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10 Steps to Generating New Business

Sales DogEvery single day, as you work on a project, you are putting yourself out of a job. If you don’t have another one lined up, that can be a scary feeling. In fact, that feeling is exactly what stops most people from going independent. The fix is simple but you will certainly have to leave your comfort zone. You will need to learn how to sell yourself and your services.

1. Get out of your house

I often see people post and blog about taking small jobs on craigslist or trying to use social networking sites like MySpace to drive new projects. The web is full of creative solutions that are supposed to generate business which do not involve talking to a human being. In my experience, almost all the good jobs (30k+) are done face to face or through referral. If you don’t have the reputation and personal network to drive a full time business based off referrals, then you will need to get out of your computer chair and go meet some new people.

2. Go where you can meet people

Where do you find potential clients? Anywhere you might meet someone who could use your services. Depending on your services, that will obviously change. We have found clients at all the following: chamber mixers, networking events, business & industry conferences, awards ceremonies (you don’t have to win to go, just buy a ticket), technical workshops, trade shows (wedding, home improvement, environmental, cars…), coffee shops and pubs even. Not that you should expect to build your business kicking it in a bar, that was a fluke.

3. Look professional

First impressions happen long before you opened your mouth. It has to do with your look and your body language. Credibility is very important in meeting new people.

You may all hate what I have to say, but it is simply the truth. When I began to be serious about growing our company, I cut my long hair and shaved the Jesus beard. At the time I was tracking my sales process down to the person and saw an immediate 30% improvement in my success rate of booking meetings.

I don’t mean you always should be in a black business suit with a white shirt and red tie – that would be ridiculous. I have a rule I try to follow: always dress one cut above where you expect everyone else to be. It sets you apart in a good way. If this is a programmer convention, you can count on most people to be in jeans or shorts. I go in business casual: slacks and collared shirt. When everyone else is business casual, on goes my suit. I can always tone it down if I have to. If I called it wrong – the tie and jacket come off, the sleeves get rolled up. The point is, you are going to be asking someone for money. Take every advantage you have to build trust.

4. Always have business cards

The real purpose of your card is not so that the person you meet will call you. The purpose of a business card is so that you can lead the exchange to get their card, so that you can call them.

Going to meet new people without business cards is a cardinal sin. It’s as simple as that. Again, it’s about credibility. Your card needs to look clean and be of good solid card stock. Don’t print your own, they never come out well. Go with a thick card stock. Everyone has their own philosophy, but I always find that when someone hands me a beefy card, I get this sense of durability and strength.

What should you put on your card? Less is more. Include your company name, your personal name, a title if appropriate, 1-2 pieces of contact information, preferably email & a phone number, and the url to your website. Some people include a mailing address, instant messenger, additional urls, fax, tag lines and more, but I find this clutters the space and the few people who might need that info will ask for it. Keep the cards themselves nice and neat. No dog-eared dirty cards.

5. Practice your elevator pitch

When you are in a social scenario, you usually only get a few minutes to chat. During that time, there is pretty much only one question running through both your heads. Do I want to talk to this person again in the future?

The elevator pitch plays a major role in deciding if you can help one another from a business standpoint. Basically, in 30 seconds, you need to be able to explain what you do and why it is different. They will then decide if you can solve a problem for them personally or someone they know. It is the most effective tool in any contractor’s sales toolkit. Practice it a bunch, with your spouse, or your dog, but get comfortable with it. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

6. Get your portfolio synced

Your portfolio will rarely sell the gig on its own. Most contractors spend way too much time playing with it and not enough just talking to people.

The point of a portfolio is to corroborate your story. When I’m out talking business, I usually mention that we prefer to work with large corporations and international clients. If they go to our portfolio and it doesn’t back that up, I loose credibility. On the other hand, if you go to our site and look, you will see a list of well-known logos. My portfolio offers further credibility to my elevator pitch.

7. Make a friend and have fun

You can be all that and a bag of chips, but if you are a jerk, no one will call you. Most of our business often comes from the fact that I meet someone and we end up going, “gosh, even if we don’t do business, it would be nice to hang out!”

If you look like you are having a blast, people will naturally be attracted to you and want to talk to you. If you look like you have diarrhea – we will run the other direction. Relax and figure out how to have fun.

Be careful mixing alcohol and business, some people do it masterfully, but most of us tend to make fools of our selves. Lastly, learn and practice the art of small talk. You would be amazed how often I find that small talk pays big bucks.

8. Follow up

You got their business card. You sweated bullets, navigated the small talk, ate the bad cheese dip, shared intimate secrets, talked about the future. Now don’t be a schmuck. Call them back. And don’t wait 6 days. Your clients will react just like your dates, they’ll forget about you.

I send a follow up email either the same evening or, at latest, within 48 hours. The note needs to accomplish 3 things: identify who you are (they might have just met 200 people that day), show a genuine appreciation for meeting them, and offer a reason to continue dialog. It’s usually a personalized version of the following note:

Hi John,

I had a great time chatting this evening. We spent about 20 minutes discussing the possibility of open source standards for flash video player technology right before the panel on web video. We have been campaigning for that too and should see if we can collaborate. I could probably put you in touch with a few people at Adobe that we have been talking to as well.

Let me know if you need any development support on the new platform you mentioned.

Would you be interested in catching a cup of coffee later this week to discuss it further?


9. Book a meeting

The follow up meeting is where you actually make the sale and gain a client. It make take a few attempts to book the meeting. People are busy and don’t mind persistence. Most contractors I know often give up way too early. I finally got a meeting with a client that I had been trying to coordinate for 4 months.

Make sure you double confirm and set up a contingency plan in case it won’t work. Trade cell numbers for example. Always work from a calendar and confirm the day of the meeting with a quick email. Check out our post specifics on how to make the sales call.

10. Referrals: who you know and who they know

Not everyone becomes an instant client. If they like you though, they may often refer you to someone, but ONLY if you actually ask and stay in touch with them. We have gained a number of projects though people who had no immediate use for our services, but who knew someone who did. I learned to maintain contact with people who I have met in the past.

The point is, just because there isn’t something in the works right now, doesn’t mean there won’t be in the future. You went to some effort to build a potential relationship. Now maintain it. Think of it as throwing seeds onto a fertile field. Some grow, some don’t, some sprout right away and other take months, even years. For a practical tip, I like to use linked-in to keep track of people since it allows me to see what they are up to and I am less likely to loose them when they move companies.