Pitching to Prospects: 5 Tactics That Work

Freelance consultants do not have the luxury of a guaranteed weekly paycheck. We earn only as much as we can invoice. We generate a stable revenue stream by continually marketing our products and services to attract new clients and get repeat business.

In tandem with marketing, Freelancers must also identify and pitch prospective clients we’d like to work with; and who we want to work with are those who use what we sell and have the money to pay for it. Our mission is to convince prospects that our services or products will benefit their organization and make them look like geniuses for doing business with us. We must articulate our value proposition in a way that resonates. Our sales pitch must always place the prospect at its center. Below are pitching tactics that you might find helpful:

Pitch to the right person

As we’ve discussed ad infinitum, you must know your customers.  Start by noting the job titles of prospects who usually work with you. Which industries invite you in and which rule you out? Don’t waste time preparing and delivering a good pitch if the prospect is not a prospect. If health care professionals don’t seem to have a need for what you provide, then don’t try to pitch them. Talk about the weather instead.

Second, do your best to speak with either a decision-maker or decision-influencer. This can be tricky because people are known to overstate their role in decision-making. Some want to vet you before revealing the real decision-maker. Others, I guess, just want to feel important? Whatever!

Dig for the truth by inquiring about the budget, confirming the project timetable or important deadlines, asking who else must agree to green-light the project and authorize funding and who signs the contract. You want to unmask any pretenders. Remember to notice the job title of the person with whom you are speaking (ask for a business card). Decision-makers are Directors, Vice Presidents, Chiefs, General Managers and owners.

Speak to their needs

One of the most common mistakes Freelancers (or entrepreneurs or sales professionals) make when introducing their product or service to a potential buyer is placing the focus on those items rather than on the prospect’s needs. While it’s important to explain features and benefits, the key to making a sale is helping the prospect understand how his/her unique need or problem will be resolved if a purchase is made or a contract to bring you in to provide services is signed. You won’t get paid unless the prospect can envision him/herself using the product, achieving the desired outcomes and looking like a hero to his/her colleagues and the higher-ups.

Identify your prospect’s needs and challenges, concerns and priorities and use that information to devise a solution that’s specifically tailored to the prospect’s circumstances and shows that you’ve thought carefully about and understand the goals. Also, start your pitch with a great opening line. You’ll lose the prospect’s attention if you can’t capture him/her immediately with something that entices.

If you’re cold calling, or if you will attend an event and expect to to encounter an important prospect while there, visit his/her company website to view their organization’s mission statement, learn about major initiatives that were recently or will soon be launched and investigate the management team. Look for community outreach efforts, peruse the social media accounts, read what’s appeared in the press and skim the annual report—you may be surprised at what you learn.

When pitching products and services, you want to incorporate whatever “intersections” between their operation and yours into your presentation. Whenever possible, use their words to illustrate your points and explain why you will make a good partner for them.

Establish credibility

When cold calling a prospect to whom you have no connection, you must demonstrate unassailable proof of your trustworthiness and ability to produce results and meet or exceed expectations. If you meet a prospect at a business association meeting or social event, in general you will be regarded as more trustworthy than a cold caller, but demonstrating your specific expertise and reliability will still be required.

Presenting your business card is step one, but if you neglected to bring cards (or you ran out), ask for your prospect’s card and in your email to confirm whatever preliminary agreements have been made (such as a telephone call or meeting to gather more information), be sure to include your company website address, LinkedIn profile address and links to two or three examples of work that the prospect would like to assess (I always send a link to this blog).

Follow-up

It seems so simple and basic, doesn’t it? But Freelance consultants, sales professionals and others have the unfortunate habit of failing to follow-up on potentially promising leads. Maybe you misplaced the prospect’s business card?

Showing persistence is another important element when pitching a potentially good client. Maybe your first email doesn’t wow them, or it gets lost in a pile-up of messages, so always follow-up if you don’t receive a reply. Generally, I consider it polite to wait at least seven days before reaching out again and to never follow-up more than twice.

Know what you want

Keep at top-of-mind the type of relationship you want to create with your prospect. Be clear about what that relationship would ideally look like from your perspective and how it will benefit both parties. You’re probably looking for ongoing projects or sales and referrals, too, more than just a one-off interaction. It may be too early to share that ultimate goal with the prospect, but keep your eyes on the prize as you set the stage at every touch point to achieve it, beginning with your focus on your potential client’s expectations and shaping an appealing client experience.

