By Fiona Bowers
LinkedIn and other social media platforms may be a great tool for some, but I have to say that I have never won a corporate client from them. Don’t get fixated on the rumour that LinkedIn, for example, is where the corporates hang out waiting to hear about your services. To gain these you’ll need to go elsewhere. When I look at where most of my corporates have come from, it’s been from face to face networking or from current client referrals, so that’s what you need to concentrate on. Once you’ve got the introduction the next step is to convert them into a client. Do your research. Corporates will expect you to know the basics about them so have a look on their website and get their company information. Treat the meeting like a job interview and go in prepared.
These people are looking for someone to provide them with a service or product that they are missing or are unhappy with, so be the expert in your field, ie: the go-to person that they can rely on. Finally, be true to yourself and your values. If you do this you will attract corporates that are in line with how you want to work and then they will become long term clients.
Corporate clients can often focus on the name and reputation of a business going for a bigger brand, which they perceive as trust-worthy due to the fact they have heard of them. They may also be looking at staffing numbers to give them some comfort that they will be appropriately treated as a customer. But, as a solopreneur myself, I use both of those worries to my advantage. Removing the layers of staff they may encounter at a larger business means that there will be no mistakes made through miscommunication and they will be able to build a trust-based relationship with a business as their supplier. One to one support is highly valued. It may sound trite but it really does work.
Tips for Self-Employed Small Businesses
For any business of any size, one of the most important aspects is knowing how your business is performing. If you can’t say with clarity what your income is and plan ahead for your tax then while you may have the best product in the world, your business may not thrive.
If you aren’t someone who loves the ins and outs of finances, you still need to know the basics so my advice to you is to find a decent accountant. Find one who speaks your language and who you feel you can trust. Get recommendations from friends and other business owners and interview the accountants to make sure you are happy with them.
Time management can be very hard for the self-employed. Most work from home and are juggling work with family life. It’s easy to let work life infringe on family time and your personal time.
For this reason you need to be really strict with your time. If your business is time specific such as evening work, then that’s when you work. Make sure you have downtime at other points in the day. If you have to have client meetings each week but also prepare work for clients, then set aside what time you need to do the work and don’t book meetings then.
Try and have all your meetings on one day so that others don’t get interrupted and work flows better. Remember, clients don’t have to know what you are doing with your time as long as you are providing the service you promised and are meeting the deadlines.
When you aren’t working, shut the door on your business. Employees get paid holidays but for the solopreneur, you never stop thinking about your business even if you are supposedly on a break. It helps if you can run your business from an area of the home that you can close up at the end of work each day. Perhaps also consider having a separate business phone to your personal one so you don’t get calls from customers outside business hours. Do what you can to separate the blurry line between work and non-work time.
If you’ve set up on your own it may be the first time you’ve had your own business. Coming out of the corporate world, one thing I missed was being able to ask colleagues to check over something. So it’s important to build a support network around you.
For example, if you know you have a weakness in one area, then find someone who can help. You may think this is a cost that you can’t afford but if you think about what you could earn in the time you spent doing the dreaded chore then it is usually far more then you have paid out.
For me, basic admin chores get put off until I can no longer put them off in favour of client work. The solution was to appoint a virtual assistant who does things as and when. I’m not just managing my business better but on top of this, supporting another business owner.
Celebrate your achievements. The first two years that I ran my own business I did not sleep through the night, worried that I was going to let someone down.
As the business settled into a steady rhythm and work kept coming in, I was able to look back and see all the milestones I had passed without my worst fears manifesting. So be proud of yourself, you are a business owner, the minute you raise your first invoice you have succeeded, the first customer who refers someone on to you is you succeeding, as is the first glowing testimonial. Don’t compare yourself to others. On the face of it every other business out there looks fantastically successful. Trust me when I tell you that they are all just like you.
I’ve met business owners who say they are too small to need my services yet they have more turnover that some of my other clients. I know others who look like they are making millions but when the financial data comes in its nowhere near. Like the perfect shiny lives portrayed on social media, business owners can be vulnerable to comparing themselves to others. Just focus on you and your business and you won’t look back.
Why You Should Focus On Consensus
It’s a brave person who doesn’t follow the herd. From school age we are taught to conform and keep conforming or the sky will come falling down. Well, here’s my news for you. My business offers a service which is ten a penny. I know how all my competitors work and charge and staff their businesses because I’ve been in the industry for 20 years. So how did I go from zero to a full client base within two years and franchising out the business the next? I did it a little bit differently.
Markets change and let’s face it, we aren’t selling to our competitors, so what is it that your customers want that could make you a bit different? Ask your friends or ask a professional. Then focus on your business and sell that product or service.
How to Change Your Approach to Attracting Clients
As I said above, if you do the same as everyone else then you will blend in and be lost amongst the masses. So have a look what the competition is up to and see what you can do to stand out. I know an accountant who posts on Instagram. Don’t ask me how that works but it does. The business stands out as different and attracts clients. When you first start out you have no brand awareness out there so you need to build that and build the trust that comes with it.
Social media is a great way of doing this. You can post business appropriate information making you look like you know your stuff. If this isn’t your strong point, get a social media expert to do this for you. It doesn’t have to be expensive and can more than pay for itself in leads generated.
90% of small businesses will need a website. We all know that the first thing we do now a days is to Google someone so make sure you have a website that shows up. Again, it doesn’t have to be all singing and all dancing but it does have to reflect what your business does and give key information for potential customers.
Networking is another great way of attracting clients. There are hundreds of different ways of doing this, so find the way that works for you. I’m a working mum so I found a group that met during the day inside of school hours. Others prefer breakfast or evening meetings. Some like weekly, some like monthly and everything in between. If you have the time there are enough out there to do it on a daily basis and all over the country!
Some don’t like meetings at all and go to events that reflect what their business does. Whatever you do, make it work for you, don’t go in with the hard sell, no-one likes that. The best networkers are those that support others.
Finally and possibly most importantly, when that client approaches you don’t be afraid to charge them the proper fee for your services or product. It shows that you value your business and that means they will too. Over the years I have found that often the ones who haggle most about costs turn out to be the more difficult customers. Be brave enough to stand firm as this will in the long run make your business stronger.
Growing Your Small Business
If your client attraction is working then you will find that your business will grow and that in itself can bring added complications. As your business grows you may need to start taking on staff and premises. There may also be increased regulatory burdens. Consider each step carefully.
For staffing, you need to know that your business will continue to grow to cover that person’s wages – and potentially pensions – as that will be a fixed cost to the business. Forecast the next 12 months to 3 years and make sure you truly believe it is achievable before you employ someone. If you do take someone on, you’ll need to make sure you have all the employment legislation covered which could also create a cost (although remember, it’s more costly to ignore it).
An option for staffing is to hire a subcontractor for the hours you need. Whilst their charges are usually higher than an employee’s wage, the overall cost is usually lower.
For premises, consider your options. If you are starting small then you don’t want a massive office block or warehouse at vast cost. That can happen once your business is big enough. Look around for smaller units to rent or consider sharing space with another business or look into ‘hot’ offices.
For each step in growth it’s simply a matter of planning. Don’t just rush into things, take advice, consider your options, find out the facts and make your decisions based on logic, not whim.
At Grass & Holm we support small businesses and sole traders by offering our franchisees an established brand, access training and weekly support as well as marketing, compliancy and IT services; all at a fraction of the cost of most franchise operations and without having to have a shop front or shell out a percentage of annual turnover.
Grass & Holm was the idea of founder, Fiona Bowers. Fiona trained as a chartered accountant and has been in practice since 1998.