How To Start Building Your Client Pipeline

MC900447227I had this question from a client who’s just starting her business: “ Is online or offline marketing a better use of my time if I only have a few hours a week to focus on marketing?” This is tough to know if you’re starting a new business. The really annoying answer is “it depends.”

Who is your ideal customer and where can you find him/her? Knowing who to target – and get fairly specific about the demographic – helps to cut through the clutter of the many ways you can promote your business and start building a sales pipeline.

I usually write about marketing online, but a lot of my clients come from my local business network. If you’re a brand new business, this is a good place to start. An online presence is vital, too, and we’ll tackle that in next week’s post.

Time to network:

To start building that client pipeline, try attending local networking events. Designate 2 evenings a month (or more, if you can) to attend networking events. Go armed with your best elevator speech and your business cards and a helpful attitude. Your objective is “to be of service” not “to sell a bunch of people.” Sales rarely happen during the first meeting. This is your opportunity to see how people respond to your business and services. Trying your elevator speech on live prospects will help you to pinpoint weaknesses in your pitch. It may also show you which service or product you offer is the most attractive to your prospects.  And, you might get some follow up appointments from interested prospects! By the way, this is an ongoing project, unless you conclude after several weeks that your market is NOT local at all.

Tips for having a good time at networking events:

  • I learned this from a master networker. DO NOT just hand a card to everybody you meet. Wait for someone to ASK for your card first. Have you ever followed up with someone who just handed you their card at hello and sometimes without even saying that? Me neither. Most of the time I didn’t need what he/she was selling and I’m pretty sure they didn’t care. They figured they had to get a lot of cards circulating in order to get a hit or two. This is just a waste of cards and annoys people.
  • Set reasonable goals for the event. My goal at these events is to have one or two good conversations with people who might become prospects. I also promise myself that if I’m not having a good time I can leave after an hour. Most of the time, I end up staying until the end of the event because I’m having a good time and leave with a few prospects.

Where do you find networking events?

Start with, chambers of commerce, local trade organizations that include your target market, local business publications. Also join local-based LinkedIn groups and follow local business people and organizations on Twitter.

The bad news is you might have a few wasted evenings where the people might be nice, but aren’t your prospects. I attended one event years ago that on the surface sounded like a winner. It was a women business owners group and the event was at a local winery. (Yes, there are a few wineries in Colorado!) It’s rare for me to go to an event and not speak to at least one person who’s writing a book. This was one of those events. Nice people, yes. Great food and wine? Oh, yes! But a big zero as far as prospects.

If you’re a speaker, look for groups who might be interested hearing you speak about your topic. You might speak for free, but that might be offset by contacts you make at the event. If you already have a book or other products, you also might be able to have a table at the back to sell stuff after your talk.

Part 2: How to build your network online.