There are two different types of prospecting, and which you choose depends on how hungry you are.
When hunting, you eat what you kill. Hunter prospecting methods involve doing things that get you business immediately. The downside is, you’ll soon be hungry again and need to spend time hunting down new clients. As any jungle predator can tell you, your success rate will vary and there are times you may go hungry for a spell.
As some point in our pre-history, early Man figured out that planting crops to grow food was less dangerous than taking forays into the forest. Plus, having food around when you’re hungry is a nice perk. But farming takes time—crops don’t just spring up overnight.
But we also learned to domesticate animals, because having a food source corralled in pens eliminated the need to hunt their wild cousins.
So what does this have to do with prospecting? Early settlers pulled up stakes and travelled hundreds or thousands of miles to start a new life. The first thing they probably did after erecting some type of lodging was hunt for food. I doubt they merely planted a few crops and waited until spring before having their first meal. Yet, that’s what many new businesses and startups do—they’ve been told that social media and inbound marketing is where it’s at … and they starve before spring arrives.
So how hungry are you? Early settlers needed to make a kill immediately in order to survive. If you’re just starting out, you need to do the same.
One thing I’ve learned from being in this industry is that each marketing or advertising method has inherent strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, many business owners are looking for the “silver bullet”—the one method that will bring in all the business they need. The reality is that effective marketing is more like a team than a shotgun.
What will you do to get clients immediately? You may be well-connected and begin to generate enough business through your network. (We did.) The trick is to define what “enough business” means to you. If you’re an independent freelancer who needs $4,000 a month to live, take your average sale and divide. If that tells you that you need three new clients a month, how many leads must you generate? If 10 leads lands three new clients, how many people should you talk to each month? Here’s a hint: it’s more than 10. What’s your success rate? Lions catch less than 30 percent of the prey it hunts; cheetahs, 60 to 70 percent. Which are you?
Consistently having conversations with people in your target market is the first step. How are you going to get in front of enough of them? Here’s where the either-or fallacy hurts most freelancers: either inbound marketing is best, or outbound marketing is best. But you can generate plenty of conversations using both cold-calling and social media. The former is hunting, the latter is farming. Cold-calling is more likely to generate a new client immediately; social media less so. Social media is farming—it takes time for the relationship to flourish, but once it does, the prospect is more likely to hire you because of it. Cold-calling’s major disadvantage is that you have no relationship (therefore, no credibility) with the person on the other end of the phone.
Just like those early settlers, your marketing goal ought to be to gradually wean yourself away from hunting and into farming. As your crops begin to grow and you begin to domesticate some wild prospects, you’ll have a barn full to which to market.
Former owner and partner of web firm Jenesis Technologies, John is currently Director of Digital Strategy at Haines Local Search, a company providing local search marketing solutions to SMBs, including print and Internet Yellow Pages, web design, and local SEO. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks.