In light of the current credit crisis and general nervousness about the economy, business owners can’t help be concerned about their companies’ future. Of course, there are always businesses that do well in do well in down markets, and I know my bankruptcy attorney friends are busier than ever. But most entrepreneurs I speak with have their eyes fixed on the latest economic indicator reports.
And while business may slow for some of us, if you are creative, a down economy creates opportunities for entrepreneurial businesses. For example, down economies Járórács create price sensitivity. Prospective clients who have been loyal to their existing service providers may reconsider working with an entrepreneurial company or small firm that has better rates.
It was exactly this type of economy that propelled me into my own law practice six years ago and, like in the last down market, I have recently seen opportunities open up to me that weren’t available a year ago.
According to sales expert, Adrian Miller, keeping your name at the top of your new and existing contacts’ minds is the best way to make sure you don’t miss out on any of these new opportunities. According to Miller, “marketing is all about staying on the grid.”
Most rainmakers, and especially professionals, are guilty of making a new contact, either through a networking event, golf or lunch, and then have no follow up system in place to stay in touch. And while it’s great that you are “out there” having meetings, without a follow up strategy in place, your return on the time, effort and possibly expense you invested in taking that meeting is limited. The people you meet with may not know of (or need themselves) the services you provide at the time that you meet them. You want to make sure that you stay at the top of their mind so when the need arises, you’re the person who wins the referral.
For her own business, Miller says that for her to keep a pipeline of prospective clients large enough to generate the revenues she aspires to achieve, she needs to make a minimum of 50 touches a day, which includes people she meets networking, at speaking events, and communications with clients and prospects.
But according to Adrian, your point of contact should never be a “hey, just touching base” email or call. Miller says that these types of correspondence are self serving, add no value to your clients and you become the annoying guy or gal whose email and calls get ignored. Says Miller, “you win business because you equate to an improvement to a situation the prospective client is dealing with.” “To do this your communications must offer value to your prospect or referral source.”
Adrian had 8 easy tips to stay in front of your prospects with value-add communications:
1. Be a Connector. You can be valuable to your contacts and business prospects by connecting them to people who can help solve their problems or increase their business. These can be introductions between clients, prospects, vendors and referral sources. Adrian suggests making a commitment to connecting five people a day. Miller uses her subway commutation time to make these connections via her PDA. If you are known for making connections that lead to new business or other opportunities, then you can be sure your emails will get opened.
2. Send an Article. A touch point can be as simple as cutting out or photocopying an article that may be of interest to one or more of your contacts. Adrian says she walks around with a stack of her business envelopes and if she’s in a waiting room, she’ll take an article out of a magazine and send it to a client or prospect that’s of interest.
3. Send a Link. If you’ve just spoken to a client and found out he or she is going on a vacation to a special destination, or that they have a particular interest, Miller suggests using Google to find an article or something of interest to your contact and sending the link to the article in your follow up message.
4. Newsletters. Not much to say here, most everyone knows the drill. The key is to make the commitment to getting the newsletter out consistently. Miller suggests hiring a freelance writer to write the copy for your newsletter. You can have a sit-down with a freelance writer, give them five bullet points about an article idea, which they will then turn into a 1,500 word article in less than a week. Do this for three topics once per quarter and you have your newsletter copy for a year. I have colleagues who have successfully used Elance (www.elance.com) to find affordable copy writers.
5. Take Them to Lunch. Don’t just plan a lunch with one person, schedule a lunch for two or three people (plus you) who have synergies. Same concept as being a connector, except you are sharing a meal together. Miller sets her lunches up a few weeks in advance, and if you’re lucky enough to be invited, you don’t miss it. This is something you can train your assistant do for you. All you need to do is provide your assistant with names, and she can schedule dates a few weeks in advance. A good time saving tip is to pick steady venues located in different strategic areas.
6. Invite Them to an Event. Like the lunches, invite two or three people who will have synergies. Miller suggests that this is a good opportunity to be creative and connect with your clients on a personal level. Adrian is a member of MoMA and gets invites to exhibit openings. She regularly invites her clients and referrers. Recently, one of my clients invited me and a colleague to go to the pre-opening event at the New York International Car Show. It was an awesome experience that we are still talking about. Also, Miller suggests not being afraid to take your prospects and clients to places where your competition is. According to Miller, your clients will meet your competition anyway; many clients will actually be impressed that you’re not afraid of your competition.
7. Get Digital. Yes, websites are important and unless you’ve been living in a cave, you know this. But web marketing has gone to a new level, and Miller suggests building your online profile through professional social networking sites like Linked-In or Corporate Facebook. I know many professionals who are using these sites to effectively find staff, investors and clients.
8. Keep Clients Happy. Miller suggests that your clients are your biggest (and least expensive) sales force and, in fact, promoted her elder law attorney and IP attorney at our seminar without us even realizing it. Do whatever you can to keep your clients in your fan club.
Adrian also gave me her thoughts on a number of other common marketing tools:
Blogs: She likes them. It’s free, easy to post to and raises your online presence in the search engines.
Newspapar ads. Cold on them for small business. Ads have zero shelf life according to Miller, and are expensive. Unless you’ve got the budget for “image advertising” (think Tiffany’s ad on page two of the Times every day), or a direct response call to action like a free report, it’s not the best use of a limited marketing budget.
Radio Ads. She’s lukewarm. Radio requires consistency and frequency. Plus you need to have a system in place to qualify inquiries. Miller suggests carefully tracking results and return-on-investment.
Consistency. According to Miller, marketing is not an event (a workshop, a one time article, a networking lunch), but a consistent effort that’s part of a program or system that needs to be part of each workday. As the owner of two businesses, I know how tricky it can be to commit to marketing programs over the long haul. Miller suggests scheduling an appointment with yourself, and sticking to it like it’s an appointment with a client. In his book, Ultimate Sales Machine, Chet Holmes gives a straightforward approach to time management. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in marketing. I carry it around with me everywhere.
Metrics. In terms of metrics, any marketing or sales professional will tell you that only what you measure will improve. Without tracking every last detail of your marketing efforts, you have no idea what’s producing a return on your investment in time. This doesn’t have to be super technical, a simple excel spreadsheet will work.
Accountability. Finally, if you are a one man army or “the boss”, accountability is critical. Marketing requires most entrepreneurs to get out of their comfort zone, and they’ll find any excuse to avoid doing it. If you don’t have someone at your company to keep you accountable to the marketing program you develop, hire a coach or a consultant to hold your feet to the fire. More than any other service she provides, I believe Adrian’s clients get the most out of the accountability she provides for them.