Thanks of reading,

Kim

Photograph: © Bob DeChiara USA TODAY Sports. Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Koji Uehara (now retired) was awesome in the 2013 American League Championship Series and World Series. His 2013 Earned Run Average was 1.09, as he struck out 38.1% of batters faced. Boston won the 2013 Series against the St. Louis Cardinals 4 games to 2. Koji won the 2013 Most Valuable Player Award in the ALCS, Boston v. Detroit Tigers.

Factors to Include When Planning to Launch a Business

In a recent 7 day span, I was invited to judge two pitch contests for entrepreneurs who had successfully completed a 13-week business plan writing workshop presented by a woman-centric business incubator and business development center that has operated in New England for 25 years (and is also an SBA affiliate). The entrepreneurs were either in start-up or scaling (i.e., expansion) mode.

I was excited to be a judge and privileged to meet nearly two dozen forward-thinking, focused, resourceful and determined women who expect nothing less than success and are taking decisive steps to bring it about. Based on the business concept pitches I heard, I encourage those who are evaluating whether to launch a business venture to include the following information:

  • Name and describe your product or service and the problem(s) it will solve
  • Identify your best customer groups and explain why those customers will pay for your product or service
  • Identify your primary competitors, list the competitive advantages that your product/ service possesses and explain why customers will prefer your offerings
  • Create a business model that outlines how you’ll acquire customers, where and how the product/service will be delivered and how the business will make money
  • Explain why you are qualified to make the proposed business successful
  • Develop a business strategy and marketing plan that includes:
    • sales and distribution strategy
    • pricing strategy
    • product positioning strategy
    • branding strategy
    • content marketing strategy strategies
    • social media strategy
    • PR and advertising strategy
  • Detail the business pre-launch and launch (start-up) costs
  • If investors or borrowing will sought, present a (realistic) break-even analysis and 24 month revenue projections (P & L and cash-flow)
  • Detail the potential investor return and the loan payback schedule

 

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Launch of the Hubble Space Telescope April 24, 1990

How to Target Content Marketing

Now that you’ve completed your business plan, you’re ready to put it in motion. Here’s the guide that will make sure you know how to get your entrepreneurial groove on! In Be Your Own Boss, Part 2: The Implementation and Beyond, you’ll learn to recognize the strengths or weaknesses in your proposed business model and develop an effective customer acquisition plan. You’ll get insight into what you should consider when choosing the right legal entity for your venture. Learn to implement savvy marketing, branding and social media strategies, get real about business financing options and build a solid financial strategy that will sustain your dream. Thursdays April 18 & 25 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM. Register here.

Content marketing continues to be an effective Inbound Marketing strategy for Freelancers and other business leaders who seek to interest and engage potential clients, nurture relationships with current clients, demonstrate an understanding of client concerns and generate leads that have a healthy possibility to convert to sales.

Yet according to sales and marketing experts, fewer than 50% of those who claim to be evaluating a product or service purchase are ready to buy. Therefore, the job of business leaders/ owners and Freelancers is to move prospects through the buyer’s journey, also known as the sales funnel, and toward the sale.

Recall if you will the shape of a funnel—wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. The shape of a funnel reflects to the buyer’s journey.  Early in the search for a solution, would-be clients search for information. Many are window shoppers. Others are more serious. They explore options, compare prices, clarify their needs and confirm their budgets. Eventually the most serious shoppers become fewer in number as they acknowledge their must-haves and narrow their choices down to a short list of sellers (i.e., businesses).  Only a relative handful buy make a purchase. 

Let’s examine the typical buyer’s journey and understand how inbound marketing can function to encourage the sale along the way.

Tofu: Top of Funnel 

This stage signals awareness and potential prospects are searching for information.  Content here will cast a wide net, to attract the attention of all those who are searching for insights, opinions, research and other data in their early stage and education process. Just as you may scan rating sites such as Yelp or Trip Advisor when searching for a hotel or restaurant, Tofu tier leads get familiar with your products and services through your blog, newsletter and social media postings.  It’s too early to present a call-to-action appeal, which could be a turn-off at this point. In general, the value of Tofu leads is low.

Nevertheless, your objective is to peel off the most promising leads and move them into the next tier.  Achieve this aim when you offer a 15 minute free consultation, announce a podcast or webinar in which you’ll be featured to discuss a topic relevant to your typical clients, or extend an invitation to download an e-book that you’ve written, gratis. Those who register for these extras are making a commitment, to an extent, to your business.  Furthermore, they must share their name and email contact as they register. They will progress to Mofu.

MoFu: Middle of Funnel 

You now have a qualified lead. The prospect is real and has acknowledged that a problem that must be solved in the near term.  Your prospect must evaluate  which of the available solutions might be the best fit?

