Starting your own business is one of the most exciting and nerve racking things to do. Deciding to take the plunge and own a business based on what could be your passion, your hobby and possibly your business skills takes a lot of courage, determination and the acceptance of continuous hard work. This article is about what happens in the years after you’ve chosen the type of business you want to have; the market you want to be in and any other tax or legal issues. If you have not yet reached this stage, please check out Business Link, www.businesslink.org.uk, for more information.
I became interested in business development whilst working with business start-ups. I found that in order to reduce costs the business owners were doing all the work themselves and getting discouraged because they weren’t making decent profits, didn’t know how to get new clients, and didn’t have the time to really focus on getting new clients. In addition they were so closely tied to their business that they weren’t able to look at the business objectively. I found that the most challenging aspect of working with the business owners wasn’t turning the business around; it was in convincing them to let go of some of the control they had on their business and selling the benefits of bringing others in to assist them.
To help other start-up businesses that may be going through a similar situation, I decided to speak to a few business owners who had established a business that was over a year old, to ask how they got past the early stage(s) of their business in terms of clients and marketing. The responses I got from these businesses owners were similar and I have broken them down into various categories below.
Is your Product/Service different or the same as everyone else?
I tell my clients that in this day and age, it’s hard to find a product or service that is completely unique from any other products or services out in the market; however, they must find a way to differentiate their products and/or services. The business owners I spoke to all said that there was something either different about their products/services or different in the way it was offered in comparison to their competitors. This could be that their services went a step further than their competitors or that they offered other complementary services that their competitors didn’t.
You must give a customer reason to buy your product otherwise why should they? Why should they leave their current supplier and buy from you? What’s so different about your services? What’s in it for them?
Once you’ve established your product and unique selling point, you must ensure that your product delivers what it says it will deliver and also that it is packaged properly. We live in an image conscious society and, for the most part, looks matter. So it’s important, that your product is inviting enough for people to want buy it and also, it must work for people to want to buy it again or recommend it to others.
This should go without saying; however, I always feel that I need to mention it to my clients, so I’ll do the same here – Your business must offer EXCELLENT customer service. No matter the type of business you have, your clients are the most important aspect of your business. Without them you have no business. It’s pointless for a business to get new clients and then only provide a below average customer service or for your business not to have an ‘after project’ customer service therefore you must keep in touch with your clients.
Most businesses get a substantial amount of new projects from repeat business or referrals. Matthew Baker of Resonata Consulting, www.resonata.co.uk, says “if you don’t do a good job in the first place, you will lose out on repeat business and potential new clients”.
Getting new clients
Some new business owners find the thought of getting new clients daunting and even more don’t know how to go about getting the clients that they want. They may have had clients before, from colleagues, friends and family but they may not have had to pitch their services to people who have not been referrals. The most common ways are cold calling and standard marketing avenues, i.e. flyers, newspaper advertisements and the like. Before you decide on the type of marketing you prefer or can afford, I always think that it’s best to decide on your target market. This seems so obvious, but you would be surprised how many business owners do not take the time to decide who their target market is. As a business owner, you believe that your product is great and everyone will want it, which may or may not be true but you have to decide the group that you want to, at the very least, target first.
Detailed below are a number of things that may help you decide on your target market:
- Decide the group your target market is in. Are they professionals, working mothers, small to medium sized businesses or people in a specific industry? And why would they, in particular, want your product?
- Once you’ve narrowed the above, list out who your dream clients are – i.e. actual individuals or companies, and why they are your dream clients.
- Once you’ve got the qualities of your dream clients, you now know the type of clients you want. Now it’s time to find out how to contact them, so you have to start thinking of the places where you think they might be. Where do they meet, what types of organisations do they do business in, where do they go to unwind, etc. Can you reach them via a third party? For example, when Roya Dabir-Alai of the dating agency, Sitting in the Tree, www.sittinginthetree.co.uk was starting out she needed lots of eligible single people so she sent a press release to a free national newspaper. They liked her agency, interviewed her and she got an influx of potential clients. Similarly, Jennifer Hewlett of the wedding footwear, Weddington Boots, www.weddingtonboots.com, had customised wellington boots for weddings to sell and didn’t know anyone in the retail or wedding sector. She did research on her market, going through wedding forums, blogs and magazines. Jennifer then contacted stockists from magazines; those that were interested in her product requested to meet with her and ultimately agreed to sell her wedding footwear.
The above examples show that you must constantly look for new ways to reach your target market. You may not be able to get in touch with them directly; you may need to form an alliance or partnership with another business where you’re both offering different products to the same target market.
