I found myself writing a longer-than-usual response to a request for advice recently. I’ve only done this a few times in my life and it’s usually when someone asks a really smart question that deserves an answer.
I’ve turned my response into some tips you might find useful if you’re starting a business or know what you’re going to do but need to find your first paying client. Almost all of the clever stuff comes from other people – but these are very select personal recommendations from across the five business I’ve started, so think of it as meta-curation if you like.
1. Work out your business model
I would take a good hard look at decent business start up books to help you understand your business model and what you’re selling that’s of value. One of the only books I’ve read on business is this one http://www.amazon.co.uk/Business-Model-Generation-Visionaries-Challengers/dp/0470876417
2. Start selling sooner rather than later
Assuming you’ve worked out what you’re doing and who for, it’s time to start selling.
The most powerful technology I’ve found in growing business is Linkedin. A few quid a month extra buys you the ability to get better search, and contact people directly who aren’t in your network. Throughout the five businesses I’ve started, Linkedin has been the single most valuable channel for business development.
You can’t feed a machine with thin air, and for me networking fuelled the Linkedin machine. This will always be easier if you know why you’re doing what you’re doing (see http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.html) even if you’re networking in relatively generic environment. At the beginning of my career it was local Chamber of Commerce, BNI and other small business networking events that got me started – I discovered the more focused, relevant events in time, for example industry specific ones. However even now my networking skills help me get leverage. If you have a big client then you can even network within that client. Nowadays I promote myself on the international speaker circuit which earns me money as well as boosting my network and delivering exciting opportunities for whatever I’m working on (currently https://dropletpay.com). There are always people in the speakers’ room that would make for fantastic contacts so it never really stops.
Below are the slides from a seminar I did recently on the power of networks. It was aimed at people’s individual personal development but exactly the same approach applies to company business development and you are selling yourself for a large part of the process before you get on to talking about whatever you’re going to do for someone.
4. Try writing useful stuff
Content marketing cost very little, yet publishing stuff online that’s useful, interesting or entertaining and that people will want to watch or read and share is a powerful way to boost your reputation. If budget allows, then running your own seminars to teach people something cool or powerful they can do for themselves is a more concentrated form of this. If you’re aiming high up the organisational structure you might need to throw in a dinner in order to get interesting people and potential customers together.
5. Get some customers before you start spending lots of money
Try wherever possible to do things that don’t cost very much money. When I worked in a restaurant the owner taught me a valuable lesson (amongst many less valuable ones): in most businesses every £1 you spend has got to generate £10 of sales.