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How do I build a client base? Any ideas?

By juscelinoacevedo ·
Hello All,

To make a long story short, I currenty have a decent job that pays okay with a nice title of Assistant Director, which has taken me 5 years to reach. However, due to the fact that the company I work for is not great when it comes to compensation I decided to start my own business (

Here's the problem, I have no clue as to what to do to build a client base. Another fact that does not help is that I really do not have much money to put towards the business because we all have bills to pay at home. As you can safely assume, noone know about my company and would probably not believe that I can actually help them, because I have no references.

Can anyone suggest ANYTHING that would be helpful in letting small businesses in my target area know that I know what I'm doing and can help them without spending money that I do not have? I know it sounds like I'm being cheap, but it's just the reality of my situation. Thanks in advance...

(Sorry, I thought it was going to be a short story...)

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Reference clients & Networking

by JamesRL In reply to How do I build a client b ...

Small and Medium businesses use this approach, and thats how many of them build into larger businesses.

Do a little bit of analysis to determine what your target market is. Find a company in that market that really needs your services, but may be growing themselves and can't afford full fare. Offer them a discount and premium service if they will act as a reference site for you. Use quotes from your reference site on brouchures, websites etc.

You should also take every opportunity to network that you can. Go to Board of Trade/Commerce Luncheons, local business association meetings etc, and hand out your business card. Be prepared with your 30 second infomercial which tells them not only what you do but why they should pick you.

Once you have a few clients in a specific market, then target that market with mailings, and follow up with phone calls. Better to focus on 20 - 30 narrowly defined targets than shotgun out to 200 potentials that you can't follow up with.

Learn how to use free resources - libraries often have local business directories with not only names and addresses, but business type, size, structure etc.


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What kind of mailings?

by juscelinoacevedo In reply to Reference clients & Netwo ...

These are some great suggestions, however, a couple of questions? What is the best type of mailing? Postcards? Flyers? Letters? Does it look bad that I create my own EVERYTHING at home? (i.e., business cards, postcards, flyers, etc.) Does home business cards vs. professional business cards make THAT big of a difference?

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by FirstPeter In reply to What kind of mailings?

We use VistaPrint - reasonable pricing, high quality. From a "professional" standpoint I think the appearance does matter when it comes to business cards and other marketing materials, so I would not recommend doing them at home. If your target market is business users my experience is that they tend to notice quality (not to say that you can't do quality @ home, just that the professionaly designed ones tend to be higher in quality), so you'll want to be careful there.

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Best to use professional products

by Oz_Media In reply to What kind of mailings?

I have seen some really good home made business cards, but with the card stock, ink, and decent printer needed, it is usually about the same as havgn them printed up for you. Cards are NOT expensive, even as a startup with no budget, you better be prepared to pay for decent cards to get started. Do your own design, create an AI or EPS for the printers and you will save setup costs anyway.

You should make up a one page faxable/mailable/email document that offers your company info and services, to follow up your calls and justify asking for the contact instead of talking to the secretary ("I want to introduce myself and see if your company would be qualified to use my services. I have a one page flyer I can send you for your IT service file...") and a reaosn to follow up, "Did you get my information? Do you have any questions or concerns?" etc.

These I would personally have printed on low gloss at a printers (again a relatively low cost) but a decent printer will work if it's mainly text and a header.

I would not recommend just mailing out info to anyone though, that gets expensive. Use it as a follow up reason, everyone you will talk to will TRY and get you off the phone by saying "Mail me something." (my god, if I had a penny for everytime I've heard that!)

The thing is though, you WANT to send them something, this is introduction time! Plus you get an email address to add to your database, a fax number or address confirmation, great stuff!

ANY little data bits you get should be dumped in that database, it is priceless even though it will seem useless at first. Even those that tell you to F.O.

But your best friend is the phone, then a intro letter, which turns into a direct follow up call with the contact, not the gate keeper. You will find all kinds of ways to get past a gatekeeper and to your contact it's a real buzz sometimes. We had a contest in a sales office I worked at one year, the first guy/girl out of 13 of us that could get past Jimmy Pattisons gatekeeper would get a free steak dinner. JP is one of Canada's largest entrepeneurs and one has the country's best gatekeeper handling his phones, she really IS nice and VERY good at her job. SO I waited for others to stop inundatign her with calls and about two months later I got in on teh first call without BSing her to do so. I just listened to others and found out what DIDN'T work. So it's a game, you will get good at if you DON'T GIVE UP.

So many people give up, "I can't do this!" etc.

Not to worry, you will be taking THEIR potential business.

Well I am getting charged up on this now, the adrenalin is flowing and I want to start hammering out calls and getting business, but I'll leave that for you.

Best of luck, don't give up, EVER.

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Your customers

by Tony Hopkinson In reply to How do I build a client b ...

are your best salesman. Give them perks for successfully recomending you to their customers, partners etc.
Course they aren't going to do that if you aren't value for money.