Content at this tier must continue to educate, but the approach will become more specific, to position your company as capable and trustworthy, prepared to deliver the right solutions and solve problems.  Here, content explains why your solution and approach to problem-solving are the best fit. Examples of your ability to understand client concerns and priorities, as well as provide the best solution, can be illustrated in white papers, case studies, or (video) testimonials.

This tier is often considered the most critical because prospects will either agree to move forward and approve the sale or decide you’re not the one based on the information  presented.  Demonstrate expertise, establish trust and build relationships here.  Flash the power of your brand by dropping the names of a marquis client or two.

On the other hand, if it becomes apparent that you are not the best fit for a client, be upfront and make that known. You always want to provide the optimum customer experience that leads to good word of mouth and avoids churn (see last week’s post).

BoFu: Bottom of Funnel

Here is where the buyer confirms his/her decision to do business with your organization and the actual sales process can begin.  According to research featured in Forbes Magazine in 2013, many prospects get 60% – 70%  through the buyer’s journey before they care to speak with a sales representative.

There may be no content offered at this stage, but time-sensitive special offers can make a big difference.  Your prospect is ready to buy but there is still no guarantee that s/he will buy from you.  Here you give a little nudge, a sweetener, as you present your call-to-action, at last.

Depending on whether your business is B2B or B2C, tangible product or intangible service, you may offer a modest discount to buy now (or within 24 hours).  You might offer a tantalizing (and inexpensive to provide) upgrade or add-on to what the prospect has indicated s/he would like to purchase.  Free or discounted installation and a free trial are also effective.  Art galleries have been known to allow serious prospects to take an artwork home so that they can live with it for 10 days.

Inbound Marketing is lots more work than tried-and-true Outbound Marketing, where you scrape together some money and place an advertisement or two in target publications, or distribute flyers in certain zip codes, and hope for the best. Outbound Marketing still works, but Inbound Marketing is how to highly target your marketing campaigns and receive the highest ROI.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: A 13th century Ottoman (Turkish) horseman draws his bow. Artist unknown.

More Sales Channels Means More $ales

If you’re ready to greenlight a business idea that you feel has money-making potential,  then it’s time to create your road map to entrepreneurial success! Learn to build a Business Plan that will become both the foundation and launching pad for your exciting new venture. We’ll take a deep dive into all the ingredients of a basic Business Plan, including how to evaluate the profit-making potential of your business idea; define your ideal customer groups; evaluate competitors; develop a savvy marketing and social media plan; and build a solid financial strategy that will sustain your dream.  Thursdays March 28 & April 4 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM. Register here.

The number one job of a business owner is to sell the company’s products and services (at a profit).  To achieve this goal, numerous activities are undertaken to promote, support and sustain the sales process and its co-dependent twin, the buying process.  The push-me, pull-you of businesses selling and customers buying rests on a vital and complex foundation.

The business model, i.e., the rationale for how a business will generate sales and make a profit, is the starting point.  In the business model, the products and services that will be sold and the target market(s) are identified.  The method(s) and location(s) by which customers will obtain the products and/or services and the payment protocols are also detailed (E.g., do customers pay in full in advance, or do they pay a deposit and then the balance when the product or service is delivered? Is this a bricks & mortar or e-commerce operation?).

The value proposition, perhaps the most important component of the business model, will describe why prospective customers are expected to value and purchase the products and/or services that the company plans to sell.  Estimating business start-up costs and preparing a credible Break-Even Analysis to provide a time line that predicts the expected pace of sales revenue growth that products/ services are expected to achieve, will determine when profits can be expected to accrue and is yet another purpose of the business model.

Business strategy rests on the business model and marketing strategies, campaigns and tactics lend still more support to driving the selling – buying process.  Yet after all is said and done, it’s imperative to get the products in front of potential buyers.

Savvy business owners know that those with motive and money to buy what your company sells need a little help.  Offer your products and services (where applicable) through different sales channels and make your products/ services easy for customers to buy.  Map the selling – buying process at your organization, talk to and survey your customers and then consider which sales channels, direct, indirect and hybrid, will make it more convenient for customers to do business with you.

Direct Channels: The selling – buying is done through channels, or might we say venues, that you control.  Customers may visit your office or store, or they may buy online through your website.  You might also offer certain of your products and services on your Facebook page.

According to 2018 research conducted by Hootsuite, there are 2.32 billion Facebook users globally, 1.1 billion speak English and about 10% live in the U.S., 232 million. 78% of American users have discovered retail products to buy on Facebook.  Customers will click your Facebook Store tab once you build it out and take it live. Payment processing and customer transaction history are handled by Shopify and Facebook does not take a commission on your sale.

