One of the most important differences between running a small business and simply having a job is the need to attract customers to your business or your services. Sales and marketing (two different but related activities) requires specialized knowledge and skills. Many small business owners hate doing these activities almost as much as they hate doing taxes, but they are critical to your success. Fortunately, sales and marketing can be a lot of fun, if you look at it the right way. We’re going to talk about a lot of fun ideas for marketing your business, and making sales.
At first, though, it can be daunting. It is tough for an expert (you are an expert in something or else you wouldn’t have started your business) to hear no. Worse, experts, especially technical or physical hands-on experts, can often be introverted and thus focused inward on their expertise, which makes it even harder to strike up conversations. Besides, shouldn’t your target market already want to do business with you? And if you are so great, why isn’t your plate already full? These can be self-fulfilling, spiraling doubts unless you’ve learned how to do these activities well.
So here is your first lesson in sales and marketing. We’ll look at one aspect of this in today’s article, that act of getting out there and trying to find people, or prospects, who might want your product or service. We’ll make some better definitions later, but for now, this will do. This activity of looking for business is called prospecting, just like panning for gold; you’re sifting through lots of people looking for the interested nuggets (remember this analogy for a future article).
There are two great times for any small business to perform prospecting.
The first, and most obvious, time to prospect is when you have no business coming in. When you first start out, unless you launched with a customer or client in-hand on day one, this is what your business looks like. This is a hard time to prospect; every time you pick up the phone, run an ad, or talk to someone, it can feel like you are on the ropes. This feeling is normal, but it can chase off customers purely because they sense your own uncertainty. However, it doesn’t have to be like this. We’ll show you some techniques and systems to make this feeling go away and to help you become a success at marketing, especially. You did read my time management skills advice, right? You’ll see how this comes into play to help you with prospecting.
The second time to prospect is when you have lots of business coming in. In these times, you feel like a million bucks, the birds are chirping and the world is beating a path to your door. In such heady times, who needs to prospect? Things are awesome! We’ll worry about prospecting later when we need new business, right?
Wrong. When you hit this stage, remind yourself of how much it sucked to be in those early times. There is really no better time to prospect than when you are doing well. Your energy is high, you’re confident, and you have lots of social proof (in the form of all those current customers) that your product or service is great. The same effect that worked against you when you had no business, is now a steam-roller working for you. Hint, those same time management skills help even more so at this stage, both freeing and encouraging you to do some background prospecting.
In other words, it is always the best time to be prospecting: whether you are doing well, or have no business at all, or anywhere on the spectrum in between. The alternative is a potentially destructive feast-or-famine cycle. Many small business owners with a few years and cycles of this under their belt are nodding their heads right now. Oh sure, you may tell yourself that if you have a downturn, you’ll just take your vacation during those times. But realistically, who’s going to turn around the slump while you are sitting on the beach worrying about who is going to turn around the slump?
Your long-term success, sanity and satisfaction depends on a steady stream of business, with the occasional surge every now and then. The reality is that no such thing as steady business exists, not even for recurring-service-stream businesses, but there are ways to smooth out the lumps to approach that ideal, hopefully with some growth along the way.
Stay tuned, and we’ll throw out some prospecting and surge-mitigation ideas which have worked for us, some things that didn’t work as well, and some guest articles with additional tips on this and many other topics.