"According to research, self-employed people work harder, earn the same (or less initially), and are more stressed – but have the most job satisfaction by far, and are the happiest people.” – Fresh Living Magazine
I remember reading the above shortly before I resigned from my full time job, and dived into the abyss of the unknown. That was four years ago. I also remember being told from another business owner that the hardest decision is resigning from your full time job. If you can do that, you can do anything. As time has passed on, I do think I have grown a bit more daring and with each new decision I need to make; I’m a little braver, and a little wiser. But the fire that ignited it all was the birth of my precious son, Ethan. After my baby was born I thought about how I no longer wanted to be “owned” for nine hours a day, and my heart ached having to leave my precious boy at the tender age of 11 weeks old to return to my management role. The ambition to be more available, able to provide him with more, and potentially build a legacy to leave to him was all the motivation I needed to start my psychometric consultancy, Holistan. Since my business was conceived, I have never looked back. Don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly not easy. According to Absa Small Business, 62% of small businesses fail within the first two years. Those are scary stats. But for the 38% who do survive, it can be very rewarding. Here are my TOP TIPS if you have taken the leap…or at least seriously considering it!
Tip #1: Do not underestimate the power of Marketing
In my line of work, a large proportion of what I do is intangible. For example, coaching clients may take an hour of my time, but my client doesn’t leave with something they can hold. If you are in any form of consultancy business (and even if you do sell products), it’s imperative that what IS tangible, you ensure its branded! In other words, your invoice, branding, the look and feel of your website, your pricelist – those are all things a person can see and potentially hold (if they print it out). Make sure your branding captures who your business is. Secondly (and I have learned this from the corporate environment), ensure that your branding is consistent. That means that the font you decide to use is applied to your invoices, the emails you send right through to the reports you compile for clients.
Tip #2: Build credibility
This ties into Marketing, but building your credibility and reputation is imperative for growth. Content Marketing is said to be the way of the future – and I absolutely believe it. Look at any successful business, and you’ll find they invest time, energy and money into providing quality content related to their business (over and above paid for advertising). Content marketing is also great as it helps you get found on Google – but make sure you are posting your content to appropriate platforms (such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Google +, Twitter, Instragram , etc.).
The best way to share content is by blogging and /or sending out newsletters. And it’s not as difficult as you may think. This very email is sent using MailChimp (free for less than 2000 subscribers), and I have a blog section on my website (hosted through Weebly). Again – consistency here is key. Whether you decide to blog once a week or once a month, set a date or a deadline each month, and stick to it!
Tip #3: Social Media is a must
Gone are the days that social media is used to socialise online or play games. I’m sure you will agree there has been such an incredible shift in the faith we put in social media. For example, I am part of a group on Facebook called Mamahood Gauteng which is really a platform that allows you to discuss just about anything. I have found (myself included) that mommies rely heavily on the recommendations made from other mommies – whether it is which restaurant to eat at, what lotion to use to prevent mosquito bites, right through to who to use to bake their little one’s birthday cake. Just the other day someone was asking about psychometrics and a lady I am not even friends with on FB recommended me!
Like blogging, your social media activity needs to be consistent too. Because I am in a service industry, what I do EVERY SINGLE DAY is post inspirational quotations related to the work context. Although I don’t see tangible items, I realise that pictures are more captivating, so I always create social media images by inserting quotations onto beautiful imagery. I personally use Canva as it’s quick, free and easy to use (and you can create bucket loads of other really cool marketing materials). However, don’t forget that you cannot use any old image you swiped off Google; you need to have permission to use images. Check out https://unsplash.com/ for incredible FREE images.
I do alternative these posts with links to interesting articles, photos of my team or anything else I feel my audience may find interesting. And did I mention… I do it EVERY SINGLE DAY (PS: You can schedule posts on some platforms, such as FB).
Tip #4: Business premises
Whatever line of business you are in, I am sure you’ll agree that a business space is imperative. I always used to daydream of my home office when I was employed full time. Unfortunately, with my type of work, it’s not very professional to see clients in my home (this is different if you have a completely separate office and even entrance into your workspace – and of course – the type of work you do. I, however, live in a duplex).