Indirect Channels:  Have you ever booked a plane ride or hotel through Expedia, Hotels.com, Orbitz, or Travelocity? If so, you are comfortable buying through an Indirect Sales Channel and you could be ready to sell selected products and services through this method.  I’ve promoted and sold my P.R. and writing services on Upwork and LinkedIn ProFinder.  Self-published authors who produce books through Create Space have Amazon for an Indirect Sales Channel.

Tangible products have a much longer history with Indirect Sales Channels.  A company can investigate the possibility of selling products to a wholesale distributor, who in turn sells to retailers.  Freelance artisans often place their hand-crafted items into (typically locally owned) stores on consignment.  In both scenarios, products gain access to a significantly larger pool of target market customers than would be possible if the business only used Direct Sales Channels.

Hybrid Channels: Describes two or more sales channels utilized to provide a multi-channel product promotion and distribution system that will maximize product sales. Starbucks offers an easily visible example of Hybrid Sales Channel product distribution.

The primary sales channels are the free-standing Starbucks restaurants that are sprinkled throughout commercial and residential neighborhoods in countless cities and towns across the country.  Secondary Starbucks sales channels are found in many Barnes & Noble bookstores, chain grocery stores, hotel and hospital lobbies and airports.  By way of Hybrid Sales Channels, Starbucks successfully carpet bombs key shopping districts coast to coast.

Small and medium business owners cannot compete in this manner, but it may be possible to offer products and services through two or more sales channels to broaden product exposure and drive sales.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Leslie Jones (1886 – 1967) Pushcarts on Blackstone Street, circa 1940   Haymarket in Boston, MA. Courtesy of Boston Public Library.

5 Ingredient Recipe to Make a Profit

It is useful to simplify and de-mystify processes that are prone to confuse or intimidate, frustrate or overwhelm.  Stripping complex processes down to their basic ingredients allows a clear picture to emerge and reveals how the gears and levers really work.  It is then easier to understand how to build out, alter, or sustain as needed.  A recipe (or formula, if you will) can de developed and codified.

Just like your favorite cookie or potato salad recipes, there are recipes that can be used to develop a profitable business enterprise. Let’s look this profit-making ingredient list:

LEADS

That is, prospects. Those individuals who consider doing business with you.  You may meet them in person anywhere and if they pose serious questions about your business that seem to make follow-up discussion appropriate, then consider that person a prospect.  If someone visits your website and pages through in search of information about your products and services, those visitors are also prospects.

CONVERSION RATE

Prospects who do business, whether they purchase a product or sign a contract for your company to provide a service.

AVERAGE DOLLAR SALE

You can calculate the average sale on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis.  Divide the accounts receivable amount by the number of hours invoiced.

AVERAGE NUMBER SALES

Depending on your business, you may have only two or three projects in house at a given time.  Intangible service providers often have bigger ticket sales (projects) that are fewer in number than tangible service or product providers.

PROFIT MARGIN

This metric will be much easier to determine in a retail business, where wholesale acquisition costs or product production costs are readily verified.  Service providers must estimate their wholesale cost to produce that which is sold to clients.  If you provide graphics services or shoot videos, what does it cost you to provide the service? That estimated amount will be deducted from the hourly or project rate that you bill the client and that will reveal the profit margin.

  1. Leads X Conversion rate = Clients
  2. Clients X Average Dollar Sale = Revenue
  3. Revenue X Profit margin = Profit

Consider this example.  In your business, you, your newsletter or blog, social media accounts and your website make contact with an average 20 leads a month and you manage, on average, to convert one in every five of those prospects into a paying client, giving your organization a 20% conversion rate.

Leads (20) x Conversion rate (20%) = Clients (4/month) 

A reasonable estimate of the wholesale value of your time —-considered your production expense—to provide one of your services is $40.00/hour.  You typically bill at $65.00/hour, meaning that your hourly net income is $25.00/hour.

To calculate your profit margin, determine the amount of revenue (before deducting expenses) that your business earned during the calculation period.  For this example, we’ll have you bill those four clients a total of 100 hours/month, as 25 hours each per month, invoiced at your usual $65.00/hour for a total of $6500.00 gross revenue (sales) earned monthly. You invoice each client $1625.00 a month. Your $25.00/hour net income amounts to $2500.00 in a typical month.

Clients (4) x Avg. Dollar Sale ($1625)  =  Revenue $6500.00

The profit margin is calculated by dividing the monthly net income of $2500.00 by the gross monthly revenue (sales) of $6500.00 to reveal a monthly profit margin of 38.46%.  The profit (in contrast to either gross or net revenue) is calculated by multiplying the profit margin of 38.46% X  the gross revenue (sales) of $6500.00, that equals $2500.00/ month profit. You may recognize that figure as your monthly net income!

