Setting up your own business or going freelance can be tricky. You’re skilled in the service you offer or have excellent products but how do convince people to buy them? Here are my top five pieces of advice.
1. Stop trying to sell
First, get your head straight: you are not “selling to” people. You are offering a solution to people’s wants and needs. It might be one of many solutions on offer to them- and remember, do nothing is always an option for people. They will choose if your product or service is right for them. You have to help them understand what you’re selling and why it is probably right for them. But only they will make that decision. Not you.
Understanding and accepting that you are helping people make a decision is different to “selling to them”. It will change how you see your products and services and how you communicate with prospective customers.
2. Accept it takes time
It will take time for people to buy from you. Ever seen this?
It’s called the Buying Process. It’s based on human psychology. You cannot shortcut it. The length of time it takes a person to go through this process depends on many things. Some of these include:
- how risky they think it is to purchase from you
- how much money they are spending (the more money for them, the longer the process)
- how it affects their self-perception and how others think of them.
If you are selling quick, cheap (for your customers), risk-free if the purchase goes wrong impulse buy goods, then you can expect people to whizz through the Buying Process – after all, what have they got to lose? A few quid.
If them making the wrong decision has a big impact on them (angry boss, angry partner, loss of face, loss of savings etc.) then it will take them longer to choose you.
Trying to push people through the Buying Process any faster than the pace they want to go through will backfire. None of us like to be rushed. And even if they do purchase in a rush, they will probably experience post-purchase dissonance- Buyer’s Remorse – so don’t expect to get repeat business or referrals too quickly.
It takes time for people to choose you – accept that and work with their timing.
3. If you aren’t focused, make it work for you
When I ask the question, “Who are your services for?” many start-ups say, “Anyone who will buy them!”
Okay, the strategic marketer in me winces at that but as someone who has been running her own business for over 10 years, I get it. I was there. I just needed to make some money, so I followed any lead, even when I wasn’t that keen on doing the work.
So, here’s my advice if you are in that situation: if you truly don’t yet know how you want to position yourself in the market, then, yes, follow those leads and sniff around. But put a time limit on it.
Say, “I’ll do this for one year and then by the end of that year, I’ll know where I want to focus, who I really want/need as customers.” Because if you don’t limit it, you could end up doing all kinds of work, then getting known for that work, then finding it hard to break into what you really want to do (read Bryony Thomas’ book, Watertight Marketing, Chapter 11 about “The Wrong Kind of Work” for more on that).
If you know that this is an “experimental phase”, then you can keep asking yourself the question, “Is this what I want to do be doing? Are these the right clients for me? Am I the right person for them?”. By the end of the year, you’ll then know who you the segments are you wish to focus on.
4. Top-load your Awareness marketing but…
Your business is new. People do not know you exist. They have to become aware of you before they even enter the rest of the Buying Process. However, they have to see you around a lot both physically and virtually.
It’s simple – if you are not “there” consistently they will forget you. They have other stuff on. You are not important to them.
If you are not there consistently, they will feel less able to trust you. Would you trust someone you met once at a meeting? Saw them pop up on LinkedIn a couple of times, then disappear?
It’s the same whatever your business is – online shops, restaurants, professional services – whatever you are offering, people want to see that you are around, you are still in place, and still looking stable and good. Once you feel “familiar”, then they will start to move towards the Interest stage.
Oh, and a final thing about the “Awareness”stage for start-ups – until you are at the “word of mouth” stage, where others will mention you in your absence and help you, “Be there”, you will have to do a lot of the leg-work yourself. Sorry. Enjoy all those coffees though!
5. … make sure you have the rest of the steps ready
Great that you attend networking events, business expos and have a good social media presence. Everyone is getting used to seeing you around. You’re starting to enter their periphery vision but…do you have the next step ready?
What have you got in place for them when they start to take an Interest in what you do? How can they evaluate you? Can they try your product or service? How do you greet them when they become a customer? And what’s in place to keep in touch with them regularly?
Make sure you have something in place at every stage of the Buying Process, the next stepping stone for your customers on their journey.
It doesn’t have to be amazing and perfect – you just need to have something there.
Once you have been up and running a while, then go back and start tweaking what you have in place, improving it based on how prospective clients and clients reacted to it.
Sure, to start, you might lose a few people out the Buying Process because your stepping stones aren’t perfect for them but if you have no stepping stones at all, you will definitely lose them.
Starting up your own business is a brave thing to do. It takes hard work, patience, grit and determination. Be kind to yourself in that first year – accept that it will be difficult and that you are finding your feet. Enjoy it and make sure you assess every experience so you can learn and make it better.
By Kara Stanford, Strategic Marketing Consultant
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