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by juscelinoacevedo In reply to How do I build a client b ...

Would it be a mistake for me to sell VoIP products although I know nothing about them; basically a reseller. I'm just trying to come up with a "gimmick" that will attract clients. I am researching these products to slowly learn about them, however, for now I'm simply interested in selling them without installing. Good idea? Bad idea?

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by FirstPeter In reply to VoIP

I would be very careful entering this realm (selling things you aren't comfortable with). CompUSA, MicroCenter, BestBuy, etc., can get away with it because that's where people go to buy stuff.

With you, a consultant, you have to be careful about that. Folks aren't looking to you (for the most part) as a place to buy STUFF, but rather services. So if you sell them something, it's natural they're going to want you to support it / install it. Even if you tell them you're not supporting it, when something goes wrong and you can't/don't fix it they may start to lose faith in your ability as a consultant.

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YES it is a BIG mistake.

by Oz_Media In reply to VoIP

In this industry it is a HUGE mistake to sell technology or services that you aren't an absolutely ACE with supporting yourself, you are just opening YOUR company up to someone elses problems or reliability, placing YOUR reliability on the line before you get started. As someone who has sold, installed and managed high-end VoIP systems and PBX's for companys, I can tell you first hand, when they get into a company that has been BS'd into something or the vendor can't DIRECTLY support it, that bad name gets around REALLY fast.

Reselling a service is no different, you must be ready to accept that ANYTHING that happens is100%directly YOUR fault, even if the provider is at fault. They buy it from you, they hold YOU responsible. Be careful with reselling. Anyone can be a reseller of basic services, companies that will use small startup reselllers are not who you want to deal wit though. They are obvisouly in dire need of business themselves.

Do your own thing, so what YOU do best and the blame for any problems is directly yours, once you've built a good name for yourself, you will be able to approach REPUTABLE companies (not just people looking for more business) as a reseller and have the proper support and insurance to support doing so, it's just opening a big can of worms otherwise, and yet I've still seen so many people try it.

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Lengthy but should provide a start..

by Matthew Moran In reply to How do I build a client b ...

First, I apologize for the length of this. I hope you find it valuable.

Yes, you can build a good consultancy on a shoestring. In fact, I wouldn?t recommend it any other way.

As a background:

I have personally built a consultancy that went from $100,000-$700,000 in consultant fees in 12 months. Later, I have built between $8,500 ? $12,000 in personal consulting fees in three different cities (once as an experiment) in about 8 weeks each time.

My book, The IT Career Builder?s Toolkit includes a consulting chapter and other related material, plus a CD with sample proposals, contracts, and sales material. I just signed the contracts with Cisco Press on my next book, The Technology Consultant?s Toolkit ? which will be released between November of this year and January of next year.

I currently consult as an independent out of my house, print business cards of my own printer when needed, and have no slick flyers or do any paid advertising. But I am still able to earn a six-figure income consulting ? year-after-year and, on average, less than 40 hours per week.

I say all this to let you know that I know something about what you want to do and that it definitely can be done on your terms ? part-time and on a shoestring. I am not indicating that you will earn 6 figures on those terms but you can start consulting that way.

On your mark, get set?.

Define what you want your business to look like. If you idea is part-time and supplement what I have going, you need to carefully define what that looks like ? for your sanity and for your client?s as well.

For instance: If you are not available during the regular work hours, what services are you offering that are non-critical and will not have to be addressed between 9-5 for instance? When and how will they contact you? Etc.

This is how I started in the early ?90s. Part-time and very clearly defined that I was not available during normal business hours.

Whatever that business looks like, define it. It doesn?t mean you cannot alter it. The definition is not a restriction but a guide. It helps you determine what makes a good client and what makes a bad one.

That brings us to the next point. What does your ideal client look like? Small business, mid-sized, residential. I focus on businesses that have between 25-200 employees. I look for growing companies that have at least an appearance of affluence (I do like being paid).

Once again, this is not mean to necessarily restrict you. It is meant to provide focus. Should you get referred into a company that is larger or smaller than your ideal client ? and it is a good project ? take it. The focus helps you define your market, focus your sales & marketing efforts, and become an expert in that niche. I choose company size demographic as a better niche than a particular industry ? although I have experience in health insurance and legal.

Next, a gut-check. Building a consultancy is as much about salesmanship as it is about good solutions. You will need both. You will have to see something that I hope you believe is a valuable commodity ? yourself.

How do you build a book of clients fast?

Not through random flyers and not through high-priced advertising. I strongly advocate a direct, door-to-door introduction to businesses in a logical geographic location. Either close to home or close to work. I used to go out at lunch twice a week and canvas the area around my employer. I had a short one-page description of my services and I targeted small businesses. It also explained that I was available on evenings and weekends.

Drop off the information, get a name of who you can follow up with, and then in 2 days, follow up.

