Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How to be stone cold self-employed, part 3: getting clients

Now we get to the fun part: where do your clients come from? How to get people to pay money for your products or services is easily the most-promised and least-delivered thing in nearly every book on the subject of self-employment.

To me, the best advice on getting clients came someone who wasn't even writing about self-employment: televangelist Robert Schuller. He asked a wealthy potential donor how to raise a million dollars for his ministry and got a one-sentence response: “How do you catch a moose?” He thought about this and realized he needed to be where potential donors were, and think like they think – and by putting that principle into action, he eventually raised his million.

When you are starting a business, the same principle applies: think like a moose. This means answering one simple question: How do your buyers already buy what you are selling?

-If you mow lawns or do landscaping, the point of first contact for most customers may be as simple as the Yellow Pages or the Pennysaver.

-If your employer finds its consultants through professional society contacts, speak and publish within that professional society (and P.S. do a great job!).

-If you last bought a specific product through web searching or direct marketing, there you go.

In short, doing what other people already do to get clients – and doing it better – is good, being “creative” or taking guesses at how to market yourself is usually bad. So before you drop money on a direct mail campaign, or start knocking on doors, or rent an aerial billboard, ask yourself honestly if you know at least two people who have bought your wares that way.

So how do I get my own clients? Glad you asked. When I was in corporate life, nearly every in-house training program was arranged by the human resources department. So, for the training side of my business, I contact HR or training directors in appropriate organizations, and build partnerships with organizations who serve these departments. (For example, I've taught communications skills training for my local community college's business extension for years now, and they farm me out all to organizations all over central New York.) Likewise, I also partner with people who broker content for things like white papers and webinars.

Another thing I do a lot of is speak for free. I call this "wheeling out the dessert cart," because when I show people up close and personal what I have and how good it tastes, they usually want some. When I get up in front of a group, and send them away knowing what to say in their most difficult customer or workplace situations, invariably a few of them go back and say, "we have to get this guy in our organization." So, in a very real sense, one of my best marketing approaches is lots and lots of me.

As for writing, both my own experience and national surveys tell me that word-of-mouth is most common way to get business, so I spread the word far and wide among people in my network about what I do - a network that includes people who hire writers. I also get a substantial amount of business from people who find me on the web, so I make it a point to have easily searched, high-content web sites with my specialties and home town in the HTML tags.

Finally, far and away the most important thing I do to get clients is totally blow people away with service and quality once I get a gig. Good marketing helped me get started, but referrals and repeat business forms the vast majority of why I am usually so busy.

So there you go: I've just told you more in one blog entry than most of the 40 kazillion books on self-employment I've ever read do about finding real clients - think like a moose. Happy hunting!

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