- Once you’ve narrowed down the type of clients, and the third party that might help you get in touch with the clients you want; the next step is possibly the most important – Make Contact. Contacting any and everyone that you believe might be interested in your products; this could be over the telephone, via email or in person.
Now this is where the hard work begins; because there will be people who will not be interested and might be quite rude in showing that disinterest. You must not take rejections personally. I can write a whole article about rejection but all I’ll say is if you want to be successful, you must accept that you will come across a number of rejections in life and you should learn how to deal with it because it’s a natural part of life. It’s worth mentioning that the more people you contact, the more likely you are to get a number of ‘Yeses’.
I’ve found that talking to someone face to face is much better than talking over the phone, as you can see each other’s expressions and reactions. So I prefer to call up and politely ask for a meeting, preferably with a ‘decision maker’ rather than a ‘gate keeper’.
Along with making contact, a business owner or anyone who is serious about their profession must make time to network. All the business owners I spoke to confirmed that networking is the single most effective way of meeting potential clients, business contacts and also of getting an awareness of your business with little or no cost. Cathe Gaskell of the Results company, www.theresultsco.com, says that she networks at least three days a week and Cathryn Priestly of Create Potential, www.createpotential.co.uk, went as far as saying that ‘you can never overdo networking’. There’s etiquette with networking; it should be about getting an awareness of your services and building potential business relationships, and not about ramming your company’s services down the throats of others.
There are a number of places to look for business networking events in your area, some of which are your local Chamber of Commerce, the business networking site www.linkedin.com, and the women’s networking site www.everywoman.co.uk. You may also find local business networking events on www.google.uk.
Whilst you’re networking and working on building your client base, you should also be working on the way you want your business to run from the moment you get a client. This will involve having processes in place for getting the clients, delivering the service, record keeping, finishing the project and starting all over again. These processes in place should be in the various stages:
- Getting clients,
- Delivering the service,
- Record keeping, and
- Retention of clients
Having your business systematised makes running it easier and more efficient; it also it makes it easier for you to focus on the more important areas of your business that will demand your attention.
Delegate, Delegate, Delegate (so important, it’s mentioned three times)
Business owners, especially those just starting out want to do everything themselves. This is understandable as you want to keep costs as low as possible. However, in doing this, you can easily and quickly become very insular and work only on the projects at hand rather than focusing on the business as a whole and looking for the next six or twelve months worth of projects. In addition, it’s much harder to attract new clients when you’re swamped by the day to day work involved in running your business. A successful business owner, you must learn to how to delegate work, and if your business has been systematised, it makes it so much easier.
Business owners who try to do everything themselves, don’t have time to follow the above working system and as a result don’t run an efficient business they might have a system for getting new clients and delivery in the service but they don’t have a good record keeping system and as a result their retention of clients is quite low because they may not have good records to offer a good after care client service.
In addition, business owners who do everything themselves in order to reduce costs fail to realise that in the long run this is a more expensive option. This is because your time is more expensive and you should be spending time getting more clients, thinking of ways to bring in more revenue into business and not doing the day to day admin work, answering the telephone, organising your diary, etc. It’s cheaper to hire someone to do this work on an adhoc basis so that you can focus on more important things in your business. The day to day admin work does not generate income, and I doubt that it ever will.
In addition to being able to delegate, a business owner must also know his or her strengths and weaknesses in relation to running the business. There are business owners who are very creative, know all about their products and client base but have no business sense; for such people, it would be wise to hire someone who is business savvy, to help run the business. Ultimately, you are in business to make money and no matter how creative you are if you run your business like a hobby rather a business, it will not survive. The other side of the coin is that no matter how business savvy you are, if you don’t have a product and or service that people want or can identify with, then no one will buy your product or service.
There are a lot of things involved with running a business, its hard work but it should also be fun. Richard Branson of Virgin enterprise is a role model for a number of business owners because he seems to have fun with his business, but also I can imagine that he has worked incredibly hard from the very beginning. In the current economic climate, you will need to work harder, work smarter, be more creative, and yes ‘think outside the box’.
If you want it bad enough, you’ll keep looking for ways to consistently breakthrough; it may mean changing things within your business to get the right fit, building alliances, learning more about your customers, etc.
Finally, it is very possible to have a successful business that you enjoy, provided you get the right elements. These are not complicated, they are challenging but not complicated.
About the author: Shisha Dublin-Green worked in the finance industry for over ten years and in 2008 started working with small businesses as a freelance business consultant helping them reduce cost and improve productivity.
Last year she decided to set up her own business, Ashcroft Templeton Consulting, working with business owners and she includes a Lifestyle Management/Concierge service for high net worth individuals with demanding lifestyles to make life effortless for them. Find out more at www.ashcrofttempleton.com