As far as your material, I abandoned using flyers or resumes years ago. I use case-studies on past solutions. Here is what is important. You can write case-studies about work you have done for your employer. Even if you don?t feel comfortable using their name, you can mention basic industry and solutions developed.

Once you land a client or two, ask for referrals ? and do it a lot. Continue to ask for referrals.

Last piece?
Don?t apologize for price: Price is an only an issue in the absence of value. If you provide value only work for those people who recognize it and value it as well. Clients who don?t end up being dissastisfied in general and take valuable time away from those who will pay you.

Bill regularly. Cash-flow is always an issue with a newer company. Also, negotiate very aggressive terms. These include pre-payment on set projects and due on receipt or 10 day terms.

There are some companies who will tell you that they don?t do anything other than net 30. I?ve worked for Northrop Grumman, Primerica, several large law-firms and insurance companies, and 100% of my clients pay NET 10 or less. I explain that I am too small to fund their float. Here is why.

If I start working on May 5th. I work for 20 days and then bill for it. They get it on June 1st. They process the payment on July 1st. I get my check on July 5th. May 5th to July 5th. Ouch!!!

Hire an expert for your taxes. They should be someone who understands part-time businesses and home-office deductions. This is critical and one of the greatest mistakes I made. Ask this person for advice on organizing your records. Since they do this all the time, they may have great tips on this as well as taxes.

Don?t buy equipment you don?t need or that is not valuable. I have a 3 year old Toshiba laptop, an HP Laserjet 4 printer, an HP color printer from Costco, and basic office supplies. I am about to buy a new laptop ? not highest end but good. The laptop I am using has generated a decent sum of money.

I don?t even own a PDA.

Don?t confuse busy with productive. Don?t confuse being smart with being effective. In both cases, you want the latter: productive & effective.

Always dress up on first meetings and introductions. You can get more comfortable latter based on the client?s environment. However, business casual is as casual as I will go ? unless I am there on a weekend or I have been called in short-notice while around town.

Never joke inappropriately, even if your client does. Never make off-color or sexual innuendos at a client-site ? even if your client or an employee does.

Don?t be afraid to answer I don?t know but I?ll get back to you. Just don?t answer that for everything.

I know I?m forgetting something but that should get you started.

Oh, last thing. Enjoy it! Don?t ever complain about being too busy or things being hectic. Complaining takes energy and sounds trite.

I highly recommend you go to the library and get the book, The Personal Efficiency Program: How to Get Organized to Do More Work in Less Time. I just picked it up at the library and while I have read other books on time management, he has some great tips on focus and doing what is important.

Uh, I?ll stop now.

Matthew Moran
The IT Career Builder?s Toolkit

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Free database of all potential clients

by Oz_Media In reply to How do I build a client b ...

Data that is BOUGHT from Database providers, such as Contacts marketing or BIV create local databases that have the contact names, annual budget, annual revenue etc. is gathered by telemarketers and sold to businesses that don't have telemarketers, or time, for THOUSANDS of dollars.

So hwo do you get a FREE database? Pick up a local phone book and a phone. Start calling people, introduce yourself, ask for NAME of the person incharge of the services you are offering and then ask if they are available so you can just quickly introduce yourself.

If they aren't available, you have a contact name, add it to your database (Act, Access, Goldmine etc. or even an Outlook contact list). Ask when a beter time to call Mr. jones is and thenschedule a call back. When you finally get Mr. jones on the phone, QUICKLY introduce yourself and what you do in as few words as possible. Then ask if the company uses anyone for those services now etc.,then ask IF they would be willing to keep your information on file and offer you an option to bid on future work when available. It's really just sales 101, (as you don't have a sales team to do this, it will be work for you).

Write up a really good intro letter, rate examples are okay but I wouldn't list rates, just your services and how you add more value to them than others.

It takes thousands of calls, but in the end, you WILL have a dynamite up to date database and will be getting some first call business in the process.

WEBSITE, in YOUR case, positioning of your site is really not the most important aspect, BUT, having a decent site that is listed on ALL print materials and business cards is imperative.

But your cold calling and call backs will drive more business to ANY startup company, regardless of the field of business better than any other medium available.

You can also go on door knocking campaigns once you get comfortalbe with cold calling. Hit a large office building and stop in EVERY company in the building, with your oe page outline/offering and your card. Meet the secretary, GET the contact's business card and leave your information if he/she isn't available.

Follow up, now that you have all the contacts email, phone and name in your database. Explain thet you were in the bulding and dropped off your info, did he get it okay? Was there any questions? Would he consider gettng a quote from you when work is needed? If he didn't get the info, apologize and resend it, THEN follow up a week later with teh same questions.

SELL YOUR BUSINESS, no money? You will need to do it the hard way, but the hard way is the #1 most effective way there is. You have a very well designed site, it is clear and doesn't waste time, it explains your offerings right up front, well done, you WILL succeed.

BEST of luck to you, please keep us posted on how things go.

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