When most people want to start a business they usually think first about having a product or is service they want to deliver. Actually this is not necessarily the first thing to consider when planning to start a small business. From my experience I have put together the three things I think are critical to starting and maintaining a sustainable business, whether or not it is a product or service you are planning on delivering.
1. A comprehensive list of prospects– It is much more important to determine who you want to sell to than what you want to sell. I recognise however that in some instances the latter comes before the former. I learnt this because our company delivers consultancy services to small and medium sized businesses in a particular geography.
Two business men shaking hands at international business meeting.
There are many other independent people and companies that deliver the same service that we do, we struggled in the initial couple of years to find clients because we had difficulty of identifying who would need our services, we spent lots of time and effort meeting various organisations who will gladly meet up with us but never truly purchased our services. This became a significant frustration for me. I did not like wasting time and marketing resources on several meetings that resulted in non purchases.
Suddenly we were servicing a different market from our competitors and we had a list of over 1000 businesses that could potentially benefit from our added value service.
At one point I listened to a marketing expert who stated in clear terms that if you do not have a list of prospects then you do not have a business. My first reaction was that’s a bit harsh especially as we had managed to coast along mainly through a few referrals as a business, but I started thinking about where I could get a list of potential clients. But the problem remained that there was significant difficulty in identifying who needed our support, the only list I could lay hold of was a list of organisations who had already received a similar support as we also provided. To cut a long story short we obtained that list and over a period of time re positioned our company to provide added value to those organisations who had already received the support our previous competitors provided. Suddenly we were servicing a different market from our competitors and we had a list of over 1000 businesses that could potentially benefit from our added value service.
It was at this point that we truly started to build a business, because our work in the last 1 year has been about working on the 1000 businesses to produce financial results. so far we have engaged over 70 of these businesses with them either attending a free event that we have put in place, or having purchased Training Services from us or other consultancy interventions; and we have very little organised competition in this new market. Our job now is to continue to create new services that this market you benefit from.
It is the market first that list of prospects first and then you can think of what to provide them.
2. A differentiating factor(s)- Most of the people that provide a similar service to small and medium sized businesses in our region operate as independent self-employed consultants we are a registered small consultancy firm. Our competitors typically charge clients based on the number of days involved in delivering the project, we charge a single fixed price for the whole project. Our competitors will spend 1 full day at the client site each time they pay a consultancy visit, we recognise that this might not be convenient for the client all the time so we come in as per client’s convenience meaning sometimes we do half day a visits. our competitors insist on the client paying as soon as the job is done, we are happy to accept a payment plan from the client meaning they can spread payments across the year.
It is not necessarily simply because our approach is better than the competition that matters the most; it is simply the fact that it is different (and that differentiation is sustainable and cost effective from our perspective) that is helping us to stand out in the marketplace.
it is simply the fact that it is different (and that differentiation is sustainable and cost effective from our perspective) that is helping us to stand out in the marketplace.
In the ideal world marketers will advise that you have a strong USP (unique selling point), sometimes as in our case it might be difficult to lay your hands on a strong USP. You can have several unique selling points rather than one USP, remember the focus is on differentiation. And the ultimate goal of a USP is market differentiation. Go and be different.
3. Communicating,Refining and Patience- Now you have a prospect list in other words a potential marketplace. Based on the uniqueness of your marketplace, you have a product or service that the marketplace needs and it is significantly different from the competitor in 1 or several ways including content, delivery, servicing, payments, advertising, business structure and even such details appearance (eg uniforms) etc. Now you need to start communicating with that list of prospects.
One single communication does not establish a relationship with a potential client
One single communication does not establish a relationship with a potential client, it takes several repeated and varying individual communication contacts for you to make an impact on the psyche of a person. So you have to stick by it. Giving out your business card is not the equivalent of having a business, you need to continue that communication until it gets you meetings sitting face to face with people whom you never met before but have been on your list of prospects for a while. Whilst you are there, you should be listening watching getting clues about what that prospect expect of your business and learning what is working and what is not working and building that back into your business process. You will continue refining this process until it becomes closest to what most of your
potential clients wants.
Giving out your business card is not the equivalent of having a business
That takes time and patience but it is the route to a sustainable business model where you have clients and prospects that are not just customers but fans of your business!
All the very best