If you are anything like me, you may be tempted to jump in with both feet and just get going. However what happens if you don’t land that first customer for 3 weeks, what if it is 3 months? This is where a little patience will really pay for itself. If you currently have a day job, lets find that first customer or two before you make the leap of faith into your new consulting career. We’ll cover some of the steps on how to make sure you’ve really landed a customer and not just someone a window shopper in the next section. This is important because paying customers are the difference between a start-up idea and a start-up company.
Sell Before You Start
Ok, so almost all of the ducks are lined up, you’re feeling good about the idea and direction of the business. Lets get the last one in line and find out how to get sales in the door before your full time paycheck goes away. This is especially important to squash any doubts of is this the right move for me. If you have a paying customer you’ve validated that someone is willing to pay for what you have to offer. This will really help calm nerves of a significant other or parent. With a paying customer, you’ve now might make it to be entrepreneur, not just a “wantrepreneur”. In his article How to Spot a “Wantreprenur”, Bryan Clayton says he gets a good gut feel by what are they doing versus what are they saying.
The key here is to establish a consumer foundation before you put all your eggs in your new business basket. So now you ask, well great, but how do I get my first customer? Well don’t fret, here are some ideas about how to get there.
Friends and Family
Speak with friends and family about your services. By this time you should be well armed with the name of your business and the specific niche in which you are looking to make waves in. Are friends and family willing to make any introductions for you? These are the people closest to you who believe in you the most. They can be your best salesmen. They’re willing and able to talk about your commitment and dedication. Equip them with enough business details. A short but concise “elevator speech” is all they’ll need to sound educated on the subject. If the potential client has additional questions, they can send them to your website or provide contact information.
Your Soon To Be Former Employer
Can you consult with the company you're leaving? If you’ve had a good track record with them and they’d be in a bad spot without you this might be a good solution. However you’ll need to make sure that your target direction for your business aligns with their needs. You don’t want to just replace your full time job with a distraction, however a steady source of income gives you a financial cushion and reduces the pressure to have your business be profitable from day one. Even with the best planning, unforeseen obstacles arise. Keeping another job can be a financial lifesaver when faced with un-calculated challenges.
Can you create partnerships with other local businesses and leverage their customer bases? For example if you are targeting online social media marketing as your consulting area, could you form partnerships with more traditional marketing backgrounds? It would give them an additional service line that they don’t currently have and would give you access to good quality customers. Now I’ll add a word of caution here that there are some pitfalls to working a partnership like this. You’ll want to be seen as a separate entity from the other agency, otherwise you’ve most likely just secured yourself another full time job. You’ll also need to make sure that your payment terms and service agreements are up to speed so that you don’t get locked into “their way” of doing business.
Just like asking your friends and family, there is nothing wrong with asking colleagues working in similar industries if they know of anyone looking for your services. We’ve grown our business on almost 100% networking and referrals. Happy customers are great evangelists for you, however don’t forget to return the favor. Take time to say thank you if someone refers you to a potential client. Even if the deal doesn’t go anywhere a nice thank you note will go a long way to that next referral. If the project does go somewhere a small gift may be in order if it is appropriate to do so. For example some federal employees are unable to take gifts or may have to report them above a certain dollar value.
Karen Leland, in her answer to a question at Entrepreneur.com recommends to offer a "starter" service to get hesitant clients on board? Depending on your type of business, a free sample could be one of your less expensive products. If your enterprise is more service based, give them a taste of your offerings—for example, a free consultation that covers guaranteed results and details of how you would render services. I typically like to have a 30 minute brainstorm session to where we just talk through their app or business idea and give them some homework to go work with. I usually do it over a cup of coffee at the coffee shop down the street from us. It doesn’t cost me anything except for a bit of time and a few bucks for coffee. What it does for the client is to get their through process going and headed in the right direction.
The only place the phrase “If you build it, they will come” makes any sense is in the movie Field Of Dreams. So get out there and find out if anyone will pay for your services. You’re better off knowing this while you still are getting paid to do something else, because, paying customers are the difference between a start-up idea and a start-up company.
Create your 30 second elevator pitch:
- Try writing what you do in 10-20 different ways. Keep your target market in mind and how you want to present yourself to them. The idea is to generate ideas. Shoot for 150-200 words.
- Highlight your unique selling points. Why should they listen to you? What makes you unique against the competition?
- At the end of your pitch you need to ask for something. Do you want a referral, to pitch their company for business, to ask for feedback?
- Try rehearsing your elevator pitch against a 30 second timer. Get rid of any words that trip you up or don't fit your personality. If 30 seconds is tight, can you get it done in 45 or 60?
- How can they get ahold of you, or find out more info? This would be a good time to have some business cards made up with your website and email address. You don't need to have a ton of info out there, just enough for them to contact you.
- Get a list of 10 people that you can invite to coffee to ask for their business or a referral to business in the next 2 weeks.
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