Revenue ($6500.00) x Profit margin (38.46%) = $2500.00

So there you have it.  As you can deduce, proprietors of service businesses that see few clients each month can, after doing research that helps determine a reasonable wholesale cost of your labor when providing services, can really impact profit by appropriately pricing services offered.  An increase of just $5.00/hour will add $500.00/month to the four client, 25 hours/month per client, total of 100 hours/month scenario presented here.

You’d invoice each client at $1750.00 per month, rather than $1625.00, and your monthly gross revenue (sales) would be $7000.00, a nice improvement over $6500.00/ month. To account for the inevitable fluctuations in Freelancer earnings, I estimate that for 10 months/ year one can reasonably expect to earn at the projected level shown here.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph:  © Girl Scouts of America, circa 1960

Selling to Small Businesses

While billion dollar revenue enterprise companies, along with disruptive technology focused start-ups and their Millennial Generation hoodie-wearing founders receive overwhelming attention in the business press, let’s remember that America is a nation of primarily small and medium-sized business ventures.

As documented in a 2018 report published by the U.S. Small Business Administration, there are 27.9 million privately run businesses in the U.S. and 23 million are owned and operated by Solopreneurs.  SMBs employ 47.9 % of the private workforce (non-governmental, for-profit organizations), 58.9 million people. Twenty million SMBs have fewer than 20 employees; the median income of self-employed owners of incorporated businesses in 2016 was $50,347 and the median income of self-employed owners of sole proprietorships was $23,060.

The majority of SMBs have limited budgets for what some owners perceive as non-essential services—marketing, advertising, or IT, for example. Yet, SMB owners will from time to time of necessity feel the need to purchase such services. Timing most likely plays a big factor in your ability to make a sale but should the opportunity land in your lap, you must handle it skillfully. Selling to the SMB owner is a delicate business.  Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Demonstrate excellent value

Nevertheless, there is money to be made in the SMB market. The social media marketing company HubSpot and Google have made untold millions in profits by targeting SMBs. In your sales pitch, detail the story of a client who shared a similar goal or faced a similar challenge, so that the SMB owner can get a clear picture of how your product or service can help him/her achieve goals.

If you can provide a link to a case study that’s on your website or social media, so much the better. SMB owners are usually worried about how they can cover expenses and simultaneously make their desired profit and they are cautious about spending money.  Show your SMB prospect that your product or service will solve the problem or see to it that the goal is achieved.

Describe how your product or service can help grow the business

Profit, growth and financial stability are the big goals of SMB owners. If you want the sale, identify preferably tangible benefits that will enhance one or more of those metrics. New customer acquisition and customer retention are also important benefits to emphasize.

Deliver results in the near term

Whatever your product or service, the faster that some portion of the ROI can be documented, the better. Too many SMB owners are concerned about cash-flow and they need to see that their investment in your product or service delivers the expected results ASAP.  When considering whether to pursue the SMB market, evaluate whether your product or service can deliver benefits quickly, at least in part.

Follow up and follow through

When selling to the SMB owner, you would be wise to under-promise and over-deliver. Your enthusiastic sales presentation must carry forward into enthusiastic customer service as well. If there is difficulty with the implementation of the product or service you sold them, meaning that the ROI cannot materialize within the expected time frame, your SMB client may very well discontinue the service and cancel future orders if you do not quickly rectify the problem.

But if you are knowledgeable, transparent and dependable, you will be positioned to  receive repeat business from your client and referrals to colleagues in his/her network.  SMB owners are often part of a community of trusted fellow business owners and most will be happy to spread the word about your good work.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Photograph: The Arthur Anderson Barber Shop in Mattoon, IL circa 1920. Mr. Anderson is standing at right, and employee Sidney Williams stands at left.                                 Courtesy of Eastern Illinois University

What’s Your Problem?

Whether your customers are B2B, B2C, or B2G, no matter if you sell products or services, tangible or intangible, you will, through trial and error, lost sales and big paydays, develop good stories that convince customers and make sales. Over the years you will trot these warhorses out again and again because they take you to the bank.

Your selling stories can take any number of approaches depending on what and to whom you sell, but one tried-and-true selling story category is the Problem Story. In a Problem Story you demonstrate that you can relate to the prospect’s pain points, you understand what is driving the prospect’s situation and you’re prepared to work with him/her to come up with an effective and reasonably priced solution (that just so happens to reside in your product or service line).

The best Problem Stories have a basic format that you can then adapt and apply to any prospect. Learn to personalize your Problem Story with a visit to your prospect’s website, an internet search to read what’s appeared in the press and if you met the prospect at a business association meeting or similar event, a call to the membership chairperson to get additional info about the prospect and his/her business. Get the back story and begin to comprehend the big picture of your prospect’s goals and understand what really matters. Now you can put together and customize a winning Problem Story.

