Small Business Success Q&A #10: Confluent Forms & The RFP Database

Until last week, I only had an online acquaintanceship with David Kutcher. I had signed up with one of his companies, The RFP Database, more than a year ago within minutes of visiting the website for the first time. It’s a terrific idea and if you haven’t checked it out, you should. It will expose you to a panoply of new business opportunities.

We decided to meet in real life, and I’m so glad we did. Over a mid-morning coffee at Esselon in Hadley, we had a terrific conversation that covered a wide range of interesting topics. In his Q&A below, David provides a lot of great advice. I especially like what he has to say about the customer not always being right. That is so true. Enjoy!

Name: David Kutcher

Company: Confluent Forms LLC & The RFP Database

Location: Northampton, MA

Year founded: 2002

No. of employees: 3

Website: http://www.confluentforms.com & http://www.rfpdb.com

Twitter name: @confluentforms @rfpdb

Blog: http://blog.confluentforms.com

Business description: Confluent Forms LLC is a boutique branding, graphic design, web design and custom software development firm. We specialize in creating energetic brands, as well as in creating custom web-based software that can accomplish your business goals, tailored to your company’s unique needs. We also own and operate the RFP Database, the largest user-generated marketplace and exchange for requests for proposals, generating approximately $1 billion in opportunity leads each month.

What have been the keys to your business success? Staying small, staying focused, adapting quickly, investigating both our successes and failures with analytics, and persistence. It helps to have a good idea and a good product, but those only get you so far. Those five things take you the other 50% of the way.

Best business advice you’ve ever been given? To be my own boss and surround myself with people that are like me but also complement me.

Worst business advice you’ve ever been given? That the customer is always right. The customer is NOT always right, and if you treat them as if they’re always right, you’re not doing your business or their business justice. This is especially true if you consider yourself an expert on the subject; you are the expert and they’re hiring you for your expertise. Tell them if they are wrong, tell them why they are wrong, then tell them how to do it right.

What was the toughest thing you’ve ever had to do as a business owner? Fire or sever a contract with a client. I always want to see a project through to a successful ending, but sometimes that’s just not possible for a variety of reasons. It’s not always someone’s fault, and there shouldn’t always be a stigma attached, but some projects just won’t have a successful conclusion. While planning for success, it’s always necessary to plan in case of failure, and have a way for both sides to exit the contract without hard feelings.

What advice would you give to someone just starting a business? Don’t always take the least expensive option when starting out, establishing an infrastructure, etc. Even if you don’t have the money to get the solution or services that you ideally want, do the same level of research and even contact the companies you would want to work with. Some of the decisions you make when starting out can have lasting effects, and can be costlier down the road to rectify.

Favorite all-time business book? A Message to Garcia by Elbert Hubbard. While not a “business book,” the lessons learned about leadership and the qualities you want in people you rely on are invaluable. The fact that it was writing in 1899 and is still relevant speaks volumes.

Favorite business book read in the past year? RFPs Suck! by Tom Searcy, and not just because of the title. It’s hard to find a business book that strikes the right balance of readability, practicality, experience and expertise. It’s rare that someone can take the subject of Requests for Proposals and proposal writing and make it so accessible, yet filled with invaluable information, guidance, and examples.

Favorite online source(s) for business information/advice? Surprisingly, LinkedIn. But not the general “Answers” section, but instead the smaller groups that are based around a particular subject. Small online groups are a great source of business camaraderie, but also spectacular places to learn about new companies, strategies, opportunities and more. I’m particularly proud of our own LinkedIn group based around the RFP Database discussing topics of b2b, rfps, procurement, purchasing, proposals and more. I’ve learned a lot through the group’s discussions, met lots of interesting people, and feel that the group contributes to everyone’s personal and business growth.

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