has changed, Baker says. As a supplier, you may be dealing with different people, some higher up on the corporate ladder, than you did before. He also notes that some of your former co-workers may see you as a threat to their job security, and their bosses may not be entirely comfortable if you have overt personal relationships with company employees. "This takes a great deal of sensitivity and diplomacy," says Baker, who stopped socializing with his former co-workers. "If they view you as a threat, they can be quite harmful to you."
If, on the other hand, your former co-workers see you as an ally, they can be extremely helpful. But don't take this as an indication that you can take it easy. Don't expect to be told company secrets or to be able to neglect the account and continue to retain it. "You go into the relationship with an edge, but that just gets you your first assignment," Baker says. "Your future depends on the quality of product or service you provide."