When I started out, I did not have the funds to pay for an office space that may very well sit empty most of the time, at least in the beginning. Enter... virtual office space! It’s such a phenomenal concept that works so well for me and where I am at with my business. Different providers will offer different plans, but in my case, I pay a small monthly fee to have access to a dedicated landline number, a receptionist who answers my calls in my company’s name (and simply puts the potential client through to my mobile), full use of a common workspace area, Wi-Fi, access to hot beverages, secure parking, and absolutely stunning facilities. These surroundings create exactly the professional image I want to convey. When I do need to conduct private client meetings, I simply book a day office or the boardroom at an additional fee. Thus, I am only paying for what I use, which is a real lifesaver during those quiet months. What’s more, I actually PREFER going to my virtual office and sitting in the common area to work. You see, at home, there is the temptation to do the dishes, watch a show whilst eating lunch, answer the door bell (whether it’s a delivery for someone else, the municipality coming to read the meters, etc.). And BONUS! If I am travelling or need to get one of my associate to assess a client anywhere in the country (or in fact anywhere in the world) I simply log onto my online portal and book an office! Voila!
PS: I personally use Regus, but there are loads of other virtual offices spaces, for example: Slow in the City, Open in Maboneng, the Common Room in Parkhurst, etc.
Tip #5: Building a Client Base
What’s so important for us Entrepreneurs is to realise is that not EVERYONE is your client. Once you establish WHO your client is, you also need to dig further and ask yourself who you WANT to do business with. When deciding who is your “perfect client”, you need to ask yourself the following questions: What is the size of their business? What type of industry are they in? Where are geographically situated? What are they buying from me? Do I have the capacity to sell to them? How much would they spend with you? How often would they buy from you? How would they pay you? Are they traditionally or digitally inclined? Etc. The aim of having this profile is making sure you focus on the RIGHT opportunities, and park the ones that aren’t right for now.
Tip #6: Meeting your clients – Cold Calling
When was the last time someone called you to try and sell you a new cell phone contract? Or funeral cover? Or Insurance on your car? Annoying right…? But think of it this way, if they keep calling, there MUST be some fool (I say that tongue in cheek) who signed up, right?
Cold calling is big business. I know what you’re thinking, and before you skim through what I have to say, just humour me and read on. Consider this statistic: For every 10 calls you make, you’ll get one meeting. For every 10 meetings you attend, you’ll sign up one client. For every 10 clients you sign up, you’ll get repeat business from one client. And for every 10 clients who bring repeat business, 1 will be the IDEAL client in that they pay on time, are a pleasure to work with, etc. That’s 1000 CALLS FOR 1 IDEAL CLIENT! Sounds scary…but the moral of the story here is that cold calling actually works. The trick is to not try and actually make a sale over the phone – all you want (industry dependant) is a meeting. Because in today’s day and age, business is based on relationships. So if you don’t get that meeting from that call, you’re out. So how do you get the meeting? You have got to ensure you have a script (don’t learn it off by heart, but know what answer to have ready for each rebuttal).
Tip #7 Meeting your clients by doing ANYTHING except cold-calling
Right. I get it. You hate cold calling. Can I tell you a secret? Shhh… lean in close. I hate it too. Jokes aside, I cringe when dialling the number and PRAY that no one picks up. So what alternatives are there to GUARENTEE a meeting with a prospective client? Enter… (drum roll please) the Marketing Desk Drop. This is a client gift which can be pretty inexpensive, to capture your client’s attention, and secure that meeting!
For example, I attended a business breakfast, and an Estate Agent did a talk on her own business. Her approach was awarding a gift of wine glass charms to every new home owner she sold a house to. The rationale was that when the new home owners had guests over to show off their new space, they would serve wine, attach the wine charms to the glasses to tell who’s glass is who’s. Should anyone remark on how nifty these little accessories are, the hosts would tell their guests about their fabulous estate agent!
Now I’m going to let you in on MY personal marketing desk drop. Picture this: you receive a black gift bag, wrapped beautifully with ribbon (in my company colours). You open the bag to pull out a black box, and on the lid you read “All I need is 20 minutes of your time…” and you peer further down “to tell you about our Psychometric Assessment Offering. We’ll be in touch. www.holistan.com”. When you open the box, you find a beautiful ornament resting in satin: a 20 minute hour glass to place on your desk. Once delivered (give it about 24 hours or so) I call the prospective client and ask them if they like their gift. Usually caught quite off guard, they sheepishly thank me for the gift, to which I respond, “great, when can we meet?” and before you let them answer, you GIVE THEM A DATE AND TIME, “How’s Thursday at 10:00?”
Don’t give them a chance to decline. I promise you… it works EVERY TIME.
Tip #8 I’ve got the meeting with a prospective client… NOW WHAT??
It appears to be the default approach of new business owners to meet with a prospective client, tell them all about how amazing your company is and what you can do for them (kudos for the passion shown) but you’ve just given Mr. Client 100 reasons to tell you WHY he does not need your service right now… or ever.