For example, I provide event planning and PR services for a couple of large annual art events that are sponsored by an artist’s organization. The project specs describe the event planning responsibilities and event promotion public relations campaign that I’m hired to manage, but the unspoken purpose of my job is to persuade art lovers, art dealers, museum curators and the curious public to attend the event and buy art. My service enables the meeting of the relevant parties, so that business can be done.

When I write for the women entrepreneurs magazine where I am a staff writer, my unspoken purpose is to provide compelling content that persuades readers to click on my articles. Those clicks are tallied and they measure both my value to the magazine and the magazine’s value to advertisers, whose budgets sustain the publication.

Problem Stories communicate your understanding of what the prospect is facing and why s/he needs your help. Problem Stories communicate your authenticity because they entail sharing and not just telling. You “get it” and you care. A Problem Story is the opposite of a canned, impersonal sales pitch.

BTW, problem Stories can have a life beyond your conversations with prospects. With client permission if you’d like to reveal names, your Problem Stories make excellent case studies that you can upload to your website, Facebook page and LinkedIn profile, or share with the listening audience when you are a pod cast guest. Make use of your Problem Story wherever and whenever you’d like to demonstrate expertise, build trust and grow your customer base.

Thanks for reading,
Kim

Photograph: Academy-Award winning actor (“Network,” Best Actor 1977) Peter Finch (1916 – 1977) as Howard Beale in “Network” (1976). Directed by Sidney Lumet.

Is Your Idea a Business or a Dead End?

Ha! So you think you have an idea that you can parlay into a good business, whether it’s a cutting edge technology or a tried and true formula, like a car wash.

Regardless of the industry that you’d like to enter, there is a more or less standard checklist of factors you should consider before investing your money, time and hopes. Before fantasies of entrepreneurship carry you away, do yourself a favor and answer these questions first. You’ll know how to proceed from here, whether it means that you meet with the Branch Manager at your bank to learn about business financing options, or you take a trip back to the drawing board.

1. Who are the target customers and what is the size of the market?

Define your market demographic. Who will pay to buy what you plan to sell? Is this a product or service that is growing in popularity, or maintaining its broad appeal, or is there a shift in customer preference on the horizon as those who would be your customers learn about a new choice that may persuade them to switch to The Next Big Thing?

In addition to demand for your intended product or service, are there enough customers in your location to support the business? By the way, how are your competitors doing? Do they appear to be thriving?

2. What is the problem that target customers want to solve or avoid when they do business with companies like your proposed venture?

Understand the back story of why customers would buy the solutions that you plan to sell. What is it that they’d like to achieve or avoid? One calls a window washer when the windows are dirty because clean windows demonstrate the owner’s desire to protect and enhance the value of his/her home.

3. How are target customers meeting their need today?

What businesses would be your primary three or four competitors? What factors persuade their customers to do business with them—a convenient location, exceptional product variety, discount pricing, the right relationships?

What advantage can you offer that customers might be drawn to—more convenient hours of operation, for example? Can you provide a product or service that meets a need that is valued but not currently addressed?

4. What is your solution (product or service)?

Describe your proposed product or service. You should be able to easily and clearly describe (and sell) your product. Develop an off-the-cuff sales pitch, record your delivery of it, then listen and evaluate. Would you buy this product or service?

5. How will you reach your customers?

If your business is B2C and requires a physical location, can you afford to set up shop in an area that potential customers will visit? If your business idea is B2B, do you have a plan to access customers and referrals? If your plan is for e-commerce, how will potential customers learn about your website?

6. Do you have the credibility and credentials to do business in this industry?

Especially if you plan to enter the B2B sector, be certain that your education and experience will command respect and trust. If obtaining certain licensing, certifications, or an educational degree is vital (even if not required), investigate the process, plus the time and money involved.

7. Do you have the funding to launch the business?

Research the expected business start-up costs and think objectively about how long it might take you to start making sales you can live on.

Pay your bills and get your credit score. Build up your savings. Whether you expect to self-finance, ask to borrow from friends, family, or your retirement account or apply for outside funding, you will need a lump sum of cash on hand when you launch a business.

Thanks for reading,
Kim

Photograph: Financial District, Boston, MA. Kim Clark, September 23, 2018

Recipe For Success

Solopreneurs and owners of small businesses can benefit from what can be called a basic recipe consisting of time-tested business practices that will put you on the path to building a profitable enterprise that will make you proud.

