An unsurprising business axiom: a company lives or dies by its sales. No customers, no revenues. No revenues, no business.
As a result, ask almost any business owner her primary concern and you’ll almost always hear some variant of identifying prospects and securing new clients.
One disturbing trend that has developed as a result of how cheap it is to start and grow a business today – dismissing the importance of marketing materials. It’s true that you can get these done on the cheap, but that’s rarely the best strategy.
At the least, you’re business needs business cards and a website (if you don’t have a website you’re not in a position to capture all potential clients – no matter WHAT your business is). It’s likely you need at least one other form of marketing takeaway (e.g., a brochure, portfolio, etc.), and maybe even more than that (depending on your particular business). These materials are often how you announce yourself to prospects, so they can be of supreme importance.
The purpose of this post is not to examine this particular subject in comprehensive detail. Instead, I’ll merely suggest that your materials need to (a) have a look and feel that suggests success and (b) inject as much creativity as is reasonable (a graphic design company has much more leeway than a plumber, for example) into the process.
If you don’t have an elevator pitch ready, it’s time to develop one. If you’re not familiar with this term, it refers to a brief overview of your company. It’s called an Elevator Pitch because it should take no more time to deliver than it does to ride down an elevator – about 60-90 seconds maximum.
Ideally, your elevator pitch should make clear the service/product you offer, problem you solve and benefits that you provide. To help guide you, think of answering the following questions when developing your pitch:
- What problem do we solve?
- Who do we solve the problem for (the type of customer)
- What is our particular solution?
- Why does our solution benefit our customer?
Do your family, friends and business colleagues know what your company does? Do they have an understanding of your elevator pitch and the types of clients that you are seeking? You may be surprised to discover that your network knows you have a business but aren’t certain of exactly what you do (or that you could use their help).
Start by sending out update emails to your personal network. Do not, however, craft a general update that gets sent out to all and sundry. Instead, craft individual, personalized messages to your contacts, including a description of your business and its current activities. Be certain that you describe the types of services/products that you offer and your target customer.
Don’t hesitate to ask for help. Request that your network put you in direct contact with anyone that might be a prospect. Here’s a way to supercharge this effort. Ask each contact to think of 3 people that might be able to assist you – not necessarily customers, just 3 people that can help you in your professional endeavors. Ask for direct introductions to those people. After meeting with those 3 people – ask each of them to introduce you to 3 people that might be of help to you.
By approaching the process in this fashion, you offer your contacts (and those they introduce you to) a concrete mechanism for offering you some assistance – one that doesn’t take a great deal of energy or personal “currency” from them. The power of 3’s can add up very quickly. Imagine that you do this with only 10 people. You immediately generate 30 new contacts. If 70% of those individuals also give you names, you generate an additional 63 contacts, for a total of 93 new contacts at only the 2nd “level” of the process. What do you think the likelihood is of generating some business from 93 new individuals?
You’ve got to regularly attend networking events, conferences, seminars, etc. Unfortunately, they are often scheduled for early evening – a time when many entrepreneurs are still working. Even more unfortunate, many times you have to pay to attend. This tends to provoke a specific analysis as to whether you get enough value from each event to justify attending.
Try to take a different perspective. Networking at events is a bit like brand advertising – part of your goal is to appear often enough that you begin to “stick” in the mind of the prospect. If you attend several events each month, you’ll start encountering some people regularly. This will allow you to forge stronger relationships and become a well-known figure in the community – which leads to more substantive connections.
Be sure to take advantage of social networking tools in conjunction with the events that you attend. Once you’ve met someone, even if it was brief, connect with them on LinkedIn (or other social networks). Don’t simply collect cards and connections – use the opportunity to schedule a call or get together to learn more about their business. As always in networking, focus first on how you can help the other person, as opposed to advancing your specific agenda.
One other tip: twitter. If you use twitter and attend a conference or seminar, be certain to tweet about it. Use appropriate hashtags and select key points of information from the event to send out. You’ll be surprised to discover that this will bring you additional followers and mark you as a thought leader – a valuable label as you continue to prospect for clients.
Join a Group
Whether it’s your local chamber of commerce, a hobby group, a professional trade organization, your alumni chapter or a dedicated networking group, get involved. By attending meetings, you’ll have the opportunity to meet other business people, who may be direct prospects or referral sources. The connections that you can make in these circumstances alone could have significant growth effects on your business over time.
I’d suggest that you don’t focus on joining national organizations – often the costs are difficult to justify and the activity in your region may be sparse. You want to be involved in a group that is active – regular meetings and events are key for your purposes. Of course, if the local chapter of a national group is active in your area, don’t hesitate to get involved.
After you’ve joined a group and settled in, go out of your way to volunteer your time to assist. Most organizations have all sorts of needs – communications, marketing, logistics, web design, etc. Often, you may be able to help in ways that the organization hasn’t even identified yet.
If you’re already doing these things, great! You should be well on your way to adding new prospects and turning them into clients. If not, executing on these suggestions should super-charge your client acquisition process and help your business grow.