Recently I've been exploring innovative new ways to expand my offline consulting biz, and I've came across a few methods that have attracted a ton of new clients for my business.
First off, you need to automate absolutely everything you can. This is nothing new to most people here on the forum, but I still think it needs to be touched on.
There are 3 main areas that you need to look at when you are trying to automate your business - these areas are:
- Obtaining Clients
- Working with Clients / providing the service
- Following up with Clients
First up is obtaining clients. There are many, many ways to do this; so I'll try to provide as many as possible. Remember, you ideally want to automate as much of this as you can, so that you can expand effectively.
1.) Obtaining Clients
One of my favorite ways to do this is to hire a commission-only sales force. This means that you are hiring "independent contractors" that will go out and visit businesses for you, and you only pay them when they make a sale. This is important, because it means that you are only paying these people if they bring in profit for you. There are no real costs involved, because you can pay them out of the profit they bring in.
This is far less risky than hiring and training actual employees that you pay by the hour, who might not even bring in a single sale. My favorite way to obtain these sales people are through Craigslist and local college campuses; however feel free to use your imagination here. I currently have 16 commission-only sales people working for me, and I'm constantly trying to obtain more. The great part is they work all over the country, because you can keep in touch and train them via phone and e-mail exclusively.
Another great way to obtain clients is by hiring a telemarketing firm via Elance. I've done this with great success, and it completely automates my telemarketing/cold-calling process. You can expect to pay a quality firm $10/hour for their telemarketing services, but it is a drop in the bucket compared to the profit you will bring in. I usually have the telemarketers contact businesses in my area; and notify me when they schedule an appointment. I then visit with the business owner face-to-face, and close the sale.
On average (and this varies according to a number of different factors), the telemarketing firm I use obtains 1 appointment every 3 hours of calling or so. From there, I usually convert about 40-50% of those appointments into paying customers. That equals out to $60-$75 per paying client, a cost that I will pay day in and day out (considering I charge $1,500 at a bare minimum for a simple web design service). On that note, DO NOT SHORTCHANGE YOURSELF!!! Some people will tell you to charge low at the beginning to build a portfolio. This is madness. If a company needs your services; they will pay good money. It all depends on how you present the benefits to the business owner, not on the amount of clients you've had in the past.
Now I'm starting to combine the above two methods (commission-only sales force and a telemarketing firm), so that the telemarketing firm also contacts businesses all across the country where my sales representatives are located as well. Then, I send the sales rep to go in and close the sale. They get a commission, and you don't have to leave your computer. This is something I am just starting to do, but it is working extremely well so far. If you haven't tried either of the above methods, ease into it first before trying anything fancy. Get started by hiring your first commission-only sales person, and go from there.
A third way that I like to obtain clients, and one that has proved to convert the best, is by using a personal touch when you contact businesses. I go to sendacookiecard(dot)com (I'm not affiliated with them in any way), and send the 8 cookie package to law firms (since they have proved to pay the most for my services in the past, and are probably the most difficult businesses to speak with someone that can make decisions). This requires an investment, but it is absolutely worth it. I have the website send a custom card along with the cookies, and on the front of the card is a screenshot of the first page of Google, with "law firms city here" in the search bar (city here is replaced, of course, with their specific city). In photoshop I circle the organic search results in red.
Then, on the inside of the card, I have them write a short note that says something like this:
"Hi - my name is..., and I'm the owner of a local marketing company called..."
"We strive to provide our clients with professional service with a personal touch. In addition, we can get your website onto the first page of Google, which will generate huge exposure and additional clients."
"If you would like to learn more, or simply have a friendly chat, please go ahead and call me at XXX-XXX-XXXX. I hope to hear from you, and I hope you enjoy the cookies!"
That's actually longer than the note I usually include, but you get the point. You would not believe how many business owners (lawyers no less) call almost right away, eager to speak with me! They love the personal touch, and their receptionist loves it too the next time you walk in (because those cookies are inevitably shared )
Sounds silly, but it's extremely effective.
That is, of course, another method you can automate using a commission-only sales staff if you don't want to do it yourself.
