Let’s face it – everyone is in sales. From the neighborhood babysitter who wants to pack her weekend sitting schedule to the public accountant looking for more work, even non-sales positions require plenty of sales savvy in this economy. Here are many tips and instructions for winning clients and influencing prospects in a variety of situations.
Attracting Local Clients
Get listed in business directories. Find your local Yellow Pages and create an entry for your business under the service you provide. Many different companies create Yellow Pages business directories in paper or online, so be sure to find ones specific to your region. Your local city or community may also have a smaller business directory just for local businesses. Join your local Chamber of Commerce or other regional business association. Actively participate in that organization if you have the time; studies show consumers think more highly of companies which do so.
Check each directory’s terms of service before registering with it. Some may require you to be a legal adult, or limit the types of services you can list.
Remember to include all relevant facts in your advertisements. No matter which of the below methods you’ll be using, you should make sure your potential clients have all the information they need to evaluate your business and contact you.
Include the best and fastest method of contacting you, or preferably more than one. Include both email and cell phone number if you have them and respond to messages quickly on both.
Besides your name or the name of your business, include a brief description of your service. Provide examples of specific tasks you could be hired for.
Consider including information on discounts for first-time customers, clients who refer you to other people, or anyone who hires you in a certain time period. A discount during a period of few customers can pay itself off by attracting a long-term client.
Know your local laws. The city government or local police station should be able to tell you which marketing methods are not allowed. In many places, you are not allowed to put flyers directly in mailboxes, and you should check before going door-to-door or attaching them to private property.
Distribute flyers in appropriate areas. Create a simple, attractive flyer to advertise your service. Always include your contact information and specific information on what types of jobs you can take on. Consider the best way to distribute them so you don’t waste time and money making useless flyers. Follow the advice above to learn local laws, and think about where potential clients are most likely to see your flyer.
A house cleaning service or other service with broad appeal might have success distributing them to every house or business in a neighborhood. If canvassing without a permit is illegal in your area, consider folding the flyers in half and sending them through the mail without having to buy envelopes – but do not expect more than 5% of people to respond to this method.
Many communities have public bulletin boards intended for advertising. These are likely to be more cost-effective if your business will only appeal to a small group of people, such as flute lessons.
Locally owned businesses often keep flyers for local events and services for their customers to take. Ask them politely to take a stack of yours rather than just dropping it off. Do not ask a business with a competing service to advertise for you.
Take out ads in local newspapers. Find out which newspapers are printed locally and take out advertisements in the classified section. This can be a great way to spread the word and shouldn’t cost you much money if the paper is truly local. Try to stand out from similar businesses by offering a limited time discount, or mention specific services your competitors do not. If there are several local papers, take out ads for a short period with each of them. Ask new clients where they heard about you and continue advertising with the papers that give good results.
Make your own business cards. Follow the link in the title of this step to learn how to make your own business cards, or find a service online to help you. Keep a stack of them in your wallet or in a protective case, and distribute them to friends, neighbors, or anyone you interact with in public. Use thicker business card paper to print these out, and cut them out carefully with a paper cutter rather than sloppily with a pair of scissors.
Include several methods of contacting you, especially phone and email, your name, and a description of the type of service you provide.
Ask friends, family, and former clients to spread the word. Word of mouth is an excellent tool for local services. Ask all your friends to pass on your contact information or business cards to anyone who might hire you. Consider offering a referral discount or even a one time free service for any client who convinces someone else to hire you as well.
When you start your business, consider sending out a newsletter email to everyone in your contact list that lives in your local area and is on friendly terms with you. Include a brief description of your service and consider offering a discount for your personal contacts the first time they hire you.
Ask former or current clients who appreciate your work for permission to use them as referrals. You may want to put a complimentary quote from them on your next advertisement, especially if they or their business is well known in the community.
Consider your professional appearance. Try to live up to your client’s expectations. If you are going into your client’s homes to provide lessons or tech support, you should appear well-dressed and responsible. On the other hand, if you are gardening or doing manual labor, potential clients might question why you are wearing nail polish and/or a suit.
Impress your clients. You’ll get more referrals and repeat customers if you maintain a professional, positive attitude. Treat each client with respect. Don’t interrupt your job to chat with a friend. Show up on time or a few minutes early, and let them know if you’ll be delayed. Try to complete each job to the best of your abilities.
Consider having your business insured, licensed, or bonded. These are three different methods of protecting your client in the case of accident or fraud. If someone knows you have paid for one or more of these protective measures, that person may be more comfortable hiring you. Here are descriptions of each process and advice on when to use them:
Insurance for businesses, in return for regular payments, will cover the cost of medical injury or other unexpected expenses as determined by the terms of your contract. Consider getting this if you or your employees are at risk of injury in a client’s home, since otherwise the client’s homeowner insurance may be billed for medical expenses — which will not make your client happy.
Licenses are only requires for certain activities, as determined by your local, state, or national laws. If you’re unsure whether your business requires a license, contact your city government for advice.
Create a bond if your business has many clients or employees. This gives control of a certain amount of money to the government, which uses the money to pay out claims against your company in case of damage to client property or other mishaps. Advertising your bond number also allows potential clients to look up a history of claims against your company.
Finding Clients Online or in Other Regions
Make your service as specific as possible. You can’t reasonably advertise to every person who needs a website designed, taxes filed, or whichever service you plan to provide. What you can do is figure out what specific benefits you’re best at providing, and consider who specifically would be interested in them. If you stay away from generic statements and describe yourself as a specialist instead, you can focus your marketing efforts where they will be most successful.
