Thank you so much for all of your offerings through the Success Store! Getting my company planned and put together has been much easier thanks to you than it might have been. I just need some clarification:
- How exactly do referrals work? I am giving a two-hour free referral bonus to any client who refers another paying client. What do you think of that idea?
- What marketing tools have you found the most effective? I am on unemployment which is not enough to make ends meet, and I have had to get things for my business by raiding my grocery money (maxed out credit). I am trying to get a micro-business loan, but have not done so yet. Are online directories and search engines the way to go?
- How did you find your industries small prospects for sales calls? Do we have to worry about “Do Not Call” lists if someone uses one phone number for everything? How much “cold calling” did you do to get started?
- About your website screening intake form: I could not find your business website, nor could I find anything in the store about an intake form. Is there another resource or should I just pull together my own and tweak it through experience?
- If a client asks for a particularly dicey project that I am not sure I can handle, how do I address that without looking incompetent, undersupplied technologically, or setting myself up to fail?
I apologize if you have already addressed these issues. Thanks for your help! –AJ
Whew! I’ll do my best to answer these and keep ’em short and sweet…
1. How do referrals work and what about giving a referral bonus?
A referral is when someone (could be a client, could be a colleague, could be a business associate… anyone) refers/recommends/tells someone about your business.
What do I personally think about paying people to refer you? I don’t advise it.
Let referrals come organically through the good will and high esteem you generate from doing good work. Those recommendations and referrals will carry far greater weight because of it.
Plus, keeping track of referrals and rewards just creates another needless task and complication in your administration that you don’t need.
Here are a couple blog posts that expand on this topic that I think you’ll find helpful:
Dear Danielle: How Do I Advertise for Referral Partners?
Tips for Harnessing the Power of Referrals
2. What marketing methods are most effective? Are online directories and search engines the way to go?
It doesn’t hurt to be in directories, but you don’t need them.
And SEO is the least effective way your most ideal, qualified client prospects will find you. It’s not the thing to waste your time focusing on right now at this stage of your start up.
Your best leads will always come from your own incoming marketing pipelines. And how do you do that?
In our business (as it is with most professional service-based businesses), networking is hands-down the most effective marketing strategy.
Not ads. Not cold-calling. Not direct mail.
The great thing about networking is that it doesn’t cost anything but your time. And that’s not a cost, it’s an investment because those efforts will ultimately pay with new clients and prospects.
The reason networking is so effective is because people look to work with those with whom they have established some kind of relationship and feel some kind of rapport.
Every opportunity you have that lets a group of people get to know, like and trust you is going to make it that much easier for you to attract clients.
Of course, the key to networking successfully starts with a target market. Otherwise, you’ll wear yourself out networking anywhere willy nilly.
Be sure you download the free ACA guide on How to Choose Your Target Market, which elaborates a bit more on what a target market is and how it will make growing your business and getting clients much faster and easier.
3. What cold calling did you do to get started and how did you find prospects for sales calls?
None. I didn’t look for any.
I never did cold calling and I don’t advise you do either.
People don’t like to be sold to; it’s completely the wrong strategy.
Professional services are a bigger ticket item and requires more relationship building and nurturing than that.
Sure, you might hear some people say they got this client or that project all from a sales call. But those are the exceptions, not the rule.
I can just about guarantee you don’t have the kind of money and energy to ever make cold calling a worthwhile ROI.
Even if you get one project, it isn’t going to come close to covering all the time, energy and effort you put into getting it.
And think about it. Do you really think you can keep putting in that kind of work just to get one or two nickel-and-dime projects? You need bigger money and bigger clients to stay in business and be profitable.
There are MUCH better, faster, more effective strategies for getting clients, one of which is deciding on a target market to focus on and then getting involved with that industry in every way you can (online forums, business groups, events, etc.). The more you interact, the more they get to know, like and trust you.
4. Is there a resource for an online intake/consultation request form?
If I’m understanding your question, I think you are referring to an online form you have clients fill out to request a consultation.
Having a form like this on your website will help screen and prequalify prospects.
By asking a few simple questions, this form can help you determine what stage of readiness a potential client is at, whether or not they are in your target market, and whether they can afford your services.
Depending on the questions you ask and how they fill out your online consultation form (which has the dual underlying purpose of helping prequalify clients), this can tell you what level of priority or attention to give a potential client or whether to guide them to further information on your website to learn more before moving on in the process.
For example, if someone is only “browsing,” you may not want to waste your limited time and effort on a consultation. You may instead want to send them to a white paper you have prepared for these kind of instances, and invite them to subscribe to your blog or ezine.
Many clients are not ready to work with us immediately so it’s all a process.
Here is a blog post that talks more about how the consult form can act a prequalifier: One Way to Sort the Ideal form the Unideal.
As far as a resource, I recommend you get my Client Consultation guide. Not only does it give you usuable examples of an online intake/consultation form and questions you may want to ask, it will walk you through the entire consultation process from start to finish: from targeting clients, identifying your ideal client profile, prequalifying clients, how to conduct the actual consultation conversation and what questions to ask, how to follow-up afterward and what the next steps are once you take on a new client. It’s VERY thorough!
5. How do I handle a request for something I don’t know how to do (or do well)?
First, you have to distinguish what kind of business you are in.
Are you in the secretarial business where you’re simply doing one-off, transactional, piecemeal project work?
Or are you in the business of administrative support?
Because the two are completely different business models.
Once you answer that question, it will help answer subsequent questions about what kind of client needs that work, what work is entailed and so forth.
When you know what you do and who you do it for, and educate clients accordingly, this kind of thing isn’t as much of an issue.
However, let’s say you are in the administrative support business and the client asks if you do X thing.
Honesty is always best so tell them if it isn’t something you know how to do or that you have limited experience/knowledge with it.
That said, you can always let them know that you are willing to learn how to do it (IF you are interested in doing so, that is).
Or, you might look at this project or work and think to yourself: You know, this really doesn’t fall under administrative support at all and isn’t what I’m in business to do. They really need to be working with someone who is in the X business.
In that case, you might offer to help them locate the proper professional who IS in business to do that thing.
Or, in yet another example, perhaps you have a separate division in your company that does this thing, in which case you would take them through those separate processes for intaking that kind of work or project and charge them separately for it.
You have to always remember that administrative support is not a catchall term for “anything and everything.”
Just because a client asks doesn’t mean you’re supposed to comply. They need educating.
If you were a plumber and someone asked you to fix their car, that wouldn’t make any sense, right?
And you’d inform them very simply and helpfully that what they need is an auto mechanic, not a plumber.
Same thing here.
YOU have to decide what administrative support consists of in your business and what doesn’t.
When you have that clarity yourself, you shouldn’t have any qualms about letting clients know when something doesn’t fall under the umbrella of your support.
Always be clear and upfront with clients about what’s what in your business. You’re not going to look bad in any way for not taking on or knowing how to do something or needing to refer them to another kind of professional entirely when that’s the case.
The only time you will look bad and create ill will is by not being honest and straightforward.
I hope that helps! Let me know if you questions on any of this.