And that applies to everyone. Even if you started your business because work was there for the taking, even if you’re committed to being a solopreneur or business-of-one forever rather than pursuing a growth strategy, you need to have ways of topping up your sales funnel, and not being overly dependent on too narrow a source of work. Having a solid prospecting strategy protects your ongoing income stream, and however reliable or consistent your client base, you need to pay some attention to your options.
Sometimes people worry about prospecting as they think it means a hard sell and going in cold to promote yourself — well, there are ways to do that, which we will cover at the end below, but the good news is that many of your potential prospects are much closer and warmer than you think.
In fact, they could be right in front of you.
Every business, every offering, is unique — and what follows are some possibilities which might or might not apply to your business:
Start with your existing customers
Yes, that may sound counterintuitive, but your best customer is definitely the one you already have. Depending on your line of work, if it’s particularly project-driven, you might see each contract as a one-off or occasional activity — but in most cases the fact that someone has bought from you once means they’re at least in the ballpark target for doing so again in the future.
So, treat every client as your next regular cash-cow, in terms of the excellence of the service you give them. Be reliable, be consistent, be a pleasure to deal with in all circumstances. Under-promise, and over-deliver — never the other way around! Add value where you can, with suggestions and ideas, that go beyond the scope of the work — lending your expertise costs nothing, and helps to position you as an expert in your field.
Your existing customers already know what you do, and can be regarded as prospects in lots of different ways, including:
Most obviously, would they care for some more of the same? If your product or service is something people buy regularly, it would be great if they next bought it from you. Make sure they’re happy — perhaps you could check in on their satisfaction as a follow-up after a relevant period, and then (IF they are satisfied) you could offer a returning customer deal (not necessarily a discount, be creative, and try to raise the value rather than reduce the cost).
Could you propose some kind of retainer or subscription offering, which means regular work for you, and a steady service for them?
Could you “productise” a service, to make it easier to buy on a regular basis? For example, if you wrote a blog post, could you offer a package of weekly posting, combined with social media promotion?
Thinking about what they bought from you, can you anticipate additional needs, needs they might not have considered you could supply? They might not even be aware of your full offering, so you can take any appropriate opportunity to highlight your adjacent services, in a way that is helpful and relevant to what you see they might need. Here is a nice way to get this done:
“I am so glad you’re happy with your trade show graphics — did you know we also do packaging design and procurement as well?”
“It’s great to hear that the food at the party was so popular. Don’t forget that in addition to special events like that, we also do a full range of daily lunch deliveries in your area, I can drop in a menu next time we’re passing...”
Market insight and feedback
Even if your customer doesn’t want to buy from you again — in fact, particularly if they do not — you can still learn a great deal from talking to them. Could they spare the time for a quick call? Could you buy them a coffee, or offer a donation to a cause of their choice in exchange for a virtual coffee?
If you are granted this gift use it well, to get to know their needs and pain points, what the gaps in the market are. Who are they? All of your marketing and advertising will be so much better targeted if you have a clear portrait of your ideal customer. Be respectful of their time — stick to the length agreed in advance, and spend the time listening to them, this is NOT a sales call: though it may be appropriate to seek their feedback about something new you’re cooking up, it’s not the time to try and close on it.
The better you know your customer and what they need, the better your actual sales calls will go.
Recommendations and referrals
Of course, the happiest customer in the world might simply not be in the market for your services again anytime soon, if you’ve just redesigned their website or installed an extension in their house. But if they’re sincere in their praise, there are two ways they can help you out right now:
The first is to put you in touch with anyone else who might need what you do — which can sound like a lot to ask, so you need to frame it very courteously and with no pressure whatsoever, giving them the option of helping someone else out by referring you, rather than asking them to help you (the difference is subtle, but it matters).
“I am so glad you’re happy with the new landscaping. Do you mind if I leave my business card on your fridge door, in case any of your neighbours are envious?”
The second way is by providing you with a review or testimonial more widely, if you know they’re truly a happy customer — it’s fine to ask for this quite directly:
"Wedding planners like us absolutely depend on word of mouth, to help people plan for the biggest day of their lives. It’d mean the world to me if you’d rate us on XXX site."
"Thanks so much for that lovely email! I so enjoyed working on your branding, and I am actively seeking similar projects right now. If I sent you a request via the platform, would you mind repeating those kind words in a LinkedIn testimonial?"
Follow up with past contacts and customers
Once you’ve worked through your current contact list, have a think about people you have worked with in the past.
It’s easy to let good contacts slide simply because of the passing of time, and whether your address book is a proper customer relationship management system (CRM) — such as the many which integrate directly with Ringover — or you use something a bit more ad-hoc for now, never forget that your contacts are gold.