If your clients are individuals, search blog databases or the internet in general for popular blogs related to your company’s service, product, or mission statement. These should tell you what your clients are interested in, and specific problems they have that you could offer to fix.
If your clients are organizations, use the advanced search settings on a database such as CrunchBase to narrow down clients by location, type, and other attributes. Once you’ve narrowed it down to a list of a few dozen to a few hundred organizations, you can contact these with proposals targeted to their needs.
Create a marketing plan. Before you start advertising or launch a social media promotion, you should sit down and do the hard work of planning your marketing campaign. Consider how much money you are willing to spend on marketing, then research how you can spend it for maximum effect. This article on online marketing strategies may contain additional advice.
The easiest way to evaluate whether a marketing plan is a good idea is to ask other experts. Don’t contact your direct competitors for advice, but do send questions to people running business that provide services to the same group of people. If you’re a wedding photographer, run your ideas past a florist; if you are a consultant in a specific industry, talk to other consultants who provide the same companies with different services.
Consider your social media presence. If you’ve determined that online marketing is a good idea, decide whether to use social media, a company website, or both. Every social media account, blog, or company news feed should be regularly updated with promotions or news about your company, although you should avoid spamming followers with daily advertisements.
Create content for a personal or company website. As long as it is functional and not too amateur in appearance, even a bare bones website is useful for showcasing your previous work and making yourself easily available to potential clients. In addition, if you have the resources, create free articles or videos that provide useful information that people will read and share. This can be a great way to spread word about your services by doing what you or your employees do best, rather than relying on difficult and unpredictable viral marketing or paying for advertisements. Use search engine optimization techniques to improve your website’s visibility
Assign yourself or an employee the task of regularly updating your online presence according to the goals and budget of your marketing plan. You may need to set aside additional time and money to create the free content that draws potential clients in.
Advertise through paid advertisements or by contacting website owners directly. If you do pay to run an ad on other websites, be sure to target it to websites that your clients will visit in large numbers. In addition, contact relevant blog owners, online forum communities, or other people who have an audience of potential clients for your service. They may be willing to direct people to your content or promotions.
Ask clients where they heard about you, or request that they fill out surveys if you have a large number of clients. Discontinue advertisements that do not turn out to be worth the cost.
Attend conferences your clients attend. If you are a consultant or other service provider specializing in a specific industry, attend the regional and national conferences related to your clients’ work. Besides staying up to date on the field, you will be able to make connections with many potential new clients you wouldn’t normally meet.
Contact the conference organizers well in advance to ask if you could deliver a speech or presentation, or sit on a panel related to your work. This increases your visibility further.
Marketing to Individual Clients
Research the potential client before you contact them. Read the organization’s mission statement and spend some time learning about them through their website. If the client is an individual, learn more about them from whomever or wherever you discovered they might be a potential client.
Begin to write a statement customized to the client’s needs. Once you know more about the potential client, you should come up with a plan for attracting their business. Mention problems you can fix or services you provide, specifically choosing subjects that are most relevant to the client’s work or problem.
If someone is hiring a freelancer, read the description of the job thoroughly. Alter your resume or statement to appeal precisely to what the client is looking for. If they are looking for a specific skill you have, even if it seems minor or included in other resume items, mention that qualification.
Begin with a hook that makes you stand out. Your potential client might receive requests like yours regularly, or they might never have considered hiring someone for your service. Here are several ideas for how to attract someone’s attention:
Describe a specialized skill rare among your competitors. Knowledge of an obscure programming language, art form, or other niche qualification related to your work could grab a client’s attention and impress them even if they don’t end up using that skill.
Mention a famous client of yours, or briefly describe one or two of your most impressive accomplishments.
If you can’t compete using fame or specialization, hook a client by offering cheap or even free work on a temporary basis. This is a good strategy when you are starting out and need clients to recommend you.
Edit your statement until it is concise and clear. Your statement or sales pitch should only take 2 or 3 minutes to read or listen to, at most. Cut it down to 30 seconds if possible. Extra information such as a curriculum vitae or sample work can go in separate documents to be presented after the pitch.
Stay focused on specific skills you have and specific proposals you have for working with the company. Avoid vague or rambling wording.
Once you have a statement prepared, find out who to contact and how to go about it. If you are responding to an advertisement, you should follow the contact instructions included. If you are contacting an organization, ask the receptionist or the general purpose phone line who best to contact for your type of proposal, and how he or she prefers to be contacted. If you live nearby and are good with in-person statements, try to schedule a personal meeting. If you can’t, arrange to drop off a proposal in person, and include a shorthand written note to demonstrate personal effort.
Be professional. Simple details such as promptness, listening to the other party, appropriate language, and staying positive can go a long way towards signing your next deal. Dress nicely and be on your best behavior during every interaction. Unprofessional interactions with a secretary or a stranger in the company lobby have the potential to destroy your chances just as they do in an executive office.
Provide information to the potential client as you make your pitch. Make sure to include all contact information and any additional information the client needs to make their decision. Provide a business card and/or a brochure if you see the potential client in person or mail them a package. Describing yourself with the wrong title may hurt your business. Only call yourself the CEO or president of your company if you are in a roomful of people with similar titles. Otherwise, call yourself a representative, a manager (if you have employees), or a specific title that describes the work you do.
People appreciate honesty, candor, and a true sense of self. False bravado, empty compliments, and a fake smile are not the tools to close more deals.
Even if your business has adopted a more casual culture, professionalism remains an essential component of effective sales. Try to live up to the client’s standards, not just your company’s dress code or marketing guidelines.
Don’t make promises you can’t keep, and be sure to keep the promises you make. There’s no better way to lose a client or get a bad review than to betray someone’s trust or fail to complete a job.
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Sources and Citations
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