As small business owners, sometimes we get caught up in the day-to-day running of the business and we forget to look forward and plan for the future. There are just too many things to do and not enough hours in the day. But if you’ve ever gotten a knot in your stomach when you think about your future income and where it’s going to come from, that’s where business development comes in.
We all as designers get so excited when we’re working with a current client – it’s fun and it’s making money for our business! But we tend to forget that once a project ends, the money ends, too. And we can be left with bills to pay and no income coming in. That’s why this is so important to your business. You have to look FAR into the future, past any current clients that are keeping you busy and putting money in your bank account in the short term.
Business development is completely different from sales, though. It’s the process and strategy that you have in place to produce long-term growth and profitability. So here are my tips for getting your business development plan in place:
1. Think quantity over quality. You want to send out hundreds and hundreds of hooks to try to catch fish, so to speak. Once they’re on land you can decide if you want to keep them or you want to throw them back. It’s the person who has many poles in the water that’s going to catch the most fish – that’s just logic. I once sent 100 emails in a month to prospective clients, asking if we could meet for lunch. And out of that outreach, I got 10 solid clients! It’s worth the effort, but you have to reach out. Your first outreach should be to your easiest targets. That would be your best former clients and prospective clients who never took the bait the first time around. So reach out to the people closest to you who may know (or may be) that great new client!
2. Look for partners. The next group to reach out to would be those businesses who have the clients that you want – it be could a realtor, builders, or maybe even luxury spa or jewelry store owners. Don’t just think about the obvious people like contractors – although they are a perfect resource for you. I want you to also think outside of the home arena. My one word of warning, though, is that you have to reach out with the idea of how YOU can help THEM. Let me say that again – how can YOU help THEM? It will never work for you if you are constantly showing up with your hand out and asking for something. Imagine how you would react to that from a prospective partner. You want to be sure there is a win-win for both of you so that you both benefit.
3. Build relationships. Remember, none of this is meant to be a “hard sell.” A big bulk of your outreach should be emails that just check in with the person. Ask how they are, what’s going on in their lives. Send gifts that you think they will like. Ask them to lunch and do not discuss business. Why? Because you are building relationships. You are creating goodwill between the two of you, and you are looking long-term. And you are going to do this without any expectation of a payoff for you. I really mean that! You have to say to yourself that this is just the cost of doing business. That whatever you spend on gifts or materials is going to be done without getting emotional if the other person doesn’t immediately hire you or give you their entire client list!
And you have to remember that it could take a long time before you see any concrete results. You may court a client, a builder, or a partner for months, even years, before it pays off. That’s why business development is a long-term strategy, because if you make it a part of your normal work week, just sending a few emails and having a few lunches, it will bring you business in a much more consistent way!
So get off that income roller coaster! Instead enjoy smooth sailing by building business for your future!