This may sound counter-intuitive, but you need to go into the meeting and do as LITTLE talking as possible. Prepare questions you may want to ask Mr. Client, but keep him talking. People LOVE talking about themselves and the phenomenal work they have done in the business. RECOGNISE his efforts, commend his work and stroke his ego. Once you have gathered all you need to know, you can quickly tell him WHY he absolutely needs to do business with you. Remember, you are the itch to his current scratch. Come up with a solution to make all his problems go away…
But remember, never over promise and under deliver. For obvious reasons: it will damage the relationship, and jeopardise your reputation. Rather double the time you need to execute a project, and if he asks you for a price, tell him you will draw up a quotation and send it to him after the meeting. Do not risk underquoting verbally, and then resent doing the actual work as you sold yourself off too cheaply.
Tip #9 How to price?
I attended a talk once where the speaker (a male) said his wife had sent him to the grocery store to purchase Kitchen Cleaner (amongst other things). When he got to the cleaning isle, he stood in front of about 10 different brands of Kitchen Cleaner. He looked at the No Name brand (which was the cheapest) and thought “She’ll ring my neck if I buy some cheap crap that doesn’t work” and then he scanned over the prices, identifying the product that was three times as much as the No Name brand and thought “Geez at that price that Kitchen Cleaner better strip paint”. So, in order to be on the safe side, he chose the middle of the range detergent. This phenomenon is known as the “Goldilocks principle”. Remember how Goldilocks chose the porridge, chair and bed that was not too hot, not too cold, but juuuust right?
The rule of thumb is when assigning prices to your services or products, never EVER get into a price war. At the very least, be the average price, but NEVER the cheapest. Keep in mind too that ATLEAST half your time spent doing anything related to your business will be billable hours. That means 50% of your time you will essentially be working for ‘free’.
Say NO to clients who cannot afford you. If you are trying to sell your value to others, you have to recognise that value first, and in doing so, only accepting work that is truly worth your while. You are communicating a very important message by accepting and rejecting certain work.
In terms of discounts… it’s not bad to be flexible and willing to negotiate. In fact, it’s said that if a person accepts the first offer someone makes them, you are robbing the negotiator the joy she gains from the art of negotiation. Saying that, however, discounts should not be handed out. If you are asked for a discount, always ensure you get something in return, whether it be a payment in full for a percentage off, offering more discount the larger the volume of work, etc.
Tip #10: Being an effective salesperson
Whether you like it or not, having your own business (at least when you are starting out), you are immediately awarded the role of salesperson. The very thought of anyone in sales is enough to conjure up an image of overly slick, cheating, lying, enticing, cheesy salesman. Well, that at least what comes to mind for me.
I hate the typical notion of sales – perhaps because when I was in my early twenties, I worked as an instore announcer / saleswoman whilst studying, and was responsible for selling pallets of stock (everything from drills to garden pots). Arg, I shudder at the thought.
The good… scrap that, the GREAT news is that you don’t need to apply a “hard sales” approach like I did when selling angle-grinders. We’ve moved into an era that is referred to as the Emotion Economy, where customers and clients are no longer seeking the fastest service or cheapest product. Do yourself a favour, and think about the grocery store you do most of your shopping at. Is it the closest supermarket to your home? Is it the cheapest? Maybe it is both, but if you walked in and were met with filthy floor, rude staff, and a bad smell, would you continue shopping there? Of course not! As consumers, we are spoilt for choice. We choose where to shop based on the entire experience we encounter, as well as how competitive the offering is, and how convenient it is to get to. Think about where you have your hair done or which restaurant you frequent. The point is that clients will keep returning if they feel you:
1. Appear trustworthy & honest
2. Make them feel special
3. Provide tailored services to their needs
4. Take social responsibility seriously
5. Treat your clients like human beings, not biological machines
I think we have the amazing opportunity to start just about any business we can conceive! Sure enough, if you choose to go into professional services like me, you need to have the relevant qualifications and registrations. But honestly, if you can think it, you can do it. I have seen an incredible surge of growth in SME’s; client’s that have used my services are “kids” in their 20s demonstrating the most incredible growth year on year – even during these “tough times”. If you have the passion to love what you do at least most of the time (because there will be months that you are working with no pay cheque in return), have the motivation to get up each time you’re knocked down, the palate for the imminent ups and downs, then self-employment or owning your own business is a decision you won’t regret.
Remember that people will naturally gravitate toward your passion and enthusiasm as they will see the love you display for what you do. If you can, find a mentor to support and encourage you to keep on keeping on. Never stop learning, and never give up. All the best!
PS: I owe a lot of my learnings from my incredible business coach Brent Spilkin, a.k.a Spillly. To see his work or to get in touch with him, visit http://www.growingpains.biz/
By Marzenna Almendro, Director of Holistan
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