The New Client Hunt
The number of woman-owned businesses is increasing astronomically. With each new business comes the hunt for new clients. Clients usually don’t usually come knocking on the door of new businesses. It requires a marketing plan to draw in new customers.
Small shop owners sometimes fall into the trap, “I’m too busy with the clients I have.” But if you don’t find a way around it, you may end up with no clients. During my tenure as the owner of a small PR firm, many a day I couldn’t cover all the bases. I had several acquaintances from my school networks as well as contacts from two professional organizations. I hired one of them for a day, or a half a day. When this didn’t work, I put my teenagers to work. The other alternative is to bring in a college intern. But, what next?
The Preferred Route
Networking has never been so important than when you start your own business. One of the most successful small public relations agencies in Los Angeles gained an edge because its founder, Kip Morrison, didn’t end her day at 5 p.m. She spent her evenings at professional meetings.
If you are in the communications business, it behooves you to find industry groups. You may be at the right place to hear about an account about to go under from the group at the next table. This is your inside scoop.
There are several organizations for those in public relations. It doesn’t matter what part of the country you are in. Here is a link to see a variety: www.prplace.com. For more general writing professionals there is the International Association of Business Communicators: www.iabc.com. Also consider the American Business Women’s Association: www.abwa.org. Business can come from being a part of service organizations. Find out about the Rotary Club www.rotary.org. There is always your local Chamber of Commerce. Many have searchable online membership directories. Professional organizations help members with job referrals. The inside dope on what other member are currently working on can be just as helpful.
Marketing to members in service organizations can take on various forms. Mingling at meetings can open doors, although snagging clients has been increasingly difficult since the dot-com explosion. After you attend a few meetings, it’s time to get down to the real work.
Marketing “…is anything you do in order to get your product or service to market.” Marketing covers all and every sales gimmick anyone ever invented. The problem is they forgot to mention it is old-fashioned hard work.
Direct mail sounds old fashioned in the age of Web sites and blogging. One of the reasons you join groups is for their directories. Some actually still print them. You form a mailing list and decide on a pitch letter. You can never tell until you try a group out whether or not someone will bite. The trick is not to mail 1,000 letters and end up empty-handed. You do a test run on 30 or so and wait patiently. In this day of 24/7 work many will not stop and answer immediately. I was told years ago it takes three tries before you got a phone call. In the third letter, I let the receiver know I will follow up with a call. Many called before I got a chance. Many signed on when I did call because of my persistence.
A couple of hints: don’t buy stationary which screams junk mail. Don’t blow the bank on it either, but do buy something to make somebody wonder who is writing. Hand-addressed envelopes have a much better chance of being opened.
Eventually, you buy ads. Before jumping in, check the publications you are considering to see what kind of ads they are running. Make a couple of calls and see what results these business owners are getting. This marketing has the same rules as direct mail. It’s not going to happen with one ad. If you can’t afford more, then you are not ready to initiate a campaign.
Some market only on the Net. I have had quite a few clients who I never met personally gained from the Net. It can work great, but when it doesn’t you have a big problem collecting. (More, on this later.)
Many sites and e-mail lists forbid direct advertising of your business. There are others whose whole purpose is to network about members’ businesses. The key list to market on can be found at www.frankelbiz.com. The site’s slogan is “where we do business instead of whining about it.”
Then there is the Market-L list for the inside story on the latest marketing trends. I have been on this list before people knew there were lists. To subscribe, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Write sub market-l, in both the subject line and the text. They will send a confirming e-mail, which you have to reply to before you are actually in. Just reply and type the two letters “ok” on the first line of the body. I have just learned this list has been dormant for a while, but it is still worth joining.
There are a few ways to subtly promote your business online, but no one is going to tell you. Every mailing list and group has its own rules about posting. Most frown heavily on you asking for work. However, when you do land a client, no one forbids “bragging.” You write “ot” (off topic) in the subject line and use “brag” as the subject. You write a few paragraphs about your latest project. If anyone lurking on the lists is in the market for your service or products, they just might get in touch.
You have potential clients knocking. Do you say yes to everyone? At first you are going to be fearful of turning someone down. If you meet the client online, you take a look at what he/she is already doing by checking out their Web site. Does it look professional? How long has this person been in business? What were they doing last year? Is there contact information on the Web site? Its absence can be a clue this is someone you don’t want to deal with. You can actually find out specific details about “who is” behind any domain name. Using just www.whois.com will get you how long the person has had the site. If you go one step further, registeryourwebsitename.com/whois.htm, you get: contact names, address and phones.
Finding clients through e-mail lists is a good way to go, because if they turn out to be flaky when it comes to paying you have somewhere to complain, but be careful. If you find a good rapport with a list, then it is time to make some friends “off-list.” Specific questions about a person’s business habits shouldn’t be done to the whole list. It will cause unfriendly repercussions.
Have a template contract able to be e-mailed or faxed. If this person shies away from a contract, it’s best to go elsewhere. The most important part of this contract is the clause about your down payment. Also include a clause allowing either party to cancel with a 30 days notice.
Be prepared to offer examples of your work or references, when applicable, especially if this potential client comes back hemming and hawing about a down payment. If you are so new at this it is a problem, offer to do a small project for a smaller fee as an introduction. I did this once and it earned me a $1k contract for four months.
If you have trouble collecting, there is still the Better Business Bureau and numerous groups on the Net where you can post about payment problems. It’s best to belong to at least a couple of yahoo groups, other than ones I have already mentioned. Go to yahoo’s home page and then click on groups.
There is a funny thing about clients who don’t want to pay your last bill. Sometimes, they don’t want to let you go and will try to continue the relationship by giving you more work. Don’t fall for it. Cut the ties. Jacque Foreman of Foreman Graphics has been in business for forty years and once had to tell a client she would see him in court. He walked away believing it was just a threat; until, someone showed up to serve him.
This is the last resort to any bad client relationship. Hopefully, your business wouldn’t take you down this particular path, but don’t be afraid to take a stand if necessary. You didn’t go into business to let someone take advantage of you.
Learning how to tackle these situations takes time. Becoming a successful entrepreneur is a lifelong learning experience. Try to have a little fun along the way.