If you are a small business owner or a contract worker, chances are you have felt the punch of the stalled economy right where it hurts the most – the wallet.
I know that in my business, projects have dropped drastically. Though I continue to market, and network and advertise as I did prior to this year, I’m seeing more and more that people are holding back on hiring someone right now.
Business is slow. I’ve been questioning lately how to turn that around. I do know from interviews I’ve done that people are starting to talk about opening new companies again. This had seemed to stop for a while, but the chatter is there, and I do see some action as well.
In the meantime, though, those of us who rely on selling a service to others – especially if there are many other service people out there – are having a tough time.
Think about it: how many different landscaping companies do you see driving around your neighborhood this summer? Each company needs customers – how are they attracting new customers when the competition is so fierce and the economy at such a standstill that many are renegotiating what is really important to pay for and what can be done on their own (as we have done this year, doing away with the landscaper altogether to save a few hundred dollars each month).
Times are tough for contract workers and small business owners, so what can we do to attract new clients? Do we need to lower our fees? Market ourselves harder? Offer incentives for signing up with our company over the competition?
How do we not only put ourselves out there as a potential business to consider but actually catch the client
Andy McClure, owner of Sherpa Business Development, a company designed to help businesses get ahead, says, “To combat the scarcity and pricing pressures I have spent time teaching my clients that each customer relationship MUST be treated as a lifelong endeavor.”
One question I have had lately has been about lowering prices. After all, how do you compete with a million other companies if everything else is the same – product, time frame – but price? When clients and customers are looking to save a dollar or two here and there, do we need to consider lowering our prices to gain new customers?
McClure says maybe – but that you should be getting value in return. “When a business owner considers the potential Lifetime Customer Value of gaining that new client, they will realize that they can afford to discount if they have a follow up plan that will nurture that relationship to gain repeat business and introductions to others.”
McClure adds that a business person may offer a plan – lower fees for referrals and testimonials by the client if the work is done well. This gives the client something of a break when it comes to payment and it gives the business owner potential future business as well.
Diana Ennen, President of Virtual Word Publishing, says you should focus on emphasizing how it is you can help that client make money and/or survive this tough economy. “And point out direct ways that you can do this.”
For instance, if you are in the business of web design, you might show clients how your services will actually increase their company’s revenue – by getting the word out there about their company, for instance. A writer might focus on press releases – show the company you can increase traffic to their business through the writing of a release, so they can see their return on the money (paying you for the service).List specific ways you are helping them get ahead in these tough times.
In addition, I feel you need to figure out your strengths and then aggressively market these. When it comes to obtaining a new client, you have one shot. Oftentimes if a person likes you right away, you have a foot in the door – but if someone comes up behind you that they like as much and they are a little more aggressive than you (ie: they list selling points during the consultation, they throw in a few freebies or incentives, they tell the client what they can do for them when you hesitate to do this because you don’t want to seem pushy) you just may lose the job.
In this market you can’t afford to take the, “Maybe they’ll call me back,” approach. You have to understand that the first meeting is going to make or break the job – even if it may take a few more phone calls – and then show your strengths as though this is your only shot.
You may also want to follow up with a contact afterwards. For instance, if you are a painter and you do a bid on a house, you may want to call a few days later and say, “I just wanted to follow up with you. Do you have any questions?”
At this point, if the person has found someone who offers to do the job a little cheaper, they may tell you this. Or they may say they are concerned because they wanted a shorter time frame. At this point you are able to work on selling your company again. Without a follow up, someone sitting on the fence about whom to hire may go with the other person instead of you.
Lastly, continue to market, but says Ennen you may have to market a bit differently than you have in the past. Marketing your company changes with the times. Take a look at your potential client base – who are they, what do they like, what do they have to spend – and then think of creative marketing campaigns to draw them in.
As a landscaper you might offer to trim bushes for a reduced fee – or free for the first few months. A maid might throw in an extra one or two cleanings for signing up with her company or service. Look at your business – what can you afford to do creatively that will not kill you when it comes to the wallet (you don’t want to reduce your prices so much you aren’t making a living) but that will attract new customers that will become repeat customers in the future?