2.) Working with clients / Providing the Service
This is one aspect of the business that I hate, to be completely honest. The majority of business owners are extremely pleasant and are grateful that you are taking the time to work with them and increase their profits. However, there are always a few businesses that you will spend nearly half of your time trying to please. They require revision after revision (I had one business request 12 separate revisions on a single website. Took nearly 3 months to get the website perfect in their eyes.)
That's why there is no reason for you to do this yourself. As long as you are charging decently (which you should be), you can afford to hire the following:
1.) A Virtual Assistant
There are plenty (probably hundreds) of firms out there that will provide you with a virtual assistant. This is someone that will manage all of your clients, help you with appointments, etc. Their job will be to coordinate your sales force, and get the client's work finished. NOTE: This person will not be doing the work themselves, only managing the people that are doing the work.
This assistant will probably cost you around $600-$800 a month, and will earn every penny.
2.) Freelance workers
I say freelance, but what you will actually be doing is finding 1 or 2 consistent workers that you can trust to get the job done. They will be the people doing the SEO on the websites, creating the websites, installing the autoresponders into the websites, etc. (Depending on what services you are offering). I personally used Elance at the beginning to find a few freelance workers that did good work, and now I always use the same people.
Note: These are the people that the virtual assistant will be working with to get the client's work done. You don't want to have to worry about constantly asking for updates, etc. That is what the virtual assistant is for. And I strongly believe that you should invest the first check you get into a virtual assistant, it will blow your mind how much time (and stress) you will save.
3.) Following up with clients
You might have been wondering why I made this a category by itself. In fact, I'm guessing that even if you are already working with a number of clients in your offline consulting business, you are probably not doing this (or at least doing it effectively).
This will be one of your biggest money-makers. When you take on a client, you need to stay organized and make sure you know what you are providing them with. (I use the virtual assistant to keep everything organized in an excel spreadsheet). If you offer three general services (Website Design, SEO, and Autoresponder Integration), and you only provide your client with a Website Design, you need to follow up with that client.
If you provide excellent service, they will work with you again. Generally I use the same telemarketing firm that I mentioned above to follow up with clients according to a set schedule. Exactly 3 weeks after their website is finished (or 3 weeks after they bought an SEO package, etc.), I have the telemarketing firm call them and ask how everything is going. The call goes like this:
"Hi, this is XXXX from XXXX. I just wanted to give you a call and see how the website is working out for you?
"Oh it's great! yadda yadda customers love it etc."
"Great! I'm glad we could help you out with that. Also, we just started a new promotion that allows past customers to receive (Whatever service they didn't buy before) at a 50% discount. We are striving to provide excellent service at a price that works for you. How about we set up a meeting to talk about it more?"
And then they try to close the sale. Make sure you work with a telemarketing firm that is not rude or pushy - they are representing you. There are quite a few great firms out there, but there are some bads ones as well. Just make sure you work with the right one.
Basically, make it a point to follow-up with past customers. They are much easier to sell to because they've worked with you before, and they know that you provide personal, excellent service.
Quick note on pricing:
You should be charging, at the bare minimum, $1,500 for a simple direct response website design.
Personally, I offer three services to clients:
I charge $1,500-$3,000 for the website design (depending on what they need/what industry they're in).
For SEO, I charge $1,000-$3,000 upfront at a bare minimum (this depends again on industry/competitiveness of search terms), plus $500-$1,000 per month to maintain their search engine ranking.
For Autoresponder Creation/Integration, I charge $1,000-$2,000 for installing it and creating 7 messages; after that each additional message is $50-$100.
The point is, don't shortchange yourself. Keep in mind the industry's income and profit per client, and go from there. I charge lawyers and real estate agents a premium because their income level is so high and each new client I bring them generates a hefty profit.
The bottom line is, you need to put systems in place to handle everything for you. You are not a marketer anymore, you are not a website designer, you are not a sales person. You are, from here on out, a conductor. You are conducting the symphony of systems, and your job is to make sure that everything continues to run smoothly. Just stay organized, coordinate everything effectively, and you will be able to expand faster than you would believe.
I hope this helped some of you, and if you are just starting out or thinking about starting out, don't let the novel above fool you - this business is easy. Just get out there and get your first client, and go from there. Or skip that step entirely and get to work hiring your commission-only sales force, and have them get your first sale for you.
Above all, get started.
"Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out." - Robert Collier
Have a good one!
All the best,