Chances are, when you first developed the idea of your business, you did not fully understand the scope of all that would be required to turn your tiny idea into a successful venture. I know in my own personal experience this is true. We tend to focus on the “feel good” aspects of being an entrepreneur; the idealization of what life will be like. Then, when we take those first steps and persevere to move forward from there; we discover that what we are passionate about requires us to invest our entire being into it, in order to be fruitful down the line.
For me, and I would suspect for many early start business owners, one of the greatest challenges is self promotion; getting the word out about what you do, who you are, what your company believes and how your companies products and services are desirable, valueable and important to your prospective clients.
The old way of selling, well, it doesn’t work any more. We, as consumers have become well-educated about media, marketing and the ploys often used to convince us to open our wallets and buy the service or product being peddled. While being consumer-savvy is great for the consumer because it minimizes how often we make a bad purchase; this environment of the educated consumer can be difficult for most business owners to achieve marketing success. Mass marketing strategies that once brought in measurable success, such as mass-flyer distribution, huge billboard campaigns, TV commercials, radio commercials, promotional events like tent sales and seasonal sales all bring in minimal success in this day and age. Consumers are very good at; and in fact have been conditioned, to ignore the dozen or so flyers in the mailbox, TV, radio and billboard ads.
So whats left? How do we get the consumer to listen and pay attention once again??
What has been working for me, and for some of my peers, is the old school method of creating relationships with prospective clients. Meeting in person. Shaking hands. Having conversations, both business and non-business conversations. Reveal your reasons why you do what you do to these new acquaintances. Find out what motivates them. Why did they decide to start their business? What excites them? What do they dislike?
How you decide to develop these relationships is up to you and your own personal style and comfort level. For me, I select a small geographical area where there is a concentration of small business owners. I bring my portfolio, flyers, business cards; dress professionally and carry a smile and a positive attitude. Then I go into the businesses, seek out a decision-maker (owner, manager or reception desk). I introduce myself. Sometimes, if the person seems very friendly, I start with casual conversation before the introduction, to soften the approach. I don’t sell anything. I talk about their business. Ask them questions that could lead back into what I do. I explain why I am coming in to talk to them. (I believe that the old way of doing business; by creating relationships with your clients; is of greater value than mass-mailing or emailing flyers and promotional blurbs) 90% of the time, these prospects are very receptive to me. Like me, they enjoy sharing their stories about their business, what they hope for and how things are going for them at the moment. Most of all, they will share this information readily with like-minded individuals who are also small business owners. Already, a common ground is developed as small business owners.
Of the 50 or more businesses I have visited in the past month, only 2 were completely unreceptive and would not speak with me about anything. For these; I simply remain pleasant, friendly and polite. I offer my business card and go on my way. For the 96% who will converse with me, I end the conversation with giving them a flyer and/or business card. Some who want more information, I let them know I will email a quote to them within 24 hours. I request the business card of every business I visit, so I can keep track of who I spoke with and then I move on to the next business. Currently, I have been experiencing about 10-15% return on the time and effort invested in this type of cold-calling.
It has been a very interesting and pleasurable way to spend a couple of hours each week. Even if no business arises from a meeting right away, I still follow-up with each person I met by email. I believe that everything you do has a greater purpose; whether that purpose is apparent from the start or not, it is never a waste of time to meet someone new. Each of these people knows many other people. Even if the person I speak too doesn’t need my services at the time, they may know someone who does. And, likely each person I speak to, will share that experience with someone else. They will share the conversation we had, thereby reinforcing the meeting in their own minds and placing the experience in the mind of the person they tell it to.
Wait one second!! This sounds a lot like what happens on Facebook or LinkedIn or any of the other dozens of social media sites out there. By gosh by golly!! Is it possible that these social media sites got their ideas from the “real world”?? Hmmmmmmmm, ya think???!!?
I propose, instead of living in a “virtual social world” that business owners start once again living in the real world. Get out there. Meet real people, in the real world and share real ideas and experiences. Nothing, absolutely nothing can substitute the human connection that occurs when you meet someone face to face. The outcomes may not be measurable in a google analytical way, no hit count meter, no page counts. But the rewards of creating real relationships with real people are immeasurable and are worth their weight in gold. Building relationships is priceless in the world of business.
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