A new client left me speechless, which is rare. “I never needed marketing before, why do I need it now?” Indeed. How do so many companies survive for years without marketing, outreach, and business development? What about the marketplace has changed?
The answer isn’t all that complicated. You need marketing more today because so many more people have access to inexpensive advertising. Consider how many direct competitors you could identify ten years ago compared to how many you see now. I bet your customers can count even more. Regardless of your reputation, you have to work harder to stand out from the crowd. Good companies that don’t talk about themselves or are easy to discover can’t differentiate themselves from posers.
So here I am with a client that has never done this before. He is worried about looking desperate, needy, or cheap. What does he need to do to gain momentum from a dead stop? We came up with five simple steps, none of which cost anything but time.
1. Review your contact list and select 10, 50, or 100 folks that have done business with you in the past, but not recently. Let’s assume that these are satisfied customers.
2. Pick up the phone.
“Uh, what should I say?” Small talk isn’t your thing and you don’t think of yourself as a salesperson – I get it! Here are three things you could try:
- Ask if it would be all right to use them as a reference.
- Ask them if they know of someone that you should hire.
- Ask if they have noticed a trend and how it affects their business.
- Explain that you want to update your website and ask if they could recommend a site that has recently impressed them.
Don’t give a sales pitch. Don’t ask for their business or why they haven’t used you for a while. If they volunteer information, explore it. A two-minute call is fine if that is all they have time for. If you get voicemail, explain why you called and ask if they can call back and discuss for a few minutes. No pressure, just a small favor. And, don’t worry if they don’t call back. It wasn’t the point anyway.
3. Send a follow-up email about one week later.
The reason the phone call is important is that it increases the chance that they will open your follow-up email (provided they know you). This email needs to provide them something of value:
- Invite them to a small open house. Just a few folks, some homemade food, and stories.
- Share an article by someone else, or something you wrote. Ask for their opinion, “Do you expect this trend to continue and should I devote more energy to this line of thinking?”
- Ask them about a company (perhaps a prospect of yours) and if they know their counterpart there.
- Send links to 3-4 websites that you think would be good to model yours after. Ask them what they think.
If they don’t reply, you have not wasted any effort. However, you also can’t assume they don’t care about you. One in ten will get back to you sometime later as if you had called yesterday. People. You have to love ‘em.
4. A month later, send your first piece of overt marketing:
- An email newsletter can have a short blog (250 words) on something related to your industry. Perhaps a piece of technology reviewed by a staff member? Or, a profile of an employee, product, or client.
- A request to “like” your new social media page.
- An invitation to a networking event hosted by you or someone else (or a baseball game, bowling party, or conference).
- If you can make a small investment, send an actual postcard. Our email is so clogged with “free” spam these days that folks are reading snail mail again.
Pick tactics that best fit who you are and won’t make your acquaintances think you have been abducted by aliens.
5. Do the Math.
If you reach out to ten folks, chances are you will talk to one and at least feel encouraged. If you reach out to one hundred, you will probably find yourself writing a new piece of business. Over time, folks you reached out to in the past will reply. One in ten becomes two. Now, how many contacts are in your database?
This is the quick start to a long game. It won’t solve all your problems, but it cost nothing. You might need a new website, business cards, maybe a logo. So what? Who doesn’t? Do this list – it’s free – and then see if you don’t come up with some new business. Now, you have money for a marketing budget. In my next post, we will stretch a small amount of money a long way.