Learn how and why to connect with your clients
By James Rounds
According to the Small Business Administration, there are approximately 600,000 new businesses started each year in the United States. Many of these same businesses fail during the first year because the owner was unaware of how much time, effort and money it takes to maintain a successful business. Two-thirds of these businesses survive at least two years, and 44 percent survive at least four years, according to a new study. Considering that small businesses have such a dismal survival rate, the industry has had its volume cut by two-thirds. That means that small business owners are faced with two choices: they can become part of that 44 percent or they can find a job elsewhere.
For many who pursue their dream to own their own business, there’s no shame in having at least tried. A good salesperson is welcome in any industry, and there are plenty of businesses where closing the sale doesn’t involve a fraction of the red tape that mortgage professionals have to deal with in this industry. With access to capital being a serious issue for many companies, it would not be surprising to see even more small businesses closing their doors and heading back to the workplace.
Those who manage to keep their doors open beyond the five year mark are few and far in between. That said, there will still be winners and losers this year, as it seems doubtful that the business survival rate will improve anytime soon. The losers will be just a shade slower at identifying and engaging good prospects, just a bit later with a phone call or an email or too busy to make it to a given networking event.
The winners, however, will know exactly where their target market gathers on the internet, exactly how to evaluate the good leads quickly and how to engage them, and they understand how to add value to the online community while increasing the visibility of their businesses. How will they know these things? The winners have learned how to embrace technology and have found ways to create value using nontraditional tools and methods of building an attentive client base and strengthen existing relationships.
[right-quote]“Social media is about two-way conversations, though some of them are very short. The old game of sending out information and then not hanging around for the conversation will not be effective anymore.”[/right-quote]
Social Media and Marketing
In the past, the most successful small business owners have always been masters in marketing their products and services to the general public. They know the kinds of information that their target market is looking for, and they know where these prospects will be looking for it. They’ve been successful for years, advertising in newspapers and using spokespeople on television. Now, they think they’ll continue to lead the field by doing the same things with social media. Today, those methods are no longer as effective.
Social media is a different game than traditional marketing. In the past, marketing was a one-way conversation- information moved from the company to the prospective client(s). Social media is about two-way conversations, though some of them are short. The old game of sending out information and then not hanging around for the conversation does not cut it in today’s marketplace. There is a saying in networking circles that goes, “Facts tell, and stories sell.” With the newest changes on major social networking platforms like Facebook, stories have become one of the most effective methods to engage clients and power partners.
In fact, interacting with potential clients using social media in the same way you once did with traditional advertising could do more harm than good to the companies that engage in it. This makes perfect sense if you think of social media websites as venues for social gatherings. With few exceptions, the social rules that work for real-life encounters are followed by participants in these online venues.
For instance, if you enter a room full of professionals where a business mixer is taking place and then one by one people come over and greet you warmly and you respond by turning your back to them, you will be perceived as rude. And yet, this is what many companies do in the social media realm. They enter a conversation by sending out information and then fail to respond when someone in that venue attempts to start up a conversation. In these days, you have to engage your target audience with friendly welcome message on your social media sites which encourages other members to interact with your page.
So many people give up and/or conclude that social media is not worth the effort. This may be due to the fact that many companies testing social media are not getting many responses. Perhaps they don’t expect to get any and therefore aren’t monitoring these sites effectively. With the right content and careful monitoring, however, companies can turn these social conversations into relationships that will lead to sales.
Conversing and Convincing
In the past, it seemed as though prospective buyers needed only to be given a price and a delivery date before they made a decision about purchasing big ticket items or entering into long-term contracts with small businesses. These days, things are a little more complicated. Because of the tightening of access to credit and other such economic pressures, many businesses appear desperate to make a sale.
In a lot of cases, this perception may be wrong, but unless prospective clients know this, they may as well be reality. Successful salespeople understand how to change these buyer’s perceptions, but only through a number of heart-to-heart conversations. This makes social media a vitally important tool for small businesses, yet how they use it will make all the difference.
When it comes to content, clients need to be engaged by someone they feel they can trust. Since it’s unlikely that a new business owner will be able to reach people who are familiar with their manner of service, some business owners will fall back on techniques that worked for them in the past. They’ll solicit referrals and testimonials from previously satisfied clients and other professionals whom they have served. They will share what they know about their industry freely in as many social media settings as they can. They will offer what the market feels is valuable, and in this way they will build reputations that will support their businesses in their local markets.
So what kind of information do potential clients find valuable? It’s simple, information that will help solve their problems, that will help save them money, that will keep them out of trouble if there is risk of getting into it and that will give them back some of the comfort they once had in their financial lives. Now more than ever, business owners have to show the public how to get more of what they want with what they have- how to create added value.
Increasingly, these conversations will happen online in social media settings that require business owners to share what they know intelligently, keep an eye out for responses that can be the beginnings of conversations and then keep those conversations going until they can build relationships that will result in more business.
* * *
James Rounds is the founder and principal advisor of Integrated Corporate Solutions, a business development and advisory services firm which specializes in business development, entity formation and corporate compliance. He is an expert business advisor who helps early stage entrepreneurs, solo professionals and nonprofit organizations gain more clarity and confidence to experience even-greater impact, influence and income.