When I walked away from 20 years in corporate for the new world of self employment, I was told that networking was the key to winning new business. I wasn't quite convinced, but hey, they were the experts, so off I went to various business groups, networking events. I'm pretty good at striking up conversations so had no problem working the room, though I wouldn't say that I found it enjoyable. I met some interesting people, but I also met the networkers who shoved their card in your face and ran off to the next person, the ones who trapped you for an in-depth conversation while you just smiled away and hoped to be rescued, then the ones that you struggle to find anything to chat about, they aren't even interested in the snacks! My least favourite are the people you barely speak to, but as soon as you get back to work, you find a big sell email already in your inbox, jeez what happened to a little wooing? It wasn't really me but I plugged away and picked up a little work here and there.
A few years in, I really had to stand back and have a good look at a few things. I seemed to be busy working all the time, often 10 hour days but the reality was that I was struggling to earn even a part time income. My eureka moment came when I started reflecting on how I spent my working week, realising that most of my "work time" was actually gobbled up with attending networking events and coffee meetings, promoting side projects and playing with new ideas. All of this promotional effort to win business was actually stopping me from earning money!
But hadn't all this self promotion brought me new business you ask? I reviewed my client list and worked my way back to where each of them had come from and the surprising result was that a whopping 90% came from Word of Mouth referrals! It was now so clear to me, I had to stop faffing about chasing the possibility of new work and put more effort into looking after what I already had.
From that moment on my business grew steadily into a decent income and I'm now in that happy place where the work/life balance is perfect for me.
Hopefully these strategies will help you too:
Look after existing clients:
Have you heard the saying "It ' 6 Times More Expensive to Win a New Customer than to Retain an Existing One"? I totally believe this. Do your best work always, look after your existing customers, see if there is anything else you can help them with. If they are happy, they will give you more work and become your best marketing tool.
Look no further, you already have a network of family, friends and colleagues. While I'm not a fan of direct selling to this lovely group of people, there's no harm in letting them know what you do, how you help people and who might benefit from your product/service. I find this personal network the best. Family and friends love to support you and see you doing well. They care :)
Word of mouth referrals are fine, but the first thing most people will do when they are told about you is snoop around to find out a little more. You don't need to spend a lot of time or money doing this, just have a simple website, a proper domain name and email address, an active Social Media profile or two depending what kind of business you are in, and maybe a business card. All of these will give business credibility and provide your prospective client with an insight into how you operate.
A proper email signature will not only help you to look more professional, it will bring you new business. Take a look at mine here:
It has all my contact information, Social Media links, the services I provide (they may not know that) and a link to my current blog post. I am amazed at how much business I have won through this simple signature.
Respond to enquiries:
This may seem obvious but you wouldn't believe how many clients I have done promotional work for and then found that they fail to respond to enquiries. If people have contacted you, they are interested and often ready to buy. So follow up quickly, return that call, reply to that email, give that quote even if it's only your best guess.
Most online networking groups are not platforms for winning new business, however they can be a great place to interact with other like minded business people, all from the comfort of your own home. I find they're excellent for having a vent, throwing an idea around, sharing a win, asking a question or simply having a bit of fun. My current favourite Facebook groups are Freelance Jungle and Misfit Entrepreneurs.