A friend of mine has a very successful small business selling high value services to a small group of clients from diverse backgrounds. He does not want to be the next IPO, or employ hundreds, or even tens of people, just a couple to keep the business growing manageably, by delivering a superior and personal service to his clients, and a resulting comfortable living for him and his family.
However, the market he is in is very competitive, highly regulated, and subject to forces outside his control, so how does he grow in these circumstances?.
It is a classic case of needing a pipeline of prospects that convert to clients over time as a purchase looms, but having a limited key resource, his time, prospects need to be pre-qualified in some way, before they consume much of his time.
There is lots of advice around, free on the web and from all sorts of program managers and consultants that can cost a lot of money. By its nature, this generic advice can be conflicting, confusing, and presenting management challenges beyond the scope of capability for SME’s, so the opportunities are missed.
The standard advice generally includes a menu of :
Get a website
Get onto social media
Purchase ads on various Social media platforms
Employ analytics to A/B test various approaches.
Actively manage your landing page
There is a lot more, but those are the common bits in the mix, and as far as it goes, is reasonably on the money, but the generic advice pays no account of the specific circumstances of any business, and the commercial and private objectives of those who own it.
A pretty common failing of generic advice.
Over a coffee, I suggested a simple, and easily managed program which he is implementing, with early success:
- He got himself a website, but rather than paying a someone he does not know a motza to do it, he used one of the free site builders, Squarespace, and had a very creditable site up in about 8 hours. He could have used weebly which is my preference, and the one I use and supply to my clients, but the point is that it is relatively easy for anyone with some level of digital awareness and familiarity to do themselves at minimal cost.
- Continue the efforts to build lasting relationships with existing customers. The program he has used to date is fairly simple, but innovative in his market. To date this appears to have been successful, so he needs to build on it.
- Given his existing customers are all very happy with the service provided, he needs to be marketing to them as a source of referrals, rather than going out onto various digital platforms trying to conjure up leads. Any one referral from a current satisfied client of somebody who could use his services, is worth a thousand hits on a social media platform.” Market to current clients for leads” was my advice to him. The service he has given to existing clients implicitly enables him to ask them, and perhaps reward them in some way for leads they qualify as people he should be talking to.
- Write a list of the 20 most asked questions ,and then answer them, in detail, from several perspectives, in blog posts over a period of a couple of months. Do a series that engages, perhaps “Most often asked question by those buying……” Followed by the “Second most asked question…… And so on, with links back to previous questions. This is a technique made prominent by Marcus Sheridan and it works. As an aside, I am a little annoyed with Marcus, as he has very successfully put a strategy that has worked for me in the past out into the public domain, and made a business of it, although answering client questions seems a pretty obvious strategy to me.
- Ensure there is a data capture capability enabled. This can be a simple as a “cut & paste” of information from a contact form to highly sophisticated and automated CRM systems. At a simple level, there are free and low cost tools like Mailchimp and Aweber that can work well as email marketing platforms.
- Measure and refine his efforts using the free analytics, and tools from Google. The range of tools Google offers to assist is amazing, but so long as you recognise that they are serving their best interests by maximising your effectiveness, and they track and use everything you do, you can become very effective relatively easily. This can become data intensive, but at a simple level there is vital and actionable information available. If you track nothing else, track the level and type of “conversions” of visitors, and returning visitors to your various platforms, and build on them. A conversion is simply a step taken along a path you have laid out that can lead to a transaction.
- Recognise that digital effectiveness is these days, is just a cost of doing business. The challenge is to mould the myriad of possibilities and opportunities available to your own objectives, circumstances, capabilities, and capacity to manage change, avoiding the snake-oil on the way through. Sounds a bit like any other management task to me.