Don’t be a spammer, and don’t breach the law!
Hang on one second, though!
Don’t start scraping details of all those business cards at the back of your desk drawer into a mailing list so you can send them all your latest newsletter. That’s not the way to do it. Just because that exchange of details at a conference 2 years ago implied consent to have you follow up with them, a generic marketing message will land stone-cold, and could well trigger damage to your whole domain’s deliverability scores through being ‘marked and junk’ — or worse. Misuse of personal data is a serious matter, and that includes email addresses.
If you haven’t been in touch for a while, or you’ve not done business before, then a personal approach is worth so much more. Sure, it’ll take a lot longer, but with prospecting your goal is quality over quantity.
And you can do a lot to speed things up, without losing the individualised approach. Here is an example:
Hope you’re well, I came across your card the other day and it brought back fond memories of the Manchester conference last year — remember how much it rained, and the terrace reception was a wash out?
We haven’t been in touch for so long, I wasn’t sure if you were aware I’d launched a new venture earlier this year, so I wanted to let you know about that, and ask if you’d mind my keeping in touch from time to time to update you on our activities? Just in case you ever need the services of a [paste your boilerplate info about your business]
Are you still working out of the Bromwich office by the way? I was wondering if you were going to be at Expo Live this year, assuming that it’s still going ahead?
All the best,
Speaking of all those fond memories of you and Steve bonding over a client’s bar tab, what other events are coming up, where you could make your presence felt?
You might have been overlooking the potential of industry events as a business development tool, if you’ve been seeing them mainly from a professional development point of view. Of course, you can learn a lot at the right event and stay abreast of industry news, but think about it from the point of view of prospecting.
What events do your clients go to? Ask them, if you’re not sure! Also have a look at their affiliations and news on websites, blogs, etc.
What’s the best way to engage with them there? Beyond simply attending and networking in the room, could you exhibit, sponsor, present or speak?
What do you need to do to make the most of attending the event? These things are often a large investment of time and resources, so make sure you have your business cards and marketing collateral, that you have a strategy, such as booking meetings in advance, if there are particular people whose attention you want to attract.
One good way is to make sure that if that person or business is speaking then attend their talk, tweet praise of it (complete with a photo, their handle, and appropriate hashtags), and ask a relevant and interesting question at the end of it — that way, even if you don’t get the chance to speak to them individually at the event because they’re some kind of industry rockstar with crowds flocking around them, you’ll be in their mind when you email them back at the office in the next few days.
And one upside of the remote revolution the 2020 global health crisis has forced upon us, is that many more events than ever before are now online — reducing your time and travel investment in showing up.
Your local area or community of interest
People often talk about local business networks like chambers of commerce, and so on. This might be relevant for your business, if you are offering services in a geographical area, but if your service is more location-independent then your research here can be too. Think of your ‘area’ as your global community of interest if applicable.
Always ask yourself: Where are my future customers? Where can I meet them, engage with them on their own turf?
In these situations where you don’t have an existing personal relationship, you’re going in a lot ‘colder’ — so you’ll need to start by establishing a relationship and adding value, before pitching your services. We all know what it’s like to get that LinkedIn connection request, followed immediately by a cut-and-pasted message presenting their services… Don’t be that person! Not if you want to avoid that delete and block response...
Here are some ideas to consider instead:
- Join LinkedIn or Facebook groups where your prospects hang out. Answer their questions, join in conversations, respectfully and helpfully.
- Attend local ‘business breakfasts’ and similar, where people are often actively encouraged to present their business pitch to the room (personally I would avoid those weird networks where they only allow one representative of any kind of business activity and everyone is supposed to recommend their fellow member, because that seems antithetical to integrity).
- Write guest articles for relevant publications, to showcase your expertise, whether that’s a popular blog in your niche, or a local newspaper. You might be able to trade a regular column for a display ad, as a local garden maintenance company does in my area - they answer reader questions in the column which displays their helpfulness and expertise..
- Good old-fashioned cold calling. Yes, even in 2020, this can work, if you have the right list (and permission under data protection law to use it for that purpose). Ringover’s power dialer can help you breeze through your calling without breaking your momentum, and find the ones who are ready to hear what you’ve got to say.
Diversify your prospecting strategy
You may not find all of these ideas applicable, but we urge you to move forward with a multi-pronged selection of tactics which will best connect you with those who want to buy what you’ve got to offer. Think about your ideal customer, your existing customer — where they are, and what they need.
Then you’ll know the best way to connect with them, and make them happy to do business with you.
Want to find more prospects for your business?
Contact our experts to help guide you step-by-step at +44 20 7509 6665 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Start your free trial today.