Niche Business suited to your skills/passion – check
Perfect product/service for your ideal client’s needs – check
Market research – check
Ideal Client – check
So why are you still not getting any business?
Well, are you basing your business model on ‘Field of Dreams’?
If you build it, they won’t necessarily come. (For those of you with no idea what I’m talking about a) what on earth were you watching in the ’80’s and b) here’s the reference).
It may have worked for Kevin Costner but, sadly, the rest of us have to get out there and drum up business.
“Gah! I hate promoting myself!”
“Sales tactics are so icky – they make my skin crawl.”
“I CANNOT cold call anyone.”
“My service/product/business is perfect. Why can’t they see it?”
Because they can’t. And I know that if you’re reading this, you know it too because my readers are very discerning.
But maybe, just maybe, you’re feeling a little reticent about putting yourself ‘out there’? Or you’re not sure what the best approach to take is.
After all, chances are you aren’t a marketing or sales expert (unless of course, that’s your business) so why should you know these things?
The problem is that, as I explained in this post here – you will have to become adept at aspects of your business that you probably hadn’t even realized when you originally thought ‘Hey, I want to start my own business.’
Putting yourself out there can be scary. I’m not going to pretend otherwise, because it isn’t in my natural comfort zone either.
And when it’s your own business, it can feel a bit like you’re putting yourself and your baby out into the big bad world to face criticism.
But the bad news is, if you don’t get it out into the big bad world, your business will fail.
Sorry, but that’s the truth of it.
I’ve a friend. Let’s call him Jeff.
Jeff had a brilliant business idea. Perfectly suited to his skills and experience – and something that he was passionate about. He’d even had a few regular gigs on the side for his new offer before he left his job to set up his business full time, so he knew there was demand for it and he knew that he could do it well.
He had all the kit. A lovely shiny website. Beautiful business cards. And a clear idea of why people should use him.
But 6 months in and… tumbleweed.
It wasn’t that he hadn’t researched his market. Or that his service wasn’t in demand. Or that he wasn’t as good as others out there (he was actually a lot better than most of the competition).
It was quite simply that he wasn’t doing
enough any sales and marketing for his business.
How much is enough?
Well, I recently read an article that said most small businesses spend 20 hours a week on marketing and promotions.
Can you honestly say that you’re doing anything like that at the moment?
OK, 20 hours is going to seem like a lot when you’re a freelancer who is perhaps working around childcare or school hours – but be honest, how close are you really coming to that figure?
How many emails do you send to potential clients?
How many follow up calls do you make after sending them?
How much promotion do you do through social media?
How many Facebook campaigns have you run?
How many times are you in touch with former clients, colleagues, potential partners and others in your network to let them know what you’re doing?
If you aren’t getting your name out there, you aren’t promoting your business.
And if you aren’t promoting your business, why did you spend all of that time on customer research, setting up systems, saving 6 months expenses – and all the rest of it?
Yes, I appreciate that many people don’t like the idea of selling or marketing.
And yes, before you ask, I have spent many a day faffing around, tweaking products, researching the market – and steadfastly refusing to make any calls, send any emails or attend any networking events.
And guess what? I didn’t have many clients during those times either.
So what’s the difference between sales and marketing?
Pop that question into Google and you will get a whole host of (often contradictory) answers.
However, assuming that you’re running a small freelance business, I think the model suggested over on Forbes works beautifully for our purposes here today.
To sum up, sales activities are carried out by people – so think direct selling, networking, cold calling, prospect emails, sales meetings – and are all about relationship building.
While marketing activities are media based – advertising, social media, word of mouth, print, TV etc.
(There is also a whole host of information out there that says marketing is long term, sales short term; marketing is strategic, sales is a numbers game – the list goes on. I’m not disputing any of these – and they kind of fit with what I’ve said above anyway – but let’s just stick with the one concept for now).
Which should you be focusing on? Sales or marketing?
Well, if you’re selling to other businesses (B2B), then you want to adopt a sales approach – i.e. building relationships with companies in the hope that they will buy your product or services. Think consultants, designers, accountants and so on.
If you’re selling to the public (B2C), then marketing using a range of media to promote your business will help you to reach a wider audience. Think wedding photographer, music tutor, seamstress, baker etc.
Once you know where your focus should lie, you need to make sure that you’re spending your time building your reputation, creating relationships and promoting your business in the way that’s going to bring your business the most customers.
Yes, the café around the corner does post beautiful pictures of lunch that get 300 likes each day, but if you’re selling marketing consultancy to IT companies, copying their approach might not work so well. (Although don’t let that stop you from posting articles on LinkedIn or writing a company blog/newsletter that you promote to potential clients).
There are marketing activities that B2B should be doing (as the above demonstrates). But we’re talking about going from no clients to lots of clients, so focus your initial promotional activity very specifically on the sales plan:
Write down a list of potential customers. Are any of them within your current networks? If so, prioritise and start to contact those, moving on to the colder contacts next.
Be where your customers are. If you hate cold calling, send emails or attend networking events to get to know your potential customers face to face. Join local business groups.
Ask former clients to recommend you to others in their networks.
Use your social media to build authority and increase your reputation but focus on building relationships in order to win those larger sales that typically come from B2B type models.
If you’re selling to customers, focus on marketing.
Where do your customers hang out? That’s where you should be. It might be that you should take out an advert in a local publication or use Facebook promotions to reach a very targeted audience. (Read this article for ideas on how to do this brilliantly).
Like the IT consultant example above, don’t try to copy others that are operating in a different marketplace from you.
If you want to become the Cupcake Lady in your locality, you don’t want to start off your marketing efforts by cold calling IT companies. (Although, again, don’t let that stop you from cold calling local businesses to tell them of lunch deals or business delivery services that you’re intending to run).
This doesn’t mean that you CAN’T go to networking events or start to form relationships with other businesses who could potentially become partners or help to promote your business. It means your focus should be on reaching your Ideal Client FIRST.It is useless to be a creative thinker unless you can sell what you create Click To Tweet
So, now you know where your focus lies, how much time are you going to spend doing it?
I honestly think that 20 hours is too much to sustain in the longer term – particularly once you have clients.
And, of course, the reality is that how much time you spend on marketing is dependent on where you are in your business journey.
But, in the early days, when you’ve no clients or customers and you’re trying to persuade people to buy from you? You should be spending ALL of your time on sales or marketing.
Later in your business journey when you have clients and are doing well, you will still need to maintain awareness of your brand to ensure that you can either grow your business or sustain the momentum that you’ve worked hard to achieve.
You should continue to promote your business every single day – even if it’s just arranging to meet a former client for coffee, writing a blog post, sending out a regular newsletter or scheduling your social media for the week. Aim for at least an hour a day of promotional activity to keep your name out there – more if you have it.
Me? I probably realistically spend on average between 5 and 7 hours a week on sales and marketing.
And if I’m honest, I spend a little bit too much time on marketing promotion rather than sales promotion – mainly because I find it more fun. A little re-read of my marketing plan usually gives me the kick that I need to get back on track though.
What about you? How much time do you spend on sales and marketing? Is there anything that you struggle with or that has worked brilliantly in your business?
Let me know in the comments below…