One of the hardest tasks for a new home business owner is getting those first few clients or customers. The challenge is compounded by the fact that many new home-based entrepreneurs aren't savvy marketers and the idea of "sales" scares them. In fact, even seasoned home business owners sometimes struggle with having enough clients or customers.
While generating business clients and customers takes time, you can speed up the process by learning how to prospect, and how to guide those would-be customers and clients toward a sale. And since many potential customers or clients won't buy on their first contact with you, you also need to develop a plan for staying in touch until they are ready to buy.
STEP 1: Zero In On Your Target Market
It's a no-brainer that you'll save time and money by marketing to people who not only want what you've got, but also are willing and able to pay for it. And yet, too many new home business owners don't take the time to identify their target market. Instead, they toss their marketing message out into the world willy nilly, where, more often than not, it misses the mark.
A more efficient and effective method of marketing is to first define the most likely buyer of your product or service. How old are they? What gender? What is their socio-economic background? Knowing who your market is, makes it easier to find them and deliver messages that entice them to check out your product or service.
Take the time to understand who your target market is so you don’t waste your time or money finding and selling to the wrong customers and clients.
STEP 2: Build a Potential Customer and Client List
You can’t plan a party without a guest list and, likewise, you can't start or run a business without making a list of potential customers or clients. Listing people you know is a good place to start as you can make a quick sale and get referrals. But there are other sources from which to start your potential customer list. Here are just a few:
- Personal Contacts: Your friends and family are the most likely to purchase something from you, even if they're not your target market. Or, maybe they don't need your product or service, but know someone who does or would be willing to tell others about it.
- Existing customers: If you've already made a few sales, call upon your existing customers to see if they need more of your product or service. Selling to an existing happy customer is easier than generating a new one.
- Ask Referrals: Call your friends, family, and prior customers to see if they know anyone who needs your product or service. Sweeten the deal by offering a referral incentive.
- Internet Research: This is ideal for business-to-business (B2B) businesses. If you know the ideal customer or client, you can go online and search for them, and then reach out to them directly. While you can do this online for all businesses, it works particularly well for doing local searches of businesses you want to work with. Social media is another great way to connect with potential businesses you'd like to work with, especially LinkedIn.
- Trades Shows or Craft Fairs: Events are a great way to network with other businesses that may fit your market (in B2B) or generate new customers and prospects through an exhibit if you sell to the end consumer (B2C). Even if you don't make a sale, events can allow you to build your contact list.
- Speaking: The easiest way to show off your expertise is speaking, either at a conference, or buy setting up your own workshops. If you're nervous about speaking, consider joining a panel at an event.
- Community Networking Events: If your business focuses on B2B sales, consider joining your local Chamber of Commerce.where you can network with other local businesses, attend workshops, and more. Another option is to join groups involving your target market. For example, if your market is moms with kids, join a mommy-and-me group. Again, this is another thing that can be done online through social media, such as Linkedin.
- Social Media: Many service-based businesses find social media one of the best places to connect and build a relationship with potential clients and customers. Do you have social media followers on Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin? While you don't want to annoy them with constant sales messages, you can interact and converse with them, increasing their awareness of you as well as building a relationship.
- Purchase a Lead List: While this can be expensive and often achieves low results, if you're in a bind, you can purchase mailing or contact lists of prospects that fit your target market (demographics, location etc). Do a Google search for "mailing lists" and you will find dozens of companies. In most cases, businesses use this list for direct mail marketing, but you can also call or email if those form of contact information is provided.
STEP 3: Make Contact
Once you have a list of potential clients, it's time to reach out. Here are some ideas.
Over The Phone: Cold calling scares many people, but if you lead by asking what they need and then present your product or service as a solution, you'll have better results. Use an easy flowing, conversational script to introduce your product or purpose for calling. Remember, telling isn’t selling. If you are doing all the talking, the likelihood of convincing someone they need your product or service isn't going to be high. Asking questions and presenting your product or services benefits turns the focus of the call onto them instead of you.
Close with a call-to-action, such as asking them to commit to a trial period or giving you an email or physical address,so you can send additional information. Finally, if an individual says they are not interested, ask them if they know of someone who might be and get a referral.
Email: While email isn't as effective as a direct conversation, it's less scary and often a great way to introduce yourself. The trick is to not simply send a "buy" email, but instead, offer something of value. Give a brief explanation of who you are, then provide a coupon or a free article on a relevant topic. Review the anti-spam laws, which require you to include an unsubscribe option to every contact. Here are some additional resources on email marketing.
In-Person: There are many ways to meet potential clients and customers in person. For B2B, you can walk into their business. Or you can call and make an appointment to meet for B2B or B2C. In many cases, you can meet prospects while you're out and about at the grocery store or on an airplane, or wherever you may be.
It's important to remember a few key points to effective in-person selling. Don't tell them everything all at once. Instead, find out their wants and needs and tailor your presentation to show how your produce or service is the solution to their problem. Always have sales material on hand to help you in this process (such as samples or catalogs). Make sure and end with a call to action and a promise to follow-up.
Traditional Mail: Like email, direct mail doesn't have as high of an effective rate, but it's a great way to increase awareness of your business. Create the piece you plan to send, whether that is a postcard, brochure, letter etc. Once you have the finished piece in hand, you can either address and stamp them yourself, or hire a fulfillment house to do it for you. If you are mailing many pieces, there are both time and cost benefits to using a fulfillment house to address, stuff, and stamp. A fulfillment house is able to get a bulk stamp rate, which can save up to 40% off the postage price. However, a hand placed stamp may be less likely to look like junk mail.
STEP 4: Follow-Up and then Follow-Up Again
The fortune is in the follow-up. You're going to hear “no” a lot. For some people, that “no” is firm. But for others, the “no” is only “no” for now. Many business owners hear “no” and give up. But 80% of sales are not made on the first, second, or even a third contact! It can take five or more contacts to achieve a sale.
Finding customers and clients requires a thick skin and a strong belief in what you're selling. Just because someone tells you “no” today doesn’t mean it will be a “no” tomorrow. The trick is to have a non-annoying system of follow-up such as an email list, or agreement to call again in six months.
The system for getting clients and customer is straight forward. You need a way to entice them to learn about you through your marketing efforts, then you need to build a relationship with them that will hopefully lead to a sale. During the process, you'll want to get their contact information either through an email follow up system or keeping your own contact management list. Finally, you want a system for staying in touch for as long as they're open to hearing from you.