Hands down, "...generating work..." (business development) has got to be THE most critical challenge we've faced whilst trying to sustain our freelance consultancy over the last 7 years.
Two words: exposure (&) saturation.
If you are a self-employed freelancer, or sole trader, you'll undoubtedly feel our pain.
Exposure in that, as a freelancer or sole trader, you are not paid a salary backed by investment and other financial gearing or securities propping up a company.
And as such, every penny counts towards bread and butter and your personal upkeep.
Any dip in business (no matter how topical) has a direct impact on your household financial security and circumstances.
Saturation in that there are likely to be thousands of contractors offering identical skill-sets (on paper at least) with very little differentiation between them.
The resulting effect is a price sensitive customer who is generally ill-informed about the real benefits of your work.
This makes for a more sceptical sales interaction with customers.
Under such market conditions, customers will typically be less able to perceive the benefits you're offering and will be more concerned with "...getting it done cheap."
What happens when you combine these adverse factors?
You get put under tons of pressure to survive.
...on the flipside, you also have great opportunity to stand out by doing things differently!
This (apparently) is how diamonds are made.
Generating work by doing things differently
Why should doing things differently to your peers generate you more work?
It really depends what you do, of course.
But so long as it serves the needs of your audience, your business should only grow in stature.
The following points are tips for generating work which came to mind whilst considering our 7 years of freelance business experience:
- 1 Tip 1: Generating work begins with a sound strategy and business model
- 2 Tip 2: Generating work is fruitless - unless it makes profit
- 3 Tip 3: When generating work, make sure you define desirable work to avoid disappointment
- 4 Tip 4: Generating work depends on accurately identifying your customers
- 5 Tip 5: Generating work is about getting to know people
- 6 Tip 6: When generating work consider the long term worth of a customer
- 7 Tip 7: Generating work should be simple
- 8 Tip 8: Generating work in 2018 should involve teaching with content
- 9 Tip 9: Generating work should be service led, not profit led
- 10 Tip 10: Generating work with a liberal attitude
- 11 Tip 11: Excellence is key when generating work
- 12 Tip 12: Generating work requires consistency
- 13 Tip 13: Generating work needs to be relevant
- 14 Tip 14: Generating work involves you listening...a lot
- 15 Tip 15: Generating work is helped by being inventive
- 16 Tip 16: Utilise diversity of media when generating work through marketing
Tip 1: Generating work begins with a sound strategy and business model
A successful business model really is rooted in sound strategy.
You've got to know your marketplace, your customers, their needs and what they would appreciate the most in the satisfying of those needs.
Once you know this, you know how best to position yourself to serve your customers.
The next move is then to articulate the various means of service within a succinct business plan.
When modelling a successful business plan, think synergy.
In other words, how can you make even the most minor efficiency go the furthest distance?
The more angles for multiplying benefit and getting further mileage out of your efforts, the greater potential to satisfy your customers over the long term.
Tip 2: Generating work is fruitless - unless it makes profit
What should the key ingredient for success be in any business development plan?
Without being profitable, there isn't a business that can survive. It has to pay back it's investors to be worth investing in.
Whilst as a freelancer you might be trying to get busy, ask yourself the question, "...but am I truly getting paid?"
There is a difference.
Profit is that exact measure.
Gross, Net, EBITA...these are definitively your indicators of real reward.
How much of what comes in actually stays in your pocket and doesn't go back out again?
Tip 3: When generating work, make sure you define desirable work to avoid disappointment
Like any good business activity, generating work should ideally be defined by a some explicit statements of intent.
Theses statements act as seeds for an eventual harvest of reward.
Wrong seed, wrong harvest. Right seed, right harvest (all other things going well, of, course)
Again, all things business being tied into profit, your definition of work will dictate how sustainable your business will be ongoing.
An unprofitable definition of work will generate much busy-ness and little real pay. Very demotivating.