Business strategy

Every business needs a strategy and a business plan is a very helpful tool that supports you as you implement your strategy to develop and launch your venture.  A complex strategy or business plan aren’t necessary to achieve success.  A one-page business strategy and a five-page business plan may do the job, as long as both are well thought out and executed.

A good business strategy (and plan) defines and drives the activities and behaviors of the entire organization. Without it, the business becomes a rudderless ship, lost at sea.  A well-conceived business strategy and properly written business plan reflect and support the business model and always address marketing, operations, finance, staffing and customer service, at a minimum.

Business model

The business model is the plan for how your company will generate revenues and make a profit.  The business model answers the question “Who is the customer and what does that customer value?” As a result, your business model must also spell out the company’s value proposition and what differentiates your products and services from those of competitors.

The business model will keep company leaders focused on the core markets and measuring success as defined by the business strategy.  Here you’ll detail a step-by-step action plan to operate profitably within your marketplace.

Marketing

In order to develop a realistic and potentially effective marketing strategy, it is essential to thoroughly research the most likely target customers for the venture.  What problem or goal will be solved with your products or services—what is the customer’s motive for doing business with you? How much will potential customers pay to obtain the solutions that your venture will offer?

Finding out which competitive products target customers now use to get their needs met is another essential marketing research function.  As well, you must learn the type of marketing and information gathering outreach that potential customers will find and trust.  An effective marketing strategy addresses how you will:

  • Identify target customers
  • Identify the products or services now used  (competitive products)
  • Describe how you will promote your products and services to those customers
  • Explain the positioning strategy for products and services
  • Discuss the branding strategy
  • Describe the sales strategy—how will you sell to customers
  • Address the pricing strategy
  • Identify advertising and social media marketing activities

Sales

The sales strategy that you adopt will depend on your target customers, your access to those customers and the competitive landscape.  You may be able to build referral arrangements and strategic alliances that allow you to generate enough sales to be profitable.  On the other hand, cold calling may be the most effective way to generate sales for your organization.  Will you sell in a physical location, or online? Will customers pay immediately, or will they be billed? The preferred selling approach a company uses is defined in the marketing plan.

Operations

Predictable, practical and streamlined business operations processes are a must.  The customer experience is closely linked to what happens in the behind-the-scenes delivery systems of products and services.  Think of it this way—when you go to your favorite breakfast place to get a muffin and coffee, you expect to receive what you’ve ordered with a minimum of fuss. That is how you start your day because it’s convenient and it makes you feel good.  You, business owner and leader, must create a similar experience for your customers if you intend to retain them.  Smooth business operations also play a role in building good word-of-mouth for your business.  Fail to develop a good operations plan and things could blow up in your face as disappointed customers spread the word about your shortcomings.

Unfortunately, many businesses give short shrift to the operations section of their business plan.  The purpose of thinking through operations processes is to increase business productivity and reduce costs as you offer the same (or better) outcomes to each customer, time and again.  There may be some trial and error along the way, but most of all it takes thought and planning.

Successful business leaders understand the need to continually improve business processes, to become more efficient and productive and able to respond to market changes faster, all the while providing excellent service to customers.

Technology

While technology is important, it needn’t be complex or costly to be effective.  Up-to-date technology products enable upgrades within any number of company functions: product manufacture, delivery of services, inventory management, payment systems, sales and distribution, marketing campaigns, quality control and customer service.

Finance

A realistic financial plan is the cornerstone of building a profitable enterprise.  Every business requires a financial roadmap and budget, along with the discipline to follow it.  You must anticipate and plan for business start-up or expansion costs,  projected sales and assisted by a break-even analysis, project that point in the future when the business will be positioned to make a profit.

The financial plan ensures that the business owner recognizes the most likely sources of business launch or expansion capital (will a bank loan or a partner be necessary?). A financial plan reminds owners where and how to spend money and it provides ways to measure progress, promote healthy cash-flow and warn of impending shortfalls.

Customer service

Smart business leaders treat customers well, because they are aware that there can be no business without customers who make purchases that create revenue and lead to profits.  Integrate customer service into your business practices and review those practices frequently to ensure that they are having the intended effect of facilitating customer satisfaction, repeat business and referrals.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: One scene in a mural displayed in the Templo Mayor Museum in Mexico City, where thousands of artifacts were excavated from the ruins of Tenochtitlan, the former capital of the Aztec Empire (now called Mexico City).

 

The Art of the Sale: How Marketing, Branding and Advertising Help Revenues

Today, I respectfully offer you a tutorial. Our inquiry will focus on the essence of doing business: selling. The purpose of starting a business is to generate sales, produce revenues and earn a profit.  If a business cannot generate a certain threshold of sales, business expenses cannot be paid and the owner’s investment will be negatively impacted. To curtail mounting debts, the business must close.

