For the past several weeks, I’ve been writing on the subject of how to find larger clients. While the techniques I describe are not rocket science, most small business people and freelancers simply don’t take the steps required. I believe the reason is because it’s outside most people’s comfort zone. Here’s what’s involved:
1. Define your ideal client
Having a goal to land larger clients is futile if you don’t have a clear picture of what that client looks like. This will drive all that you do, from deciding what online and offline networks to involve yourself, to targeting who you ultimately decide to prospect.
2. Go Where Your Prospects Are
A marketing axiom is that you should go where your prospects are. In the online world, executive decision-makers and business people are on LinkedIn. Offline, they can be found in industry association groups, and in community, civic, and charitable organizations. You’ll need to involve yourself in these.
3. Gain Recognition and Become Influential
Being part of a group means becoming involved. The best way to gain recognition and influence is to help others gain recognition and become influential. True leaders serve others.
You must prospect!
Once you reach this level, a good amount of business will come your way from the momentum you’ve built. For some, this may be more than enough. For most, however, it won’t. Like it or not, you still must prospect.
“Prospecting” is such a frightening word. It conjures up images of dusty miners with long beards, dressed in Levis. Or hundreds of people crammed into a noisy call center. But its Latin root means “to look forward, to exercise foresight.” Without it, you cannot grow your business.
Ask for the Business
I can safely say I’ve fill out dozens—nay, hundreds of contact forms in order to download a free white paper or ebook. Yet, up until a few weeks ago, I’ve never had a single one of those companies follow up with me.
Why is it out of hundreds of companies who put forth the effort to write, publish, and distribute information under the guise of “content marketing,” that only two have ever bothered to call? This is what happens when marketing is in charge of driving business—because in the new and enlightened era of “inbound marketing,” marketers believe that an “outbound” sales call is downright vulgar.
But it takes a sales person to close new business. And that means prospecting. You can do each of the three steps I’ve described above; yet if you don’t prospect and ask for the business, you will fail in the final lap of the race.
How to Use LinkedIn’s Tools for Prospecting
Sales gurus will tell you that you should never call on a company without first doing your research. But keep in mind that the level of research ought to be directly proportionate to the size of the sale. You’ll do much more research to land a potential $10,000 search engine optimization account than you would prospecting for $800 website redesign projects.
This is where LinkedIn shines—as a research tool. Sure, you could used the Internet. But the beauty of LinkedIn is that it provides valuable contact information.
Let me reiterate: don’t use LinkedIn if you haven’t defined a specific target audience. (Peddling your generic web design or SEO services on LinkedIn only makes you a commodity.) But once you’ve identified your target client and know who the appropriate decision-maker would be, you can implement my four-step process: Follow, Snoop, Connect, Make Contact.
The first step is to follow the companies you’d like to do business with. ‘People Search’ lets you find your direct and second level connections. But with the Advanced Search, you can filter results by company name, industry, and location.
Snoop (in a good way)
Next, look the profiles of the decision-makers within these companies. Once you do, an interesting thing will happen—they’ll get a notification that someone viewed their profile and they won’t be able to resist looking at yours. Once they do, send them an invitation to connect. (Be sure to personalize the message, rather than using LinkedIn’s default.)
You won’t be able to directly connect to anyone who is a third level connection or greater, unless you know their email address. If you have a connection in common, you can select the “Get introduced through a connection” option. But you can overcome that barrier by joining groups. LinkedIn lets you follow other group members as well as see their activity. But more importantly, you can send an invitation to connect, without knowing their email or requesting an introduction.
An often overlooked way to make contact is to attend offline events. Unfortunately, LinkedIn recently shut down their Events app, but you can still look for links others have shared about upcoming events in your area. (Remember, the advanced search lets you search by location.) Once you’ve identified local companies that fit your ideal client profile, see if any employees are sharing upcoming events. You can also visit your local chamber of commerce website to see if any of these companies are members.
Another approach is to contact the sales people at the organizations you want as clients. While I disagree with his opinion on cold-calling, author Paul McCord has an effective method for turning a cold-call into a warm lead, by enlisting the aid of a fellow sales person within the organization who will sympathize with your plight. Fact of the matter is, LinkedIn allows you to connect with these sales people without even picking up the phone.
That’s really just the tip of the iceberg regarding all you can do with LinkedIn. But hopefully, I’ve given you enough to get you started. So what’s next? Well, two things:
First, connect with me on LinkedIn. Then share your LinkedIn experiences and questions in the comments below. And happy prospecting on your way to landing bigger and bigger clients!
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.