Business Development and Sales

The reality for most startups and entrepreneurs is that your business development and sales become pretty much your full-time job. You need to be selling in some way, shape or form every day! Most budding entrepreneurs that I come across haven’t even considered this until I ask them about it. It will seem like you do an hour or two of delivery here and there, but for the most part, you are worrying about building your business, and where your next piece of work is going to come from.

Interestingly, I still find that I do most of my work or delivery in the early morning, or after my kids have gone to sleep. Because during the day, I am meeting with clients, attending events and lunches, speaking to people on the phone, preparing notes, or conducting research on a target client. A lot of people I know are the same. This though, compared with what life was like managing a team, is not so bad. I still remember sitting at work at 4 pm feeling relieved that I was going to be able to finally start doing my work.

You spend all day fulfilling your internal obligations, and either delivering work or trying to get work. So much so, that when it gets to the late afternoon, you still have 4 or 5 hours work to do before you feel that you can head home for the day. If you plan and manage your day effectively, this can reduce the need to work stupid hours. If you don’t mind working long hours, take your pillow to work and you will have success in no time. Business development, regardless of your profession, is your full-time job when you work for yourself.

No one else is going to do it for you. For most, it starts off with a blaze of glory, lots of energy, and enthusiasm, but then quickly drops away once work comes in. This is mainly because you enjoy doing what you do, what you perceive makes money, not business development. Business development takes time, you need to build momentum, and you will find that you need to reach a critical mass before getting to a tipping point and feel like you are getting somewhere. You cannot underestimate the length of your sales cycle. Most people do and expect things to happen sooner rather than later.

This is unrealistic. I talk with clients about the discipline of business development in the context of making it sustainable and creating activities that you build into your day-to-day work, as opposed to viewing it separate to your work. For me personally, I find that there are 5 key things that you can do each morning before you finish that first cup of coffee (or tea), that can kick start your day from a business development perspective.  

My tips for business development and sales:

  • Give something for free - this could be advice, a product, a tool or whatever else.
  • Invite a client for a coffee to see how they are going with that new project.
  • Email a news article or journal to a target or inactive client.
  • Comment on a LinkedIn group.
  • Send a thank-you note to a person that has referred work to you.

Coffee for Life….Building Your Network

  Your network is invaluable when you are out on your own. You need to make time for it. You need to tend to it like your veggie garden – look after it, and you will eat very well. Neglect it, and you will be left with weeds. Having worked on my own for some time now, I am often asked: “Don’t you get lonely?” I can genuinely say that I don’t. As I have a large network that I have built over the years, it gives me the same comfort of having colleagues, as well as the ability to reach out to my network for support and advice when I need it. Obviously, you might need to leverage your network for referrals and introductions from time to time, but the other benefit of maintaining your network is that they will most likely become your friends too. It is important to create a social element with your network and I have found an effective way to do this is simply over coffee. I now consider a lot of people in my broader network to be my friends, and would now spend considerably more time with them than I do anyone else, outside of work too. I ask for help and introductions all the time. Everyday.

In return, I offer people ‘coffee for life’. So for instance, if you can help me with this introduction or if I can pick your brains for an hour, I will always buy the coffee. If it’s a big favour I need to ask, I simply say that I will give coffee for life. It’s hard for anyone to say no to that! Just keep in mind that your network is busy as well, so offer to meet them close to their office or somewhere convenient for them, not you, and if necessary, ask specifically for 20 minutes of their time.  

My tips for networking:

  • If someone refers you work, or introduces you to someone, thank them!
  • Offer to help. Ask people, “Is there anything that I can help you with? Do you need an introduction to so and so?”
  • Drop into visit someone, and make time for them.
  • Always be prepared to give more than you get back, and don’t ever seek immediate reciprocation.
  • Go to them - you can’t network in your office.
  • Check out the Expert360 Community Events Page

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Surrounding Yourself with the Right People

Regardless of what it is that you do, you need to have a strong network of supporters and people you can seek advice from - whether it be an accountant, lawyer, website designer, or even a coach or mentor. I made a few mistakes in my first financial year. I continued to use our accountant that we had used for several years to manage our personal and investment finances. The problem was, he charged about $300/hour for advice. When it was just for ourselves, on two incomes, the $300 didn’t really matter, because it was once or twice per year that we needed advice.

It wasn’t such a big deal. In quite painful hindsight, I should have spent more time with an accountant properly setting things up, particularly when I was starting out. I am not bad when it comes to managing finances normally and am reasonably astute, but not when it comes to tax.  Understanding how your business tax works is critical, and I am convinced that a lot of businesses fail because they get caught out. I was so busy trying to make money, I made the mistake of putting off doing tax and finance stuff because it was time that I could spend making money. Whether you have been on your own for 1 week or 10 years, you will always think this way - I still do.

I am lucky that my wife now manages this for me, so I would recommend that you find someone to help you too, whether this be a friend or someone you outsource. For startups and established independent consultants alike, money and value should always be a top priority. We personally learned the hard way by using a big firm, and have had great success now with a very experienced accountant who works from home, about 15 minutes away from where we live. He takes care and interest in our business, and he does the work, not like the partner and associates, or possibly the receptionist, at the large firm we used previously. He is also living the dream as a soloist.

When we see him, it’s in his office at the front of his house, and he will be in shorts and t-shirt. As an independent yourself, you should also be the first to say that “biggest is not always the best” and support another independent person just like you. They will understand where you are coming from, and the services they will offer you are likely to be better suited for your business.  

My tips for outsourcing the functions of your personal business:

  • Find yourself an accountant that is experienced, but not overly expensive. See if you can find one that is also a soloist, independent or part of a small business, just like you. Agree up front what the costs will be, and what they need from you to keep on top of things. Why not ask them whether there is a way that you can help them.
  • If money is short, look at freelancing websites to help you get things done. I once had a logo designed for $5.
  • Join a club, industry association or network group. LinkedIn is a great place to do this.
  • Ask those who you work with and your acquaintances for referrals and suggestions for people you should meet.