Running a small business is hard. There are many obstacles that must be overcome. One of the most difficult challenges to figure out, especially for the novice entrepreneur, is how to get clients. Without a doubt, it’s one my students most often asked questions. Every potential business owner realizes the importance of acquiring clientele, but most of us are dumbfounded when it comes to figuring out how to make our wishes a reality.
Reality hits us in the face
The odds are that every one of our potential customers, the ones we wish would start utilizing our services, already have someone to fill that void in their business life. They’ve already got someone who offers a service that’s remarkably similar to the one we’re hoping to provide.
The stark reality of the situation is that we’ve got competition for clients before we even open the doors of our new business. Unless you’re inventing a brand-new industry, one that’s never existed before, there’s already more than enough (insert your chosen profession here; home inspectors, for example) in the world. The market is already saturated. Your competition is already out there. The number of rival business owners is already overwhelming.
With the odds stacked against your success, what’s a new business owner to do?
While it’s certainly a monumental challenge to figure out how to wedge yourself into an already overcrowded field, it’s not impossible. New businesses open every day, in every industry. While many of them fail before they really have a chance at success, the fact remains, some of them do eventually find success. A few new businesses figure out how to garner those customers; how to beat the odds and make a name for themselves in an already oversaturated marketplace.
Don’t get too discouraged. Some new businesses are successful.
The secret sauce
So, what’s their secret? Why do some start-ups make it to the big time while others languish on the sidelines? What have those successful business owners figured out that all the others failed to see? Is there some covert trick these business owners have, that’s available only to a select few individuals, the ones that know the secret handshake? How do we not only get someone to use our services, but more importantly, how do we become someone’s favorite? What do we have to do to become their go-to guy or gal?
Many business owners think the trick is to stand out from the crowd; to do or offer something that’s different from their competition. While there’s no denying that it’s important to be able to distinguish your business from your rivals, just being different isn’t enough. Remember, there’s a new entry into your space every single day. A new start up to contend with; a new challenger for those customers; a new rival for the attention of those consumers.
And you can be certain, whatever new, different and exciting thing you discovered to get your foot in the door won’t remain new, different and exciting for long. When something works, it’s soon copied (and improved upon) by every one of your rivals. Your gimmick won’t remain exclusive for long.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.Charles Caleb Colton
A foot in the door
Now, don’t get me wrong. Being different from your competition is certainly important. Different gets the phone to ring; different gets you in the door, but what you do once you’re inside the door is much more important to your long-term success. Obviously, having a high-quality product is important, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. Your business won’t flourish just because you have a great product. There’s plenty of failed businesses who’ve had a wonderful product. And there are many successful competitors out there whose product, to put it bluntly, sucks compared to yours.
How do these businesses, who are clearly producing an inferior product, remain productive, even highly successful, in what’s obviously a very competitive marketplace? What do these businesses have that you don’t?
The answer can be summed up in one simple word: relationships.
The importance of developing relationships with your customers cannot be overstated, but it’s a part of the marketing equation that’s most often overlooked by struggling business owners. Developing a bond with your clients is the linchpin between success and failure in any industry. Unfortunately, it’s also the part of your business that’s the most difficult to develop.
Build it and they will come
Building relationships takes time, a lot of time. Developing trust between two people who are (initially) strangers isn’t something that’s going to happen overnight. Just because you walk into someone’s office, hand them a business card and a chocolate-covered donut and ask them to use your company doesn’t mean that it’s gonna happen anytime soon.
Unless you’re a contestant on some kind of crazy reality TV show, you don’t expect to ask someone to marry you on your first date. You need to take time to get to know each other before you start making long-term plans. Business relationships evolve the same way. Take time to get to know each other; find out if you’re compatible. Make sure that this new person in your (business) life is still going to be around a few months from now. And make sure that they’re not secretly a serial killer, just waiting to get you away from all those witnesses…
Lending a helping hand
So, what can we do during this waiting period to help this new relationship grow to maturity? Are there any steps we can take to help this process along? Obviously, just being present is one of the most important things you can do. Don’t start pouting because your potential clients don’t jump at the chance to utilize your amazing services the first time that they meet you. Slow and steady doesn’t sound sexy, but it does win the race.
Just being present, letting them know that you’re there if they need you, can help to develop a level of trust between you. Let them know that you’re interested in a long-term relationship, not simply looking for a one-night stand.
But even more importantly, always be there to offer your help. When they need something, no matter how small, offer your assistance. Do something thoughtful. Provide your expertise. Give of yourself without expecting something in return. Show that you’re someone who’s looking to make them more successful, not just someone who sees them as the path to a paycheck.
Lead with service
Some of the most successful entrepreneurs I know lead with service. They started their businesses by giving freely of themselves, putting their knowledge and expertise out there for the benefit of their audience, and asking nothing in return. By developing relationships with their followers, by developing a tribe, by coming from a place of charity and not focusing on profit, they were able to amass a thankful and dedicated following. Then, once they did have a product to sell or a service to offer, their followers were more than happy to show their thanks by supporting their ventures.
Building a successful business is challenging. Creating a business that will stand the test of time, and remain productive in the process, is even more difficult. The only way we’ll achieve real and long-lasting success is by creating meaningful relationships with those people that we wish to serve.
Take a moment to do something nice for someone you appreciate. You may discover that the long-term benefits outweigh any short-term inconvenience you experience. And you’ll likely be happier (and more busy) as a result.
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