Self-promotion sends shudders down the spines of many small business owners and freelancers.
You have to do it. However, the thought of making cold calls or yet another round of bad coffee and stale bagels at some networking event makes you just want to go back to bed and hide under the covers.
You think, maybe I’ll just go take the dog for a walk instead. Or go get a latte.
The problem is, that without promoting yourself, in some way, you’re unlikely to get work (making it hard to feed the dog or pay for that latte).
Wouldn’t it be great if you could get more clients without selling? Or irritating people?
Cold calls are annoying
Calling people and interrupting them is irritating. They’re busy. They don’t want a sales pitch while they’re trying to get Bob from accounting to pay the invoice for the new company website.
You tend to freeze up, and get nervous. You wonder what you were thinking.
Networking is not working
We’ve all been to networking events with speakers who drone on and on and tell jokes so bad you want to run screaming out of the room.
Or, everyone sits around a table. Each person introduces themselves and gives a short “pitch.” Inevitably, these are duller than watching paint dry. You start dreaming of that latte again.
You leave with a few business cards, almost inevitably tossed in the trash.
You wonder, “Why do I keep going to these things?” You want to give up.
Skip the prospecting entirely
That’s right. Skip it. There’s a better way to do this. You don’t really have to “sell” at all. The secret is something else entirely. No selling, no phone calls, no boring events.
Instead of trying to push something on people, be helpful. When someone has a question in a forum, track down a useful link or video that will help them. If a LinkedIn member is looking for a coder (and you know a good one), refer that person.
Both people will thank you for it. Show that you care about your clients. Go out of your way to help them build their own businesses (send them referrals, for example).
I’ve gotten several clients from an online forum where “selling” or even linking to your own site is discouraged. I took a few minutes to rewrite or comment (when asked) on marketing ideas or copy. I pitched in on a few group projects, and answered newbie questions, building up trust. No pitch, just clients.
The online world gives us much greater reach than we had 20 years ago, but people are still people — and the human touch makes a difference. Being connected to 50,000 people on LinkedIn (or an “open” connector), doesn’t mean much. Neither does having 10,000 likes on Facebook. Neither one is particularly meaningful.
Find complementary businesses, and really connect with them (a real estate broker and a bank loan officer for example).
If you link to someone, follow up and offer to help them with a problem they have, regardless of whether it earns you anything right away (aside: of all the people who have linked to me on LinkedIn only one has bothered to follow up – who do you think I’ll contact if I need the service she provides).
Build your own network
Bring together those complementary businesses, and help them help each other. Hold a Google Plus hangout, bring everyone in for lunch (if practical), and have a real conversation. You can even make up a website or directory and send potential clients directly there (pretty easy to do with a wordpress blog).
None of this is selling in the traditional sense. There are no cold calls, no objections to overcome, and much less competition. You may never cold call again.