Social Enterprise

How to find new business


No matter how good your relationship with your clients, eventually one or more of them will become inactive. It's a fact of business, and it may or may not have anything to do with your quality of service. Projects get completed or deep-sixed, business directions change, people in charge get moved around or let go -- and suddenly you find one source of your income gone. How do you go about finding new business to replace it?

  1. Business contacts. I've found most of my business this way over the years. Make sure that everyone you know in the industry knows that you're looking for work and that you'd appreciate any opportunities or referrals that they might send your way. You can even offer a finder's fee. You're just now coming up on an opportunity for making these kinds of contacts: the holiday season. On many years I've sent out holiday cards to everyone I ever did business with, wishing them "Happy Holidays" while at the same time letting them know that I'd love to work with them again if they ever need my assistance. You have to be careful about your cards and greetings, though. Don't send a Christmas-themed card unless you know that the recipient will appreciate that observance -- just stick to "Happy Holidays" instead. I've had several occasions where a former client not only appreciated being remembered, but also thought of some project they could hand off to me.
  2. Your web site. When someone Googles "consultant" in combination with your specialty, you want to make sure that you're on the first page of results. I've currently got three entries on the first page for my specialty. It's easiest to maintain that position if your site is a blog that gets updated regularly. I could write a whole post (many, many posts) on how to optimize your web site for search engines, but I'll leave that to those who specialize in that topic. Once they find your site, make sure that the content talks to your strong points in plain terms. Blogs are particularly good for this, because when you post often you end up talking about the subject rather than about how much you know about the subject.
  3. Social networks. It always amazes me how much time so many people can spend at Facebook, LinkedIn, MyBlogLog, BlogCatalog, Reddit, Digg, or any number of other social networking sites. But they do, and having a presence there can help to get you noticed. Oops, I almost forgot to mention TechRepublic -- at least you're not wasting your time here... right? In fact, talking about your specialty on TR forums should be an ideal way to find people who are looking for help in those specific areas.
  4. Referral services. Online services like guru.com offer to hook you up with available work for a fee. They'll even process payments and tax forms. I've personally never gotten any business through services like that -- but then I haven't worked them that hard, either. Any readers care to comment on their experiences?

Notice I didn't include "mail out your resume." Because I run my own consulting business, I get a lot of letters and e-mail from people who want me to read their resume and hire them. If I'm feeling curious, I might look it over -- but it's highly unlikely that I would contract someone with whom I have had no prior relationship, nor even a recommendation from someone I know. When a potential client is looking for a consultant, they want to feel comfortable that the prospect not only knows their specialty, but that they will be a good fit for working with their employees -- and they aren't likely to invest a lot of time into every candidate to figure that out. You need to find a way for them to get to know and trust you within the course of their normal daily activities. If they keep running across examples of your brilliance on your blog or social networks, or if all the people they talk to say that you're top notch, then you've achieved a reputation that might just score you some business.

About

Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...

12 comments
LA_gal
LA_gal

Find a niche (or vertical) that interests you and exploit the hell out of it. Know it better than anyone. Go to every networking event, join their industry get-together group, webinar, chat, read about the topic/industry and go press the flesh. Make "no problem" your mantra and if you can't do it - sub out with someone who can. You're in build mode. Buy coffies, eat 3 lunches with different prospects, and never go empty-handed to a sales call. KILL YOURSELF on your first deal. Leverage that into more projects and get to be known as someone who REALLY knows that particular industry/business segment.

michael
michael

Very good. Learn more about how to do business. Thanks. Michael China

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

What did I forget? Have you ever used other channels for acquiring new business?

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Very good advice -- I've managed to exploit my niche for the last 16 years. But just to play devil's advocate: you also don't want to get too tied to one narrow focus -- what happens when that technology/market/approach begins to fall out of favor? So, I agree with you about working your niche, but you don't want to ignore the development of your talents in other areas as well.

Maineword
Maineword

I have had sporadic success with sites like FB and Twitter, but I have found a regular presence is key. I typically use it to build and maintain client relationships. A friend of a friend could be your next big client! In addition, I have started checking classified ads via Craig's List. The amount of scams and junk is rather annoying, but I have secured several new clients with this method. Using Craig's List can be time consuming and I have found it more productive to respond to ads rather than to post my own services. To be efficient, I have created several response templates that work to respond to most ads in my field. One reminder - keep your eyes open for new clients when your busy and don't ever wait for a downturn to start marketing your company. Success creates more success! Caroline King www.maineword.com

MargaretI
MargaretI

I have found that being a member of relevant professional associations helps in finding projects. You will have built up credibility and be a known associate when you need new work.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I received an email from Cyndi at Elance (elance.com) referring to this article. I'll be checking out that site a bit, and maybe post about it later. If you have some time, check it out and let me know what you think. If you already have experienced this service, I'd love to get your input.

Mantronix!
Mantronix!

Aside from 'online' (blogs, etc.) - I like participating in local business events to get my name and face out there. There's always the human touch - the face behind the technology solution provider...

dokai
dokai

Make your reputation by creating a laser-sharp focus on one area. Once you've gained a reputation as THE person to hire for that specialty, the hard part is done. It's then easy to add a new specialty since you already have a great reputation. Example: a "business coach" starts out helping restaurants and gets a reputation for fixing problems and saving companies. Later the coach decides to also offer his/her expertise to the hotel industry.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... on how active and relevant the specific association is. The few that I've been part of didn't do much for me. An online forum on the subject, though, has often led to new business. What's your specialty, and the association that benefits it?

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

(must be a sign of the digital age) Attending conferences in your area of expertise often leads to new work, especially if you can get some informal conversation (read "pub") time with other attendees. Thanks, Mantronix!

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