Whereas a profitable definition of work keeps everybody happy & therefore is thoroughly worth the time spent.
Tip 4: Generating work depends on accurately identifying your customers
KYC, which is business jargon for 'know your customers' is a fundamental of successfully generating work.
Without knowing your customers, how can you expect to effectively meet their needs?
KYC is all about exploring the complex layers of needs-based 'facts and figures' surrounding your customers and their circumstances.
Consultative interviews are your best opportunity for digging deep and hitting the gold of customer needs.
Patiently prepared exploration can lead to prosperous discovery in business.
Tip 5: Generating work is about getting to know people
At its root, generating work is about establishing relationships.
Being strategic gives you purpose and direction, but being personable and kind gives others value.
Value brings returns in business.
Returns, if profitable, help your business survive, build and grow.
Get strategic about getting to know people.
Tip 6: When generating work consider the long term worth of a customer
Relationships where both parties are inclined to deny themselves for the other grow in value are bound to work out.
Business is no different.
From the start, ensure that the work relationships you generate are built to last.
Front loading deals, or skewing risk exposure towards your clients can dissuade them to remain invested further on down the line.
Your clients' needs change continually.
We've experienced, as freelance consultants, that real profitability is gained through staying power.
There was an old business adage quoted frequently at business school which said, "...it costs approximately 7 times as much for businesses to acquire a new customer, than to keep an existing one."
As for how accurate that figure is...who knows?
In our experience, shortsighted sales practice, i.e. seeking to maximise your immediate commercial rewards damages trust.
What a great cost.
Long term client earnings over 8 years (...let's say) can be upwards of 1,000% the magnitude of initial sales value, by our experience.
How does this happen though?
Communication, communication, communication!
Continued investigative dialogue with clients leads to ongoing discovery of problems which you could solve.
For each new problem discovered, there is a potential cross-sell or up-sell opportunity for your business.
These cross-sells and up-sells are like branches to extend the fruitfulness of your business relationships.
Search 'em out.
Tip 7: Generating work should be simple
Finding new business partners to work with should be a straight forward endeavour.
Business development for freelancers begins with personal introduction, but with commercial purpose.
The best approach to introducing your business to new prospects (by our experience) is short, yet precise, easily repeatable steps.
Simple approach, simple in language, simple message, simple outcome.
Try to do too much at once and you'll run the risk of confusing your counterpart.
Tip 8: Generating work in 2018 should involve teaching with content
Your clients value your expertise.
If they could do what you do, chances are they would do it themselves.
Therefore constructive time spent talking with you could make a big difference to their situation.
But how many ways can you simulate the benefits of professional consultancy time - without being directly engaged with a client?
Countless ways, really.
In as many ways as you can record your message.
Recorded business messages (or, 'content') using digital communication has made development, affordability and delivery both easy and cost effective.
Technology such as email, SMS, web pages and social media are ideal and much publicised methods for distributing value-added commercial messages.
Through many series of messages over time, you can successfully, yet remotely, sell your services to prospective clients as though you were face to face. In some cases, even better.
There are countless case studies published online where this type of business communication can be seen to deliver diverse benefits in generating work.
One such benefit is substantially increasing sales conversion rate.
This is by overcoming many complex customer objections in advance of a sales meeting through publishing content.
Typically, the more understood you make your service and its benefits prior to a sales meeting (without giving it all away), the higher your chances will be of converting.
Tip 9: Generating work should be service led, not profit led
Your business is only as good as your customers say and not as your income statement says.
Customers come first in business.
However, it pays to be realistic.
Without profit your business folds.
Your customer focus and profitability should work in tandem for best results. You simply can't have one without the other.
Tip 10: Generating work with a liberal attitude
Giving is the primary mode & code of business.
The contrary is yet the assumption of many.
Business in popular media is often lauded for its financial rewards.
However, (arguably) the most catchy quality for you to possess as a business owner, or freelancer, is arguably enthusiasm.
