by Donna Amos | Featured Contributor
Prospecting for new clients can be a difficult task for solopreneurs or small businesses, especially when your company is brand new. But even old hands mostly admit to struggling with getting new clients. While no business or solopreneur ever admitted to having enough or “too many” clients, most still struggle to prospect for new clients and avoid salesy marketing ploys.
But prospecting for clients effectively is something you can learn and incorporate into your regular business routine. Indeed, it should be something you always strive to improve, since your business depends on a steady supply of needy clients. Prospecting for clients takes time, but it needs to be one of the regular, systematic functions of your business. And since many potential customers or clients won’t buy or book a service on the first contact, you also need to develop a plan for staying in touch until they need what you have to offer.
Identify Your Target Market
It’s a no-brainer that you’ll save time and money by marketing to people who not only want what you’ve got, but also are willing and able to pay for it. And so, the first step in prospecting for new clients is to define the most likely buyer of your product or service. How old are they? What gender? What is their socio-economic background? Knowing who your market is, makes it easier to find them and deliver messages that entice them to check out your product or service.
Take the time to understand who your target market is so you don’t waste your time or money finding and selling to the wrong customers and clients. The best way to do this is to perform the necessary research and create buyer personas that represent each type of person in your target audience. Then you can tailor your prospecting and marketing messages to specific types of clients.
Begin Building a Potential Client List
Do you plan a party without a guest list? Likewise, you can’t start or run a business without making a list of potential clients. Listing people you know is a good place to start as you can make a quick sale and get referrals. But there are other sources from which to start your potential customer list. Here are some great places to start:
Personal Contacts: Your friends and family are the most likely to purchase something from you, even if they’re not your target market. Or, maybe they don’t need your product or service, but know someone who does or would be willing to tell others about it.
Existing Customers: If you’ve already made a few sales, call upon your existing customers to see if they need more of your product or service. Selling to an existing happy customer is easier than generating a new one. Also, ask these clients for referrals. Offer an incentive for clients to provide referrals. Word of mouth is still a great marketing tool.
Trades Shows or Local Events: Shows and events are great ways to network with other businesses that may fit your market (in B2B) or generate new customers and prospects through an exhibit if you sell to the end consumer (B2C). Even if you don’t make a sale, events can allow you to build your contact list. Ask show or event participants to register for a drawing and be sure to give away a spectacular prize as an enticement.
Social Media: Many service-based businesses find social media one of the best places to connect and build relationships with potential clients. Do you have social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, or LinkedIn? Interact and converse with them to build a relationship. Seek to establish a reputation as an intelligent and thoughtful friend. With this foundation, you can offer advice from your expertise and even share the occasional sales message.
Once you have a list of prospects, it’s time to reach out and make connections. There are many ways to do this, and each one requires something a bit different. One thing remains the same – be genuine and kind in every mode of contact. Respect people’s time and attention and don’t be pushy if they aren’t interested. Popular methods of contacting prospects include:
Phone: Use an easy flowing, conversational script to introduce your product or purpose for calling. Asking questions and presenting your product or services’ benefits turns the focus of the call onto them instead of you. Be sure to ask for something: a sale, an email for more info, or a referral.
Email: Email is less scary and often a great way to introduce yourself. And email marketing works. The trick is to not simply send a “buy” email, but instead, offer something of value. Give a brief explanation of who you are, then provide a coupon or a free article on a relevant topic. Remember to only send a one-time communication unless you have permission to send repeat emails, such as to a list where the recipient has subscribed to receive emails from you.
Text Messaging: It is said that 98% of text messages are read within 2 minutes. The availability of text messaging is part of its power. Most folks with a cell phone are within arms reach of their phone 24 hours a day. Although texting is convenient, you can’t conduct entire prospect conversations via text. But it does pave the way for phone calls and sales meetings. Texting is a great follow-up option once you have the prospect in your pipeline.
Direct Mail: Direct mail is still effective, which is why we all still receive so much of it. Create the piece you plan to send and be sure it doesn’t appear to be junk mail. Bulk mailing services can save you time, and even a percentage off postage.
Social Media: This can be a great place to build relationships so that you can move prospects on to your calendar or to purchase your widgets. Requires effort such as identifying prospects, commenting on their posts, share content of value with them, tag them in posts when appropriate and share their content all before trying to sell them anything.
Continue Your Follow-Up Efforts
The fortune is in the follow-up. Research demonstrates that 80% of sales are not made on the first, second, or even a third contact! It can take five or more contacts to achieve a sale. The trick is to have a non-annoying system of follow-ups, such as a regular email list or an agreement to call again in six months. Solopreneurs and small businesses can keep track of various leads and prospects by using some sort of CRM software tool and database. Many have free options and calendar reminders that signal you when to follow-up with different classes of prospects.
How do you prospect for new clients? Which method has been the most successful? Share your tips and experiences with our readers in the comments below!
Donna Amos is passionate about helping Solopreneurs grow their business using everything digital and publishing. She has 30 years experience in sales and marketing for small business. She believes the best gift you can give another is a word of encouragement.