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Big Deal! Now What?

Congratulations, you've scored a huge client. Now the real work can begin.

Ever since you hung your shingle, you've dreamed of landing that big client. Coca-Cola, Target, Wal-Mart and others beckon you to the promised land of clout and financial security. If only you could land that big fish-you'd be a real business, right?

But what would it be like to service a big account? Rolando Cohen and Stephen Holt of Yak Pak, a fashion bag manufacturer in New York City, secured licensing agreements with the Williamson-Dickie Manufacturing Co. (maker of Dickies) and Levi Strauss & Co. "A small company shouldn't be intimidated to go into an agreement with a larger company if the small company has a unique service," says Holt, 35.

One challenge, however, is the increased red tape. "As a small company, you're used to making decisions and running with them," says Cohen, whose company had sales of roughly $20 million in 2002. "You're not used to having someone else sign off on [them]." It's also true when working with others' brands: "If they dislike what you're doing, you have to alter your approach."

FedChex, a check recovery firm in Irvine, California, took on more work as well. "There is more integration, rollout and preparation," says co-founder and CEO Ty Bishop, 36. He and co-founder and president Michael Murphy count pizza giant Domino's among their accounts. They prepared to serve such a large account by peddling their service with individual franchisees first to learn what was involved. Says Murphy, 38, "The biggest [change was] we had to put more managers on certain accounts and bring in extra customer service."

Personal touches and attention to detail is essential to having strong relationships with big clients. "[Dickies] liked the heart and soul we put into the products we developed," says Holt.

But the big client is worth the extra work. If prospects see you can serve a well-known company, they'll have confidence in you. Says Murphy, "[Potential customers] spend less time in the 'Can we trust you?' phase, and we get to finalization quicker."

This story appears in the February 2003 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »