So, you’re thinking of making a big career change, maybe starting your own business, but not sure what you want to do? As you’ve probably already discovered, choosing a new path isn’t as easy as you might think. Without some careful planning you could find yourself mulling over career changes every few years without ever landing on something that leaves you feeling satisfied.
For this article, let’s assume that you want to become an entrepreneur or business owner, and not an employee.
When business owners are looking to get new business their first thought is “I need to get clients.” Makes sense. Clients = business. But beyond that initial thought, how much real planning goes into seriously drilling down into who those clients are, how to reach them, and then how to get and keep their business?
If you sell shampoo, then it’s easy to know that shampoo buyers are generally going to look for your product in pharmacies and supermarkets. Speaking to the owners or managers of those stores is a good first step to getting your product on their shelves. Supply and distribution of your product unfolds from there.
But what if you’re selling a service and not a product? Many times there isn’t a store that people can walk into to buy a service, so knowing where you need to go to get new business isn’t always straightforward. This is why analyzing both yourself and your customer base, and having a plan to reach them is critical to your business’ success.
Who Wants Your Service?
By the time you reach the stage where you’re looking for clients, you’ve obviously been through the initial process of determining what service you’re selling, so let’s jump to who is buying it. (As an aside, this information is also helpful for those selling a product).
David Spector who works for Google’s measurement and analytics services says, “Companies need to be laser-focused on their customers and the customers’ challenges, always making sure to answer the question,
‘How can what I have help you succeed?’
With that in mind, each service that is sold needs to be tailored to a particular customer. For example, if life coaching is your service, consider what area or niche is of particular interest to you? If you’re not particularly spiritual, it’s going to be difficult to identify with and coach someone on challenges around spirituality. Same thing if you are coaching on family dynamics as a single person with no children.
Having, and knowing your niche will make your marketing a lot easier. There is nothing fulfilling in working many hours each day on something that doesn’t personally interest you. Even if you are an ‘expert’ in a particular area based on past work experience, it doesn’t necessarily mean that going into going to work each day will excite you. And after all, you’re shifting careers because you want to be excited, right?
In developing your niche, consider what you’d like to spend your day doing even if you couldn’t get paid for it. In the wise words of Confucius, “Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”
Know Yourself, Your Business and Your Clients
As you establish your business, you’ll need to ask yourself a lot of thought-provoking questions and be very honest about your answers. You won’t be doing yourself any favours if you’re not honest in your introspection.
Envision your ideal business model and client.
Take a good amount of time to write down an exact description of your business, including all the services or products you’ll provide, the market you will serve, your value proposition, the benefits your services will bring to your potential clients, your unique selling feature, and what else you believe makes you different from your competition.
Contemplate too, how much time you want to spend working in your business. Maybe it makes sense to work part-time with a regular base of clients and part-time in a job for extra money or personal interest. All this should factor in to your ideal business model.
- Whether you have the skills to provide exceptional service to your clients, and/or is additional training going to be necessary to get you there?
- How much money will you need to get your business started?
- How much money will you need to be profitable? This will depend on the number of clients you have, how often you service them, your rates, minus the cost to market and support yourself and your business.
- How much time are you willing to spend on getting business, and working your business?
- What does success look like to you?
- How long do you want to be in your business and what are your short, medium and long term goals for the business?
- Where is your competition? Does it make sense for you to be in the same location as they are?
- What are your competitors doing/offering that you like and don’t like?
- Could you be successful using the model that the competition is using?
- What information can you obtain from a competitor on their rates and business model?
- Could one of your competitors be a potential mentor for you?
- Are there other mentors who might be available to advise you on establishing your business?
- What past work experience and contacts can you draw upon to help you get to where you’d really like to be?
Creating and Using a Business Development Plan
So, you’re about to do something drastic and change careers. That is a really big, and potentially rewarding move. Obviously, if you’re going to make such big move you want your new gig to work out. So, what’s the next step?
Make a plan!
A business development plan is different from a business plan, but both are critical to knowing how to best serve yourself and your clients. Without them, you might as well be throwing a large axe at a small target while blindfolded.
(Just so we’re clear, not a lot of people could hit that.)
A business plan focuses on establishing and operating your business by outlining your company’s financial goals and timelines for short and long term growth (quarterly, yearly, multi-year), including employees, products or services, and locations. It’s an important and necessary document and you should create one even if you’re going to be the only one who works for you.