Enjoying what you do, makes others want to join in...naturally.
It's free and a magnet for new customer engagement.
Video, audio recording, screencast - any way you can practically demonstrate what you do, how you do it and how your customers react is golden.
Tip 11: Excellence is key when generating work
Persistence pays off when generating work.
Not stopping until you get the job done wins customers.
Especially, where your work delivery is remote - showing customers that you really are on their side goes a long way to winning their confidence.
Besides, there is nothing more satisfying in business than lending your help to a challenge and despite great difficulty - overcoming, much to the delight of your customer.
Tip 12: Generating work requires consistency
Consistency implies reliability.
It amply answers the question, "...will they really be there when I need?"
But how can you demonstrate consistent service provision to prospective customers?
Quite simple. Share a sample of the wealth of what your clients get, for FREE.
Content marketing is the ideal method of achieving this.
Use your client deployment experiences as opportunities to prove your worth to yet-to-be customers.
If you perform client work daily, your content production also should be daily.
Never miss a moment.
Recycle and re-purpose every shred of customer interaction and generate work through simply spreading it around.
Tip 13: Generating work needs to be relevant
Any conversation can endure a long time if the contributors focus on relevance.
The root definition of the English word 'relevance' from its Latin roots is relevare which means to lighten, or lessen.
Simply put: people will want to work with your business, if you do well at lightening their burden in one way, or another.
This is a step further than problem solving, if you think about it.
Your customer may not necessarily perceive what they might want to collaborate with you on as a 'problem' per se.
That being said, if your service can lighten their load of...cost...time involvement...debt...uncollected credit...or anything else which would help them succeed, you might just have a deal.
Stay relevant and generating work should never be an uphill struggle.
Tip 14: Generating work involves you listening...a lot
How else would you know how best to serve someone?
Exploratory market research is where discovery happens.
Discovery of customer needs fuels business development campaigning and generates work.
Your most effective tool in exploratory market research is the 1-to-1 interview. You don't have to stage it, just arrange time to talk, prepare some points and let it flow.
Put yourself into the shoes of your subject/prospect and ask leading, well considered questions uncovering deeper detail.
Done well, the process should nurture business relationships, not quench them.
A keen ear, a good memory, the ability to multitask and the ability to pick up the thread again after digression (...not to mention shorthand) are great interviewer qualities.
The more focused your niche is, the more adept and nimble you'll be on your feet so when speaking during the exchange.
This helps keep the flow of the conversation moving.
Tip 15: Generating work is helped by being inventive
Connecting the dots can be a very profitable skill in generating work.
Technology suffices as a very effective bridge between problems and their solutions in business.
Selmore business consultancy has been benefited greatly by a diverse technological toolbox.
Easing out operational, administrative or communication bottlenecks with digital applications is our forte.
It requires keeping abreast and thus continued professional development is critical.
Were always reading, analysing, learning, studying, practising and experimenting to stretch our abilities for clients.
The advancements we've made in recent years have vastly broadened our scope for generating work.
Don't be afraid to think forward.
Tip 16: Utilise diversity of media when generating work through marketing
If giving your customers an intimate view of your business operations encourages interest, why spare expenses with how you present their view?
Producing digital content is cheap - the hardware, software, user-friendliness and getting professional results is well within the reach of many - with a bit of practice.
With some many types of media and content types to choose from - why limit choice?...keep it experimental, but do your research.
Research broadly across many sectors, even unrelated ones to your own. You'll be surprised what you learn and how valuable the lessons are.
So long as you are aware of the purpose of the medium you select, then its only a matter of tying in its relevance with your strategy.
Speaking of strategy...that brings us neatly back to the beginning.
Are you ready to draft your strategy for generating work & would welcome a professional opinion?
Get in touch, perhaps we might be able to help you.
Do you have any anecdotes to share with other readers about your experiences generating work?
Make a comment below...