2010 was a tough year for many businesses. However, when you ask a fellow business owner, “How are things?” they will often reply “Good thanks – and you?” It may be true, it may not. It doesn’t really matter. I’ve rarely met a business owner who doesn’t want more work at higher rates. So here are a few tips that you can try immediately. Since they cost little or nothing except a little of your time, why not try a few of them in 2011?
1) Know what you are selling
This seems blindingly obvious. After all, you know what you do, don’t you? In that case, try to explain it to someone who has no idea (members of your immediate family work well as subjects for this one). It’s not what you are; a “leadership coach” or a “motivational speaker”. It’s what you do for people. Once you’ve captured that, it’s much easier to offer yourself to others. The most obvious people to tell you what you do are satisfied customers, so ask them.
2) Ask for referrals
Always, always, ask your best clients to refer you on to someone else. If you have done a good job for them, they will be happy to recommend you, since it makes their judgment look good too. Have an arrangement with your network to cross-refer each other. I’m always being asked to recommend people, but I only do it if they are good, and I know what they offer (see point 1).
3) Use the power of your networks
There are some great networking experts around. Talk to them and buy their books. My best business opportunities come through networking, both online and offline. Of course, the reach of your network goes far beyond your immediate contacts. Ask your network “Who do you know that…?”, and you will find many opportunities. Be respectful of your network too - always give more than you take (see point 10).
4) Make use of free online tools
There are hundreds of online tools that can help you bring in more business, and most of them are free. Google supplies free news alerts (useful for keeping on top of your topic), and can show you trends in markets, so that you can change your offer. There are online communities which offer help and support. There is Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, etc, etc. Pick one you enjoy using and really learn how to use it.
5) Find out who is buying (and not buying) from you
If you have a website, and don’t analyse your traffic, you are missing a huge opportunity. Google Analytics (free, of course) can be added to your site, and will provide masses of information about where your visitors come from, how long they stay, and what path they take through your site. This intelligence is invaluable in refining your site, and encouraging more visitors to buy from you. Use Google Insights on your videos too.
OK, travel can be expensive, but many of us have to travel to clients. When you travel, make use of your time to meet prospective clients (use networks such as Linkedin to find likely clients where you are going, and contact them to ask for a twenty-minute chat). Use your travel time to read books and become more knowledgeable about your topic or buy something you would not normally read, and use it to stimulate your creativity.
7) Become a broadcaster
Use video, audio and online article to get your message out. Many sites (including YouTube) allow you to create your own TV channel. There are many hosting sites that let you make your own radio station. Blogger and Wordpress allow you to become an online publisher. You need to keep at it, and deliver a regular stream of content, and if you do, you will quickly gain a loyal following of people who will one day do business with you.
8) Listen to your customers
Customer feedback is invaluable, even if it is critical. A customer will only contact you if they care about your product or service. You should take note of what they say, particularly if several customers say the same thing. They may not always be right, but they probably tell you something you need to know.
9) Keep in touch
It’s tough to keep in touch with a huge network of people. But do your best. Even a brief response to an email is better that no response at all. A general “thanks to all” message is the least you can do. One day, that person you met five years ago may offer you a huge piece of work, just because you kept in touch.
10) Be helpful
If there’s only one piece of advice that you use, it should be this one. Help people whenever you can. Don’t expect anything in return. You’ll be amazed at what comes back. Good luck and have a great 2011.