Alternatively, a business development (BD) plan clearly spells out what you’re going to do to get and keep clients. It specifically lays out, on an individual basis, what actions are required to achieve daily, weekly, and quarterly marketing and sales goals.
Obviously, it’s equally important to have a BD plan to ensure your company’s success, but what isn’t always clear is where to start or how specific you must be. Writing “Get 10 new clients this quarter” on your plan will definitely not get you there. Your BD plan must be specific:
“Contact Chamber of Commerce by December 31 to see about establishing a 2017 guest-speaker series on sole proprietorships.” is more along the lines of what you must write on the plan.
In order for business development plans (this goes for business plans, too!) to be truly effective it has to meet certain criteria:
1. It has to contain achievable, realistic goals;
2. It has to be short and concise (do not have more than 10 goals per quarter);
3. It has to allow for flexibility and growth; and
4. It has to have measurable timelines and results.
Your success also depends on how often you populate and adhere to the plan. If you fill in the fields on the plan one day and don’t look at it for a month, it won’t do you much good.
You must get in the habit of referring to your plan every day, and strive to address all or part of a goal each day. Cross something off your list daily. This creates the momentum that you need to know you are working toward your goals. You can see what you’ve already done and remind yourself that you are working toward a larger goal. Your success!
Most of us can’t work in a vacuum and we require accountability to keep us focused on our goals. It’s just the way that the majority of us are built. If we weren’t this way the world would be chock-full of Warren Buffets, Elon Tusks, and Richard Bransons. But we are more like others than we are not, and sometimes it takes more than dedication, and a clear path. Sometimes it takes accountability to get us where we want to be.
For those of us that need it, I suggest that you share your plan with someone else, and let them follow up with you on a regular basis to check progress. When others hold us accountable, we are often more motivated to hit those goals.
Final Points to Consider
Know Yourself and Your Competition. You should be able to clearly explain your services in under 30 seconds (this is called your “elevator speech”). You should also be able to succinctly describe the difference between yourself and your competition if you’re ever asked.
Know Your Prospect. What are their needs and how does your service help them? This will help you identify a potential client when you meet them.
Customers Are Everywhere. Dressing for success is very important, so is having confidence in yourself and the service you offer. No matter if you’re at the grocery store, the dentist, or out for a jog, you should look tidy and clean, and your confidence should be pleasant and not overwhelming. Leave the prospect feeling glad that they spoke with you. It will make them more willing to answer the phone when you call to follow up.
Satisfaction guaranteed? Selling services requires satisfying clients more than other business models. Consider a satisfaction guaranteed policy after your initial consultation with the client. Assuming they want to continue working with you, use that time to ask your client if they’d be willing to give you an endorsement or referral. When you’ve made a customer happy, their willing endorsement of your service is critical for word-of-mouth business. Keep a list of all your satisfied clients, in case you’re asked for references.
Be flexible. Not everyone buys a product or a service in exactly the same way. When you are flexible with timing, delivery, pricing structures and payment methods, you open your business to more people than you would if you offered only one fixed plan. But remember, being flexible for your clients must also work for you, otherwise you won’t enjoy building your business and it will take its toll on you.
Time is money. If you’re selling products, the passive income from the sale of that product comes once it is sold. Service providers sell their time – usually based on appointments, and at some form of hourly rate scale. No appointment means no income. If an hour passes unbilled, it’s lost income, never to be recouped. Have a reasonable cancellation policy in place to help minimize money lost by missed appointments, and ensure your clients know the policy upfront.
Don’t be afraid to fail. Remember that your service is not for everyone so don’t take it personally if you are initially turned down. It can take a long time to incubate a relationship with a prospect. Everyone who has ever achieved successful has first faced failure and disappointment.
And finally, get feedback. Don’t be afraid to ask your clients how you’re doing and what you could do better or differently to make a happier relationship. Keep an open mind and be willing to listen to both praise and criticism. How else will you be able to grow unless you listen and learn? Remember to follow suggestions you receive from the feedback. As a client, nothing is worse than feeling like the feedback you gave has been ignored..
We can all use a helping hand and a different perspective. I work with individuals and businesses to help them identify and achieve next-level success through measurable goal setting and accountability.
When you’re ready to discuss shifting your career, get in touch for a complimentary consultation and find out how developing a plan and working with a coach can help you focus and reach success faster.
For a sample business development plan that you can populate with your own goals and actions, visit the Useful Stuff section on my website.