In our line of work we consider networking to be a top priority. Lead generation is hugely important for MarketInvoice to find new customers and businesses. The most difficult time for MarketInvoice was trying to get the first small business customer to use our online invoice finance platform. To begin with there was a catch-22 situation where people wanted to use us, but no one was willing to be the first one.
A startup business is always about sales. Everyone in the company has to do their bit, even the more technical team members. You don’t have a business if you don’t have any customers. There is no point building the world’s best invoice auction platform if no one ever uses it. Sales can be a dark and lonely place, but you need to go through that to find your first customers and turn the corner, that is why networking is so important in order to get those first clients.
Apart from appearing in the national media, we rely on our ability to meet potential clients at events and via referrals, awareness that our service exists is a big factor. Most startups and SMEs don’t have the luxury of plastering TV with adverts, so you need to be street-smart in order to get your message across.
- Have a clear understanding of what you do (it does help!) – You must know whom your customer is and whom your product is aimed at. In order to get referrals, you must first have a clear understanding of what you do that you can easily articulate to others.
- Know your competitors – By pinpointing who the competition is you will be in a better position to describe how your product is better/differs from your competitors’. For example we offer an alternative form of invoice finance and so we are very clear on how it differs form factoring.
- Is it worth attending some events? Know your goals – Many a time we have attended an event that didn’t generate any leads. It is imperative that you know the type of businesses attending a particular event, thus you will be able to gauge whether it is worth going. Some meetings are based more on learning, making contacts, and/or volunteering rather than on strictly making business connections. Take what is said to you by an exhibition seller with a pinch of salt. They will say anything in order to get you to purchase a stand at an exhibition!
- Ask open-ended questions in networking conversations – Conversation one-oh-one in many respects. This means questions that ask who, what, where, when, and how as opposed to those that can be answered with a simple yes or no. This form of questioning opens up the discussion and shows listeners that you are interested in them. It will also allow you to assess who you are talking to, whether they are worth pursuing and giving you an opportunity to explain your business.
- Become known as a bastion of influence & a powerful resource for others – When you are known as a strong resource, people remember to turn to you for suggestions, ideas, names of other people, etc. This keeps you visible to them. This goes hand in hand with knowing your business & customers and being able to put that message across. This works well with MarketInvoice, we receive many referred clients from businesses that we have met and networked with.
- Follow through quickly and efficiently on referrals you are given – Speed is of the essence; get those referrals on your books. When people give you referrals, your actions are a reflection on them. May be useful to have some kind of paid referral scheme in order to encourage more contacts to help your business; a bottle of plonk as a thank you gift never gets taken badly either (stay away from the Bollinger though, a bit too Barclays/Libor scandal-esque!)
- Call those you meet who may benefit from what you do – It is a great idea to contact anyone you have met after an event in order to reaffirm your business in their mind’s eye. A good reason to harvest business cards!
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