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Does anyone own a business? Can you answer some v quick questions for me?

(42 Posts)
flowerybeanbag Thu 06-Aug-09 09:55:44

I am coming up with a plan to increase my client base. I am trundling along very well and have been for a while doing absolutely no marketing at all, and there has been and still is a steady trickle of enough to keep me busy, which is obviously great.

But that isn't a sustainable business model clearly grin, and I do want to take it further.

So I am looking into various marketing activities that might help me do that. Can I ask business owners a couple of very quick questions?

1. If you use any professional services, such as an accountant, bookkeeper, HR services, lawyers, PR/marketing, printers or anything like that, where did you find them? Where had you heard of them from and why did you choose them over other providers?

2. If I were to advertise, are there any websites/forums/trade publications/local publications/anything else you can think of that would effectively target you as a business owner? What do you look at and pay attention to?

Any answers will be hugely appreciated

llareggub Thu 06-Aug-09 10:02:22

flowery, I may well be able to help with printing wink and can email you details if you like?

flowerybeanbag Thu 06-Aug-09 10:04:26

grin

Not quite at the stage of needing to print anything yet, but will bear in mind! Just need to know where to target myself effectively so want some insight into how business owners have come across/heard of/chosen their various providers.

BecauseImWorthIt Thu 06-Aug-09 10:10:40

Our accountant came to us as a friend-of-a-friend. Initially he was our bookkeeper, and we had eyewateringly expensive, London-based accountants. They were recommended by someone who works in the same industry as us, who also used them. Soon became apparent that as a relatively small business that we were not being taken seriously by them. So bookkeeper became our accountant.

Very good, but fast forward to today and we have been approached out of the blue by a couple of local accountants, looking for business. We've seen one of them and have been staggered by how much less he would be charging us - around £3k per annum!

Moral of the story - look around, and keep reviewing.

MrsBadger Thu 06-Aug-09 10:21:20

this isn't me, I have a proper job wink but am very involved in DH's business

1. Business is techincal and sort of web-based so services are usually found online (on the grounds that they need a good grasp of web & tech to undertsand what DH does). Local accountant found online, rang a few for a chat and went with the one that sounded professional and knew most about his particular position.
Same kind of drill with printers / designers / marketers but we have had a few lemons. Again local is the key so you can go round and harrass chat to them when they are otheriwse hard to get hold of. ALso good if they are small businesses too as they understnad importnace of cash flow, invoice timing etc.

2. DH relies heavily on finding people via Google, tbh - and lots of other people do too. He was cold-called the other day a co that does website optimisation (ie makes you more visible to Google and helps you boost your ranking) and after looking at it vs other marketing strategies (direct mail etc) we are going to take a punt as if it works it could be v valuable.
The local thing is importnat here too - if you are an accountant in Lincoln you want people who google 'Lincoln accounants' 'accountants in Lincoln' etc to be able to find you, so use your location / the areas you cover a lot on you rwebpage.

The other thing that sounds silly but is low effort is advertising on your vehicles. I sit in rush-hour traffic for 2h a day and have lost count of the companies that have come to my notice through van decals or even just a large web address across the people's back windscreens - this counts for eg sales reps driving company cars as well as trade vans etc.
Look at the 'Set in Stones' one here. DH and I both drive perfectly normal estate cars but both of us have a thing like that in the back windscreen - it's free advertising wherever you go and wherever you park.

oh dear I have rambled a lot here - hope some of it is useful.

flowerybeanbag Thu 06-Aug-09 12:56:10

Sorry for delayed response, having internet problems this morning. All incredibly helpful, thabk you so much.

Any other views would be very welcome...

ihearthuckabees Thu 06-Aug-09 14:44:27

MY DH does a e-mail update about twice a year to all his contacts. This is usually saying something like: "I have updated my website, please take a look" In the good times, it would often result in a new contract or at least enquiry or two. These days, it's more just a way of keeping in touch, and also making him look busy, which is an achievement during a recession, as things as definitely slower than two or three years ago.
He is also a one-man-band type business (i.e. he's a consultant) and so he has to balance his workload quite carefully. If he gets too many contracts at once, he will end up subcontracting out but there's only so much of this you can do without risking standards. He did contemplate taking staff on a couple of years ago, but thankfully didn't. In some way, having things ticking over nicely is a good place to be, and marketing too strongly can cause extra problems (hope this doesn't sound too negative).
HTH

flowerybeanbag Thu 06-Aug-09 15:43:14

thanks ihearthuckabees. I know what you are saying about just ticking over being fine, but at the moment my 'just ticking over' is coming from no marketing whatsoever, and for me I think it would be too risky and possibly even a bit arrogant to just assume that will continue.

I do need to start doing regular email updates, you are right there, and given my field (employment law), there is certainly enough to put in them on a reasonably regular basis!

thanks again

llareggub Thu 06-Aug-09 16:34:37

Have you thought about writing articles on employment law for trade magazines? A regular column or occasional article would be a good showcase for your talents.

So far DH has picked up work from various networking events, word of mouth and through search engine optimization. We are targeting small to medium sized businesses in our local area.

FiveGoMadInDorset Thu 06-Aug-09 16:38:57

Flowery my business is a million miles from yours but to answer some questions.

I do my books as they are fairly straightforward at the moment.

My accountant also does my families much larger one, knows how we all work etc.

To get business I google every now and again what my business is and the area and the see what comes in the top pages, I then join any appropriate group websites that appear, we also get business through word of mouth. I have been approached by Google to go on as a permanent sponsered link which may be something to look into.

thefatladyscreams Thu 06-Aug-09 16:47:57

flowery

I work on a large business park and we sometimes have HR consultants approaching the park to run employment law briefings/breakfast workshops etc for free to all the companies to pick up business. Similarly our local Business Link runs free workshops that are delivered by consultants looking for business follow ups.

I'd second the newsletter idea - lots of mileage in that. Plus key words are vital if you have a website - I found this by coincidence earlier if it's any use:

www.businesslink.gov.uk/bdotg/action/detail?site=106&type=RESOURCES&itemId=1081853012

funnypeculiar Thu 06-Aug-09 16:49:24

flowery, I'm in the same situation as you - I lazily rely on business coming in (well, it has done for the last 4 years smile)

I use an accountant who is a mate and does me mates rates, otherwise, nothing else.

In terms of searching, like everyone else, google, but also trade magazines, and peopleperhour

flowerybeanbag Thu 06-Aug-09 19:41:15

This is so helpful, thank you everyone.

Llareggub I have thought about article writing, it was one of those things I listed as a good idea to generate business back when I started, but I never got round to properly investigating it or anything because business started coming in and it carried on doing so. How does one find out what trade magazines there are do you reckon? The trouble is I am obviously aiming myself at a very wide market, because it doesn't matter what trade my clients are in at all, as long as they are employing someone, they need me! I need to do some googling about trade publications really don't I?

I do google what I think potential clients would google and see what comes up, and have put myself on loads of free business directories that come up. That certainly does bump me up google, but I haven't got round to sorting out the actual key words and 'behind the scenes' stuff on my own website yet. The google website itself has loads of tips about search engine optimisation, and I believe I printed them off, took one look and thought 'That's DH's department not mine', then filed it. blush Need to get him to help me with that as I am not technically minded in the slightest.

I did have someone cold call me a while ago about SEO offering apparently the world hmm for £400-odd for 3 months or something, but the guy's attitude put me right off tbh. I asked for him to put what he was saying in writing so I could have a look and make a decision and he was most unhappy and got stroppy. I told him that if he needed clients who had enough money splashing around that they were prepared to spend £400 of it just like that on the basis of one phone call with someone they've never spoken to before without seeing anything in writing, he needed to look elsewhere. He hung up on me gringrin

fatlady that's interesting about seminars. That was also one of the first things I thought of doing back at the beginning, but the cost put me off tbh, having to pay for a venue for a morning, plus refreshments, plus handouts....Having said that I didn't actually look into it properly, and I do certainly have reasonable cash flow now, so it's a small budget rather than no budget. Delivering seminars is right up my street so it would be nice to do that if possible. Someone did mention to me about exploring partnering up with an accountancy firm or similar to share the cost of putting something on, that might be something to look at.

this is all fab stuff, it's so great to be able to bounce ideas off people, find out what others do and find out where potential clients might look for services so I can parade myself up and down in front of them in an appropriate manner. grin

flowerybeanbag Thu 06-Aug-09 21:33:30

Anyone else with any thoughts about tonight?

MrsBadger Fri 07-Aug-09 09:05:05

Interesting you should say that re partnering with accountancy firms etc - DH has had some work by this kind of route ie making contact with companies whose customers might want his services.
He does security installation type stuff so talks to shopfitters, architects, people who do data cabling, telecoms etc so when their clients say 'Oh and can you do the security for us too?' they can say 'No but we can recommend someone who does'. Sometimes he ends up paying them an introduction fee, or being subcontracted by them on behalf of the client (esp with architects and building contractors).

This was the other thing that struck a chord:
'I am obviously aiming myself at a very wide market, because it doesn't matter what trade my clients are in at all, as long as they are employing someone, they need me!'

Well, yes, and anyone who has premises with a door in theory needs DH. But it's more effective to target your marketing to the kind of clients you would like to work for, ie the ones who will profit most from your particular services, have problems you are better able to solve than other providers and (obv) will pay the most for them.

When we do targeted marketing there are a few things we try and look for:
_small_ jobs - ones the big multinationals don't want to bother with. So he doesn't do room locks for 300-room purpose-built hotels, but does great work in boutique hotels, b&bs and places that only need one or two doors securing.
_low_ _cost_ jobs - where people have a limited budget and want to know what they can get for their money rather than giving a brief and seeing what it costs (iyswim). Obv the income from these is low but in terms of margin they are very profitable.
jobs for _non-experts_ - where the client has no idea what to do, only that something needs doing, and DH (whose customer skills are his strong point) can define the problem and devise a solution without intimidating them. Particularly in fields like manufacturing where perhaps one person on the site has a computer.
_awkward_ jobs - ones where your average chap will do the reverse whistle and say 'ooh don't know about that' eg listed buildings, disabled access, ones with awkward fire regulations etc.

make sure your accountant mate is giving out your cards!

flowerybeanbag Fri 07-Aug-09 09:30:03

Thanks MrsB. Unfortunately the accountant I use isn't a friend or anything, he just happens to be handy down the road and when I went to see him seemed good and explained things in words of one syllable for me grin. He does however have a couple of other HR consultants on his books which is a bit of a shame because I can't really ask him for first dibs on his own clients.

Having said that, asking him about joint seminars or similar to build up a relationship with him and convince him that he should be recommending me rather than me competitors is probably worth a go.

I know what you mean about targeting clients more, I agree. My existing client base at the moment is actually very broad so no focus developing of it's own accord - for example I have among others technology, manufacturing and leisure industry businesses represented, along with a housing association a charity and a couple of other different sectors on my books. I was thinking about maybe focusing on a couple of sectors I am preferring working with (naming no names in case clients are reading - you are all my favourite grin), and seeing how that goes to start with.

thefatladyscreams Fri 07-Aug-09 10:50:56

flowery

I work for one of the companies on the business park, rather than the business park itself, but I got the impression that the consultants got the room for free. Might be wrong, but it would make it a cheaper idea.

The other thing I've found SMEs need is help with employment contracts - something inbetween the DIY templates on the internet and the cost of hiring a firm of solicitors to do it for you. No idea how much you charge and whether that would be of interest to you (and obviously might have more legs when the economy picks up and people are hiring more - so maybe one for the future pot!)

flowerybeanbag Fri 07-Aug-09 10:55:22

mm, might investigate that fatlady, definitely worth thinking about if I could get a free venue.

I do do employment contracts and in fact all documentation. I offer a free audit of all employment documentation for small businesses which is usually the first step for a new client, and frequently a new employment contract is the first thing they need. Often people have cobbled together something from a free template a while ago or from an old one they had at an ex employer of their own, which neither meets their needs nor is actually legally up to date anymore, or sometimes they even have nothing at all.

thefatladyscreams Fri 07-Aug-09 11:09:26

I'd guess that when the business climate is good, a mailshot to local companies offering your free audit could be effective. Not sure about now though?

Sounds nice that you've got a steady flow of clients at the moment and not the usual feast or famine problem for small companies.

I've read loads of your advice on here - your clients sound lucky to have you! Just trying to make you blush on a Friday morning wink

flowerybeanbag Fri 07-Aug-09 11:13:12

blushblush

grin

hunkermunker Fri 07-Aug-09 11:17:57

Flowery, have you got a website?

If so, put a blog on it - that's where you can advertise yourself. Email your clients when you write a new post. Have a sign-up for more info space on it, so you build a mailing list and send it to those people too.

Do you do an ad-hoc one-off "help me" service, a bit like you provide on here?

flowerybeanbag Fri 07-Aug-09 11:31:04

Yes I do have a website hunker, (see link from profile). I don't have a blog bit yet though, just a 'contact me' form. You are right I need to start doing that, it's gone on my do to list quite high up as it's relatively easy and there's always something new to tell people about in employment!

Yes I do ad-hoc help, for employers and for private clients as well, on an hourly rate basis or an agreed fixed rate for whatever the issue is.

Am getting together a decent plan of action thanks to you ladies!

HerHonesty Fri 07-Aug-09 11:38:01

Hi, can i ask, what sort of business do you run? and have you considered increasing the amount you earn from current clients rather than expanding client list?

flowerybeanbag Fri 07-Aug-09 11:46:06

It's an HR consultancy HerHonesty, mainly aimed at small and medium sized businesses who don't have in-house HR support.

In terms of more business from existing clients, I suppose there might be a bit of potential there. Many of them are on an annual retainer where they can ring me up or email me to ask me for advice. For virtually all of them the first thing I do is the free check-up identifying any gaps or vulnerabilities in their documentation or processes. So they often start with a biggish project based on what the checkup has unearthed, then once that's all done, settle into either a retainer or otherwise ad hoc advice when they have a query or problem.

It's a tricky one, and part of the problem is that I am not a natural salesperson and hate pushiness with a vengeance so I would find it difficult to try to push other products or services on existing clients. I pride myself on being very approachable so I'd be concerned about people being put off.

I do think there is probably a happy medium which I am probably not achieving at the moment though, and regular newsletters and a blog might go some way towards achieving that.

hunkermunker Fri 07-Aug-09 16:39:01

FBB, whereabouts in the country are you?

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