How to grow a very small business without wasting time and money on marketing

At a recent Slow Selling event we were joined by a number of sole trader businesses – people who had jobs like personal coaches, or trainers, or business coaches.

And one of the things I always do at our events is ask participants:

  • What are the main issues that you have in your business that you are looking to solve today?

The purpose of doing this is so that they feel listened to and valued, and they feel that they\’re going to get some answers to real questions they have in their business. Otherwise, what\’s the point of being there?

And, of course, to demonstrate at the end that the principles we talk about in Slow Selling have proven ability to solve all these sorts of issues.

At this particular event we had a larger than normal percentage of sole traders, and the question kept coming up time and again:

  • ‘How do I get noticed by new customers and grow my business when I haven\’t got time, or money, to market myself?’

The purpose of this blog is, therefore, to try and answer that question.

The issues I see are as follows:

  1. Sole traders have a very close relationship with their customers, which means that they will not have an objective view on how to find more of them.
  2. They are very unlikely to have a significant budget for advertising or marketing.
  3. They probably also have very little time to do networking.

And my advice to these people – to cut a long story short – is to slow down and look for the customers’ real needs.

What is it that they are really looking for in order to solve their real issues in life, related to the product or service that they are already coming to you for?

What would get them to want to recommend you to their friends and colleagues? Because you\’re so remarkable, and they have so much trust that if they recommended you, you would blow the socks off each and every person you came into contact with.

So, after explaining the key principles, ideas, and systems of Slow Selling, I suggest that the answer to their conundrum is going to lie in one of the following areas.

I’ll outline the areas and then we\’ll look at examples for each one.

  1. What other services or products would the customer who\’s already coming to you, really value that you might be able to provide or access in some way? This is called ‘cross selling’.
  2. What ongoing support plans or fixed amount subscription services could you perhaps consider offering that would make your services easier to budget for  the customer and more attractive? This is called ‘selling up’.
  3. What sort of exclusive services, or groups, or access ideas could you implement that would give your existing customers a really good extra advantage, or exclusive access, that is only available to them because they are existing customers? This is also ‘selling up’.
  4. What more in depth, or personal support related to the support you already give your customers, could you offer them on an ad hoc and exclusive basis? (More ‘selling up’ and ‘cross selling’).
  5. What feedback and referral system might you be able to put in place to both grow through finding out what ‘cross selling’ and ‘selling up’ might be really valued by your customers, and generate a steady stream of referrals?

These are not easy questions to answer for most sole traders, but they are the best way to grow business and profits for relatively little time, effort and cost.

Here are some examples in practice that we’ve worked with clients to achieve in the past:

  1. A classic example of providing extra services they would value – a fitness trainer might be to also offer nutritional advice and systems.
  2. A classic ongoing support plan – a coach or health practitioner might be to offer a fixed monthly fee for a regular check-up meeting.
  3. An exclusive group or access for clients – may be to team up with someone with complementary knowledge and skills to offer exclusive joint events for both of your clients.
  4. More in depth personal support – a business coach could actually sit with their customer when they are delivering the activities that you have coached them to deliver. For example, as a business coach, after coaching my customers on negotiation and communication skills, I have often sat with them in the negotiation and communication as an advisor and facilitator.
  5. For a small or exclusive club, or a trader, could be to offer a more in depth session at specific agreed times to people who really want to take their training or their experiences to a higher level.
  6. A feedback and referral system would work extremely well for all of these people but would need to be organised really carefully (along the lines we teach in ‘Slow Selling’), and would need to be tailored for each specific circumstance.

For example, we organised a very simple feedback and referral system for a one man band accountant: the aim was to find out how they were doing and what they needed to do more, or better, and what they needed to stop doing so that they could get more organised and better able to serve clients more effectively, whilst also reducing time and cost spent – and at the same time to grow the business through one new client per month.

The system we organised was very low key, simple and very low cost, and delivered exactly that. At the end of the year of doing this they had not only generated 15 new clients, but also jump started a new payroll service for existing clients … for a total cost of under £1000

So there you have it …

A simple and useful guide to how to grow a very small business without any sort of marketing or advertising budget.

The issue, of course, is that this is NOT a quick fix!

In order to do this right you need to slow down, understand your customers’ real needs very deeply, and work through this step by step to add value, and to ensure that you charge effectively for that value so that you grow your business steadily and effectively over the long period.

Unfortunately, so many very small businesses are so desperate that they fall victim to all these marketing so called ‘gurus’ who persuade them to take part in this activity, and then another activity, which has the effect of wasting huge amounts of time, and often huge amounts of money for little or no impact.

So if you are running a very small business, or even just a small business, think about these ideas and start putting a system in place to take three steps:

  1. Gather feedback little by little, very effectively and professionally.
  2. Learn the customers’ real needs, and then
  3. use this to grow your business through cross selling and upselling in these small, but extremely effective ways.

Thanks for reading. In our blog next month, we’ll talk about how to foster a genuinely customer-centric approach across your whole business!

Slow Selling is a UK based not for profit organisation for leaders of independent businesses.

It is a set of principles to help you slow down, set up systems for long term success, and use these to grow sales and profits through reputation, attraction, recommendation and referral.

Without wasting time, money and stress on unnecessary marketing and promotions.

To find out more, please click here

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