When launching a professional practice or service business, the success of your first few months of operation is crucial. If you are a typical service business owner, you’re starting up with less capital than a storefront or product-based business. You are likely to have the expectation that you will begin earning income right away.
You may also have fewer business assets than other types of businesses, and will have to use your personal credit if funds run low.
Here are three important steps to take when launching a new service business that will guarantee your success:
1. Get clients before you start. Find a way to moonlight while maintaining another source of income. Beginning your business with existing clients will give you confidence and start building your referral base. Satisfied customers will provide you with testimonial quotes and a client list for your marketing kit, and references you can give to prospective clients.
Starting up with clients already on the books will hopefully provide you with immediate income. But if you find it difficult to get paying clients at the beginning, volunteer your services for a non-profit organization, or barter with another professional for something you need. You’ll still get all the other benefits above.
2. Notify everyone you know. And I do mean everyone. Don’t wait until your business is successful to announce it. Go through every address book you have — on your computer and in your desk drawer. Review the rosters of associations you belong to and events you’ve attended. Find your holiday card list. Look through your checkbook for all the people you already do business with. Anyone who might remember you belongs on your announcement list.
Compose an announcement about your new business to send each of these people. This might be a formal announcement card: “Michele Baudouin is pleased to announce the launch of her consulting practice, Strategic Business Solutions, providing strategic planning and productivity consulting to the financial services industry.” Or it may be a personalized letter with a business card enclosed. Don’t send any marketing materials at this point, just an announcement.
Send your announcements out in small batches, then — very important! — place a follow-up call to each person about a week later. Remind them of your connection, if necessary, and offer to answer their questions about your new business. Ask what they are doing these days, and if there’s any way you can help them. Tell them what kind of clients you are looking for, and ask if they would feel comfortable referring potential clients to you.
3. Follow a marketing plan. You’ll notice that I’m saying FOLLOW one, not just WRITE it. That’s what most folks do who take the trouble to plan their marketing at all — they write a plan and stick it in a drawer. You need to build in time and money for regular marketing from the very beginning of your business. Once you get busy with clients, you’ll find you have precious little time for it. Regardless of whether you have business or not, never stop marketing.
Be sure what you have is a plan, not just a strategy. Rather than listing ideas on how you might market your business, pick a few activities you will actually be able to do over the next few months. Estimate how much time and money each one will take, and see if that is manageable for you. Then assign dates to each activity that looks doable, and PUT THEM IN YOUR CALENDAR.
If you find that marketing keeps taking a back seat to other responsibilities, do whatever it takes to shift your priorities. Unless you have a long waiting list of clients eager to work with you, the only two activities that should take precedence over marketing are serving your existing clients and getting out the invoices.