Tag Archives: business development

How a tough year for your business in 2009 might mean a fantastic 2010

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but 2009 was actually a great year at Tribe. And I’m thinking it might have been at your company too.

Of course, we did lose our largest client, due to the slump in the housing market. We had to lay off a few talented, hardworking people that we’d hire again in a heartbeat. We cut back on some perks, like having a fresh flower in everyone’s office each Monday and providing free takeout for lunch five days a week. We froze salaries for most of the year. We gave a somewhat smaller holiday bonus than usual.

On the other hand, we’ll enter 2010 ready to compete on a much higher level than ever before. We’ve used this slow year to reinvent, and to move into some new territory. We’ve expanded our internal communications practice area to incorporate social media and engagement tools. We’ve created some interesting initiatives in new media, for both consumer audiences and employee ones. We’ve developed expertise in some key research areas, like the widely varying perspectives of Gen Y, Gen X and Boomer employees in the workplace, and recession spending by affluent couples. We’ve dabbled in creating our own content and products, like our “Start Your Own Company” card deck and iPhone application.

Other small business owners I’ve talked with seem to have done their own share of reinventing. This year has been about accepting that the recession is real, having time to reflect on what works and what doesn’t about our companies, and exploring some new areas we might not have had time to spend time on before.

Everyone’s talking about how companies are stronger for trimming expenses and figuring out bow to do more with less. Thinking small is a good exercise.

But an even better way to think is how we could get bigger. Ways we could expand to serve other types of clients than we have in the past. How we could fill some new need that’s not being met. What we could do next that would make us wake up excited about getting in to the office.

Nature moves in cycles, and business does too. New moon to full moon. High tide to low. Winter to spring. 2009 has been a good year for sending our roots deeper and in new directions. Soon, hopefully beginning in 2010, certainly in the next few years, our economic downturn will swing back in the other direction. The economy will grow, our clients will grow, our companies will grow. The quiet reinvention so many small businesses have done in 2009 will position us well to reap all the benefits of the next boom time.

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When can entrepreneurs stop worrying about winning more business?

growth“My business seems to be successful,” said the new entrepreneur, “but when do I get to quit worrying about enough work coming in?” Jo Ann is an accomplished marketer, with 20 years of experience under her belt and an MBA, not to mention gorgeous and personable. She left her post as VP/CMO at a venerable brand to start her own marketing consultancy.

“Never,” was all I could tell her. In my years of running my own companies, I’ve been able to come to a strange peace with that fact, but some days it requires a certain amount of zen not to completely freak out.

I gave her my rock climbing metaphor. When I was just starting my first ad agency, I  asked that same question of my friend Bill, a wildly successful illustrator who has run his own business for decades. Bill’s personality is about as low stress as mine is high, and I would never peg him for a worrier. (One night at some industry event, I remarked to Bill that it had been a gorgeous afternoon. He agreed, and revealed that he’d turned down a job to do a Newsweek cover that afternoon so he could go hiking instead. I was impressed, but he laughed and said, “I’m thinking I made the wrong decision.”) Bill told me the same thing I told Jo Ann: never.

Bill said he still worries all the time, but he doesn’t view worry as a negative. He suggested I try to enjoy the fear, the same way I enjoy the fear inherent to rock climbing. “Think of it as exciting,” he said. “It’s scary, but it’s kind of fun.”

Here are my four best tips for maintaining perspective:

1. Redefine worry. Worry can be useful, if it wakes you up in the middle of the night with the realization that you won’t be able to make payroll unless you collect that big receivable that’s running late. Worry can make you get up the next morning and get your client on the phone to help push that invoice through their accounting department and get you a check. Instead of telling yourself that you’re worried, maybe you’re actually just “aware.”

2. Remember how much is in your control. Although you can’t control the economy or a potential client’s budget cuts, you can control your efforts. During slow times, ramp up your networking, your outreach, your marketing. In your own business, you truly have more control over your success than you would working for a large company.

3. Give seeds time to grow. For the sort of professional services many small businesses are selling, the sales process can stretch out for years. If you don’t get a piece of business you pitch today, that doesn’t mean you won’t win some work from that client somewhere down the road. At Tribe, we got our first project from UPS a full two years after I’d sent an introductory letter to a heavyweight there. He’d kept that letter in his files until he had a need for us. Similar story with our Chick-fil-A clients. Life is long.

4. Don’t slack off in good times. When a small business is busy, it’s usually all hands on deck to get the work done. It’s very difficult to come up for air long enough to formulate any sort of marketing efforts. Just don’t let your business development machine grind to a complete halt. Keep pitching. Stay visible. Be in touch.

I’m sure some of you out there have tips to add to that list. How do you deal with the relentless need to keep drumming up business?

Small Business Strategies: Five steps to painless networking

Handing biz cardIf you run a small business, you probably need to be out there networking. But just the mention of that word is enough to make most of us cringe. Here are five tips to make it easier – and more effective:

 1.    Fish in the right pond. A great business lead can come from anyone, but you’re much more likely to make connections that count if you’re networking at events attended by people who are real prospects for you. This seems obvious, but the first step to successful networking is to go where you’ll meet people who can actually give you business.

 2.    Get your elevator speech ready. Sooner or later, someone will ask: “What do you do?” Do you have that one-sentence answer ready? You might want to craft a response that’s framed in terms of what you offer that’s a little different. For instance, instead of saying something like, “I own a lawn care company,” your answer might be “I give homeowners an organic alternative for lawn care.” Or even, “I make lawns so healthy you could actually eat the grass.” Not only are the last two more likely to prompt further conversation, they also set you apart from the competition. Not to mention that the first response would be all about you, instead of what you offer your customers.

 3.    Focus on helping other people feel comfortable. This is the single best tip I know of for successful networking. Forget about selling yourself and focus on drawing other people out. Pretend you’re the host of the party, and you need to make sure none of the guests are standing around feeling awkward. Something about this approach makes it much easier to overcome any shyness or nervousness.

 4.    Don’t hand someone a card unless they ask for it. Whatever you do, and I repeat, whatever, do not be one of those jerks pushing their way through an event tossing out cards like they’re throwing Mardi Gras beads to the crowd. Do you think anyone is saving that guy’s card to call him up later and give him a big chunk of business? You’d make more friends by having too much to drink and throwing up in the potted palm. The first step is to look someone in the eye, introduce yourself, and have an actual conversation. The best time to ask for someone’s card is at the end of your chat, not at the beginning. The best time to give someone your card is after they’ve asked for one.

 5.    Look for ways you can help the people you meet. If someone mentions she’s looking for a new banker, offer to email her the contact information for someone you’d recommend. If you meet someone looking for a job, see if you can connect him with someone in his industry. You’ll be surprised how often a contact you help now will turn up down the road when you need something yourself. Besides, it feels good to help.