Marketing Follow-Up for Small Businesses and Startup Marketing Tips!

The third part of our "Small Business Primer" series.

If you did the activities described in the previous articles, you have defined: 1) what type of service you provide, 2) your long- and short-term goals, and 3) your target market(s). If you haven’t written down all of these, take a moment to do it. You are now ready to think about marketing strategies.

What are your prospects’ buying considerations?

Activity: Look at your write-up for your target market. Ask yourself (and answer) these questions:

  • To whom do they look for recommendations when they want to buy consulting services?
  • Where do they meet potential computer service suppliers?
  • Do they prefer to deal with large consulting companies or independent consultants?
  • What kind of publications do they read?
  • Do they respond to advertisements in these publications?
  • Do they have in-house computer staff that needs help during peak periods?
  • Does their in-house staff lack expertise that they need and that you can provide?

How can you let your prospects know you are in business?

Activity: Identify at least three organizations that draw your prospective client base. Join those organizations. More importantly, attend their meetings.

While getting repeat business and referrals remain the number one and two ways of generating business, networking is also at the top of the list. If you are a Sybase expert, for example, do you attend Sybase User’s Group meetings?

One consultant I know makes it a point to attend every user’s group meeting in his field. He also presents papers at these meetings to reinforce others’ perception of his expertise. Even though many of the attendees are not the decision makers who have the authority to hire him, he passes out his business card and encourages people to call him if they have problems. He also makes it known that he is a consultant and can help during time crunches, etc. By keeping active in other professional associations as well, he has established himself as an authority in his computer specialty.

This is where that 20-second concise description of your services comes in (see Part I). When you network with people and they ask what you do, a clear, understandable statement can make all the difference in the world. And, knowing which meetings your prospects attend gives you the opportunity to meet them in an unobtrusive, non-threatening way.

A while ago, I ran into someone who wanted custom software developed under Windows. I know several developers who can produce software for Windows, but only a few who specialize in it. I felt more comfortable recommending the specialists I see regularly at monthly Independent Computer Consultants’ Association (ICCA) meetings. Make it a point to get yourself in front of others who might recommend you.

How do I follow-up with people after I meet them?

Activity: Write a two-to-three sentence description of a problem that a recent client had. Below it, write a short paragraph describing how you solved that problem. Everything should fit on no more than two-thirds of a page. Nothing fancy. Just use your own words, as if you were speaking to someone.

Study your write-up for a moment. Can you find any angles that others might find useful? Does your solution incorporate new software? Does it use propriety code that you developed to finish projects faster and cheaper?

This short “Problem/Solution” sheet can give someone insight into your capabilities. You can develop a whole series of Problem/Solution sheets that address the different projects you have done. This way, when you meet someone who has a need similar to the project you finished two months ago for ABC Associates, you can send a written document as part of your follow-up response.

Before you send this type of document, however, you should present it in a graphical appealing and clear format. Consider using a professional editor to clarify your text and a graphic artist to help you with the layout. Using such professionals is well worth the investment because they can do wonders for your image and follow-up material. To give your material a printed look, use preprinted color paper that you feed through your laser printer or copier. These papers are available from sources such as Paper Direct (1-800-A-PAPERS) and Idea Art (1-800-433-2278).

Whenever I meet someone at a meeting, I follow-up with what I call a “nice to meet you” letter. It is a short note that recaps the meeting’s discussion and reminds them that I write documentation, proposals, marketing material, etc. in plain English. As appropriate, I include information about past projects or relevant articles I’ve written. You can also modify your Problem/Solution sheet to read like a “how to” article and submit it to magazines for publication. This will increase your visibility and credibility for the price of a postage stamp.

Depending on the urgency of a prospect’s needs, I schedule a follow-up phone call. For those who have no project or need when I meet them, I schedule the call about two months down the road. This way, I’m not nagging them. I call to find out how they are doing, not necessarily to determine if they have an upcoming need. You’d be surprised to see how warm people are when you are not trying to sell them anything.

Software such as ACT! and PackRat are excellent products to keep notes on your contacts and to schedule calls, meetings, and “to do’s.” Both are very comparable products and well worth the investment. You can track client expenses and even categorize contacts based on user-defined criteria.

In the next article, I’ll continue with other ways to let your prospects know how to find you.

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