Over the past 10 years or so I’ve noticed, sometimes with amusement and other times with dismay,  that the word selling seems to make people feel uncomfortable.  I noticed that frequently, aspiring business owners and Freelance solopreneurs, who must find customers and earn money that is derived from the exchange of money for the products or services that their ventures would produce and provide, avoided the word sell. Instead, the word market was substituted.

Many self-employed professionals are uncomfortable with the process of selling, so they’ve decided to banish the very word. It’s as if selling is now perceived as crass or pushy. That is a shame.  The sales profession is one of the oldest on earth and honorable. Selling is one of the foundations of civilization and selling skills are among the most useful anyone can have; it is the ultimate transferable skill.  Selling makes the world go round, because we wouldn’t have much of a world without it. The ability to sell is far more valuable than the ability to code (yes, really!).

So we can agree that the success of a business is dependent upon sales?  Now, let’s go back to the process of marketing.  The American Marketing Association defines marketing as:

The activities and processes for creating, communicating and delivering information about products and services that have value for customers. Marketing is a set of processes that are interconnected and interdependent with other business functions aimed at achieving the interest of (prospective) customers.

Marketing consists of using information, in words or pictures, to promote products and services and persuade potential customers to make purchases.  Customers have an array of motives that drive their purchases.  Marketing campaigns are designed to appeal to the motives of selected customer groups (e.g., parents, young professionals, adolescent males) that research has shown are potential customers for the product or service in question.  The purpose of marketing is to communicate with and appeal to targeted customer groups and persuade them that (your) products and services will satisfy one or more of their needs or desires.

So we can agree that generating sales is dependent upon marketing campaign promotion that is directed at the most promising customers for your products and services? I hope we can also agree that marketing and sales, while on the same continuum, are not one and the same.  Let’s move forward on the path and consider branding.

Branding campaigns are designed to enhance and expand marketing messages by differentiating and distinguishing the reputation of products and services available in the marketplace.  Products, services and individuals can, through an effective branding campaign, acquire a powerful reputation, recognition and loyalty among customers, fans and the general public.  That reputation is known as the brand.

A company logo is usually associated with products that have acquired sufficient popularity and sales to be considered a brand. That logo is instantly recognized and conveys the essence of the brand to its loyal fans, as well as those who may not use the product.  The product name itself will come to symbolize a powerful brand, as does Coca-Cola.

Now let’s take your marketing and branding messages to the public and that brings us to the next stop along the marketing continuum, advertising.  There are more ways to advertise than ever before, thanks to the digital age,  but do not underestimate the value of traditional methods.  The century-old medium that is radio remains a highly effective advertising tool, as do billboards.  Taxi cabs and city buses (and bus stops) announce local events, such as the circus coming to town.  Newspapers and magazines continue to be packed with eye-catching ads.

Content marketing, which many call the new advertising, continues to grow in influence.  It’s approach is indirect and it is presented as relevant information.  Content marketing is stealth advertising that uses primarily written information conveyed in blogs and newsletters to provide information about topics that would be of interest to prospective users of the products or services sold by the company.  The purpose of content marketing is to build an audience of regular readers who trust the source (you) and would feel confident enough to do business with you.

Then there are the social media platforms that are now in the mix. Regardless of the name social media marketing, when used for business purposes it is advertising: the Instagram photos of your wedding venue, the video clip of you accepting an award at the Rotary Club, the webinar posted to your website and LinkedIn profile.

If your marketing strategy and campaigns have been effective and enabled the development of a trustworthy brand and memorable advertising campaigns, your business will attract paying customers. Your business venture will generate sales and you can declare yourself a winner.  Let’s sum up our tutorial:

MARKETING:  How you envision and describe your company. The verbal, voice and visual messages used to promote your products or services. The business owner identifies the market positioning strategy for the company, based on populations predicted to  become customers: mid-market, luxury, or bargain, hipsters, seniors, adventure travelers.  Product positioning impacts all marketing campaigns and messages, the branding strategy and advertising choices.

BRAND:  The company reputation, what it is known for. How others perceive your company.

ADVERTISING:  How and where you portray and describe your company to the public: in print or digital, visual or audio formats placed in Popular Mechanics, Harper’s Bazaar, subway stations, flyers tucked onto car windshields, or Twitter.  Advertising usually costs money.

SALE:  The ultimate goal and final step of the marketing process.  The exchange of money (or another valuable item or service) for the purchase of a product or service.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph of Cher by Richard Avedon (1986)                                                                 Courtesy of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, LA