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Growing a business takes time and commitment and for most it means new clients/customers. New clients or customers, means obtaining new contacts or new leads. There are many ways to develop new business leads. As you obtain a lead or prospect they need to be nurtured. Leads or prospects can come from your own networking, referrals from current clients/customers, advertising, workshops and presentations; Business Expo’s or trade shows, to name just a few sources.
One of the biggest mistakes that business owners make is to get leads and then drop them. Business cards are collected and then nothing is done with them. They go into a drawer or even worse — the garbage. Valuable time is spent networking or doing a presentation or standing at your booth at a business expo and then if there is no follow-up it was almost a total waste. I have done this myself, but not anymore. It is not worth my time or money if I am not going to follow up. I have also witnessed and experienced the lack of follow up over and over again with other business owners. I have attended many networking meetings and Business Expo’s/trade shows and given my business card to each business there. I typically only receive one or two follow up notes or calls, tops! I remember making follow up calls to people after an event and receiving great feedback from them that I had called. One person said she was going to refer to me just because I had followed up with her and that I was the only person that had called from the event. Certainly there is still benefit to you in building relationships and getting exposure for your business but if you want to accelerate the response you want to do good follow-up.
There are many ways you can nurture the relationships that are just being formed. Like a seed planted, you need to water the seed, fertilize the seed. Send a personal note following your first meeting. A handwritten note with no sales pitch, just “nice to meet you” is memorable and will gain you recognition. Share an article, a tip sheet as a second follow-up. No matter what your business you can develop a tip sheet. The top ten tips for…. This can become invaluable to you as a tool for sharing with your prospects. It helps to build the relationship and build you as an expert in your field. For people to trust your service they need to see that you know your business. Articles, special reports, tip sheets can all help you to do this. Continue to follow up with additional articles and information sheets. Even a relevant article that you see in a magazine or newspaper is thoughtful and demonstrates your interest and knowledge of the prospect.
Follow up is a relationship building step it is not a sales call. You aren’t there yet with this new prospect. First you need to find out more about them and offer them value through your resources, articles, and reports.
Anther excellent tool for staying in touch with a potential client is through a newsletter. My preference is an E-Zine or email newsletter. The cost is minimal the work to get the newsletter out is also relatively easy. The choice of course is yours and could depend upon your clientele. If your clients are a group that is not on the internet, using email, then an email newsletter is certainly not going to work. Print newsletters are more typically fee based and not free due to the high costs. A newsletter gives you a regular way of staying “in front” of your prospect. The newsletter continues to build your expertise, both essential keys in building your relationship.
Keeping in touch is like watering the garden. The relationship starts to grow. But how do you get to the bloom? Or how do you convert the prospect into a client? First, you want to have many seeds in your garden, but the right kinds of seeds. Having a prospect list of people that don’t need or use your service is like planting the wrong seeds. They aren’t going to grow because they needed a different type of soil. Having many of the right seeds means that you can have different plants blooming at different times. Just like any garden some plants are ready to harvest in the late summer, some in the late fall.
Getting to the bloom is by continuing to offer them good service and good information that is relevant to their needs and their business. You are able to do this because as you have gotten to know them you have focused on learning about their business, their needs and challenges. This gives you the ability to provide them with resources that fulfill that need or challenge. As you build the relationship you can then offer a special discount, a new client discount, some enticing offer to bring the prospect in your door. You know that once you are serving a client that your service is good and they will continue to be clients.
The other gardening you need to do is to nurture your current client relationships. One very effective strategy is using a discount card similar to the cards that many other businesses use. Discount cards give the customer a discount or free service after they buy a certain number of times or items. I have a couple for coffee houses, buy 10 cups of coffee and receive one free and one for a book store. They work for big companies like Starbucks and Borders Books and they also work for small companies. The reason we see these programs all over the place is that they work.
A second important nurturing approach for current clients is to offer a referral program. This type of program asks clients for referrals and rewards them when they give a referral. You can design the program however you like. One colleague that I know creates referral maps so that she knows where each of her clients came from, who referred them, who they referred, etc. One client could result in many clients. That’s why customer service is so important. The referral program concept is a thank you for clients sharing your service with friends and colleagues. One strategy is a thank you card and gift certificate for dinner. The “thank you” depends upon the amount of profit. For some businesses a referral could result in large amounts of income, thousands of dollars. In this case, the “thank you” is bigger. For other businesses the profit is smaller and the “thank you” is smaller: perhaps a gift certificate for a café or coffee house. It can also be a discount on your services. Refer a friend and receive $10 off your next visit. Refer 10 friends and receive a free service. Be creative, but remember to say thank you.
These are two strategies for growing your business: nurturing your relationships both the existing relationships and the new ones. Build your business with your excellence in service through referrals and incentives. Establish a database or tracking system, to know where your clients are coming from and what is working and what is not. Spend time and energy in places where it is working. Focus on it and build upon it. Try new strategies, evaluate them and keep the ones that work and that are fun. Even if you dislike marketing and business building make it a game.
Donna Price is a strategist, working with entrepreneurs to increase profits using the 7 Profitability Accelerators. Create your system for success.