Happy Monday everyone! You get to hear from my lovely wife today as a part of my Taking the Plunge series as she describes some of the lessons she learned from starting a new business.
I’m a writer who runs my own small business. I’m not the closeted, “I’m a creative genius but awkward socially” type, but still, networking doesn’t exactly come natural to me. Socializing, yes; having fun with co-workers and getting along with people, yes. But introducing myself to strangers early in the morning or after hours at a bar in town, no. However, networking, along with client-building activities are absolutely crucial to the success of a small business. While I wouldn’t categorize myself as a salesperson or even someone who is comfortable with or good at sales, client-building is something I’ve had to engage in to grow our small business. If you run your own small business or are thinking about starting one, building a client base is critical to the short and long-term health of your small business. More and more future small business owners are coupling business degrees with communication degrees to prepare themselves for networking.
Make Face to Face Connections
When I decided to leave my stable, full-time, salaried position, I expected my former employer to be my biggest client. Three years later, we have yet to complete one job for them. I had to scramble to build up a new client base but with hard work and lots of networking, it started to come together. I decided to go after advertising agencies and to build my client base there. I went through the phone book and searched online to make a list of all the advertising agencies within a 100-mile radius of my town. I then whittled that list to the top 10-12 agencies which I thought I had the best chance of developing a freelance copywriting relationship with and scheduled visits to introduce myself to them.
I didn’t ask first for an appointment. Instead, I ordered a bunch of donuts (because ad agencies love free food; who doesn’t after all?), printed up a few posters and ordered a slew of business cards for my fledgling small business. Then, over the course of two days, I drove around to each agency, asking to speak to the person in charge of hiring freelance copywriters. I introduced myself, left the donuts and my contact information (posters and business cards). While it was a lot of work, I ended up getting one of our best clients out of it and built up name recognition and awareness of my new small business within the community of individuals I was targeting as my ideal client.
My advice to you, if you are starting your own small business is to identify your ideal client and then make a list as I did of as many people as you can find who fit that mold. Then, visit at least your top 12 in person to introduce yourself, if possible. If in-person trips aren’t a possibility, call, email or set up a Skype conversation. My experience has been that people are much more likely to give work to people they trust, and they trust people they meet in person or develop a personal connection with.
Look for Local Networking Opportunities
I’m not telling you anything new by suggesting that networking is the key to building a client base. The more people you meet in person, the more connections you will make for your small business. Look for events and opportunities that bring you in contact with people in your ideal client profile. For me, that meant small business owners and advertising industry professionals. I attended breakfasts, joined my local AAF chapter and looked online for Meetup groups with website content and programmer professionals, since they also are in my ideal client profile. The local or regional chapter of the Small Business Association or your local Chamber of Commerce may be good resources for you. Chambers often host weekly and monthly networking events as well as annual fairs that cost little or nothing to attend and bring a number of businesses together in one place, making it easy for you to connect with them and build them into your client base. Think carefully and thoroughly about joining networking or “leads” organizations that require a monthly or yearly membership fee. As one professional told me, “you shouldn’t have to pay to meet people.”
Create a Website for Your Small Business
A website is the best marketing tool a small business owner can invest in. Make it good. Take the time or set aside the funds to have someone design one for you that showcases your work. In my case, I found a good portfolio theme for WordPress and spent about $40 and 90 hours customizing it to look the way I wanted it to. I then loaded up quality samples of my writing and keyword optimized the entries so that people can find me when they are looking for a copywriter with my experience and expertise. We have gotten a number of good clients this way. Along with a website, business cards for your small business are a must. Always carry them with you and be ready to hand one out, not only at networking events, but wherever you find yourself because you never know when you are going to meet someone who can become a new addition to your client base.
Set up Social Media so Clients Can Find You
Create social media profiles for your small business that are separate from your personal social media accounts. I recommend hitting all the major ones (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr), especially LinkedIn – it’s like online networking. Spend time creating a LinkedIn profile that accurately reflects your work and skills. After every networking event, career fair or “meet and greet” that you attend, go on LinkedIn and try to find the individuals you met and add them as connections. One of our best clients found us through LinkedIn and it can be a great tool for targeting new clients as you build up your small business client base.
Join Online Job Boards
My last piece of advice for building up your client base for your small business is to identify and join online job boards in your chosen field. My two favorite boards to check are Freelance Switch and Freelance Writing Jobs. There are easily dozens for copywriters. In the early stages of my business, I searched these job boards daily applying for work. Granted, not much came of it but we do see a few hundred dollars of business come our way each month and it helped me stay in the mindset of doing something for my small business everyday.
What did I miss? Do you run a small business or are you thinking about starting one? How do you find new clients?
Photo courtesy of: Shashi Bellamkonda