This is a guest post by Andy Singer, principal and cofounder of Ignyte Marketing Group, which applies problem-solving and marketing principles to help businesses of all sizes expand into new markets, launch new products, and otherwise achieve their growth goals.
Mention “marketing” or “advertising” to most freelancers, and they’ll tune you out pretty fast. To freelancers and independent contractors, marketing and advertising sound like things that only much larger businesses have to worry about. That’s why I don’t typically use this language when I’m talking marketing to owners of very small businesses.
Instead, I call it “relationship building.”
After all, building relationships should be the goal of any marketing or advertising campaign. And business owners of all sizes know that the success of their business as a whole depends on the success of their relationships with individual clients.
Here’s a look at what independent business owners can do from day one to help achieve the relationship-building goals that larger firms pursue with multi-million-dollar campaigns. I’ve broken my tips down into three sections: those for IT pros with a little time to spare, those with a little money to spare, and those with neither.
If You’ve Got a Little Time
If you can spare a few hours but not much cash to beef up your client relationships, start by figuring out where your potential customers are – online and in real life. Once you know, start interacting with these people to get your name out there. That might involve…
- Using your existing network (family, friends, former coworkers, past clients, people you’ve worked with, etc.) to make connections with people who may need your services.
- Tapping into the power of online social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, LinkedIn, and others). Creating an online presence for your business lets potential clients see what you do and what you value.
- Creating a website. If you don’t have a website yet, build one. People are searching for businesses like yours online, and if you don’t have an online presence, there’s no way they’ll find you. The good news: there are lots of platforms that make it possible to build a beautiful website easily and for very little money (and even for free!).
Bonus: even if you have a little time, you probably don’t have a lot. Make all your relationship-building efforts work overtime by leveraging everything you do. For example, if a past client sent a thank-you email gushing about your services, ask if they’d mind pasting it on Yelp! and your LinkedIn profile. See if you can use it on your website. (Creating a website is the ultimate act of leveraging: by putting information about your business together once, you make it available to potential customers over and over again.) For a more in-depth look at this topic, check out this piece on responding to positive online reviews.
If You’ve Got a Little Money
If you’ve got some money to invest in your business and want to get the biggest bang for your buck, don’t sink it into online advertising or direct mail. While those might eventually have value, there’s something else that will have a more lasting impact for brand-new businesses: a messaging and value statement. This statement should…
- Clearly and succinctly explain what your business is and what it does for clients.
- Detail how you’re different from the competition.
- Communicate the values at the core of your operations.
Depending on your budget and the firm you choose, you may also want to have a professional logo designed.
Why bother? Think about it: with a clear value statement, you have the boilerplate for your website, your future marketing materials, and your pitch to customers. You have language ready for when you want to offer yourself as a speaker at local events or when you need to write a bio. You have a grounding force to help dictate future growth decisions.
Think that’s all pie-in-the-sky marketing mumbo jumbo? Consider this: a study conducted by the Corporate Executive Board in 2012 found that B2B buyers are 57 percent of the way through the traditional sales process when they contact a business to make a purchase. How do buyers get there? Online research, mostly.
In other words: having clear online communication about what your business offers will actually do some of the sales-process legwork of qualifying potential customers.
If You’ve Got Neither Time Nor Money
The thing is, building relationships takes time, so there’s no magic powder you can throw on your business to grow relationships. In reality, though, you’re probably already doing some basic “marketing” maneuvers. For freelancers, relationship building / marketing efforts include…
- Having a conversation with a client about the progress of a project.
- Sending emails to answer client questions.
- Keeping in touch with former colleagues and letting them know about your services.
- Meeting with other business owners for coffee and asking about how they run their business.
Building customer relationships is something business owners should think about every day, no matter what the current budget looks like.
One Last Note: Relationships and Marketing Are for the Long Run
No matter where you are in your business, keep in mind that building client relationships works the same way as building any other kind: it’s something that happens gradually over the long haul. This means that someone you meet online won’t trust you unconditionally after a few emails and it means that you shouldn’t throw extra money at a haphazard email campaign one month just because you have room in the budget.
Relationships don’t happen quickly, but they also aren’t broken easily. Investing a little every day can lead to big payouts down the road.
For more information on Ignyte, visit http://ignytemg.com/#about.