Like many startups, when my company was in the early stages, we were hungry for clients, so we eagerly took any job that came our way. We soon discovered, however, that taking on every client could get us in trouble. In those days, many a job ended up costing us more money than we made. Sound familiar?
Fortunately, I’ve learned a lot since then. If you’re looking to land better, more profitable and higher-paying customers, here are five tips that can help:
- Get yourself out there. Networking has been the number-one way my business finds clients. I meet people at events, make plans for a quick coffee, follow up with a phone call or email, and even if I don’t make a new client out of that person right away, I at least got in their head--which often leads to business down the road. Plus, having some real back-and-forth gives me a sense of whether the person is really sincere, or just blowing smoke.
- Reach out for referrals. Whether it’s a previous client’s referral or someone knows someone who knows someone, referrals rule for many reasons. First, it usually means you know someone who has worked with the person, which helps you sort out the deadbeats. Second, it saves you time and money, because you’ve got a qualified lead (or, if you’re really lucky, the referral picks up the phone and calls you).
- Be social. Another way I’ve found awesome clients is through social media. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, LinkedIn…I participate in them all. Yes, it takes up a big part of my day, but it’s worth it. If you don’t have the time to handle social media yourself, make sure someone on your staff is managing this important marketing tool.
- Set clear expectations. Once you’ve acquired a new client, make sure you both know exactly what is expected on both sides. A legal contract or a Statement of Work both parties have signed can help you later if there are misunderstandings. Misunderstandings are costly, especially for a small business, so be sure you spell out exactly what you will deliver--nothing more, nothing less.
- Learn to say no. Finally, sometimes you’re just going to have to stand your ground and say no to certain nightmare clients. You may need the money, but if a job is going to end up costing you too much time (time you could spend acquiring better clients) or too much money (money you could be spending on things your business needs), saying no is your best option.
For more ideas on how to find better customers, make an appointment with a local SCORE mentor. Face-to-face time with a pro never hurts.