Here is a thirteen-step business development plan for IT professionals and consultants. It will help you become the expert in your field and attract all the clients you need:
1. Identify your niche. Without a niche, it is impossible to aim your business development efforts effectively. You waste time and money chasing too many prospects. On the other hand, by choosing a niche, you can reach your prospects more efficiently, develop more complete solutions, and ultimately become an established expert much more easily.
It may seem counterintuitive, but choosing a niche INCREASES the number of clients you attract, while REDUCING the number of prospects that you try to reach. There are two parts to a niche. First, identify the services you want to offer. Second, identify the clients you want to hire you. You can identify clients by their industry (e.g. banking), demography (e.g. executives, home computer users), geography (e.g. San Diego), or interests (e.g. travel).
2. Identify the compelling problem you solve. Prospects need a reason to call an IT professional to help them. No problem, no business. Develop a solid understanding of the problems your target market faces, what these problems cost, and your solution.
3. Identify your edge compared to the competition. In most cases, it is nearly impossible for prospects to tell one IT professionals from another. Find a way to differentiate your services by adding more value, being more efficient, offering more complete solutions, being consistent, taking risk away from the client or by providing additional support or guarantees.
4. Compile a mailing list that allows you to stay in touch and follow up. The list should include past clients, current clients, prospects, referral sources, and influential people that can get your name out there (e.g. editors). This database is the most valuable tool in your business development tool kit.
5. Develop a series of informational messages that you can offer to prospects and clients. A web developer might offer a report entitled, “Seven secrets to designing a web site that will triple your revenue.” A systems integrator might develop an audio CD called, “The ten dirty secrets in the integration business that other firms don’t want you to know.” A networking pro might offer a piece entitled, “Nine ways to prevent a system failure that dooms your business.” Make sure that these pieces identify a compelling problem, offer a solution that works, and gives examples of how you have helped in these situations so that the prospect associates you with the solution. Longer pieces, filled with facts, are better.
6. Educate your audience with these informational messages, in any or all of the following ways:
– Written guides, papers, and manuals
– E-mail newsletters
– Your web site
– CD audios
7. Continue to follow up with prospects by offering more education and information. Each time you do, you build more trust and credibility. Soon your marketplace will trust and know you well enough to consider you the expert in the field.
8. Be responsive when prospects and clients call. Make it hassle free for clients and prospects to reach you, and get right back to them.
9. When prospects meet with you live to get your advice, don’t sell. Instead, ask about their situation, problems, goals, and what they want to achieve by meeting with you. Listen carefully, and check with the prospect to confirm that you understand their priorities. Offer your experience about the prospect’s problems and, after you are sure you understand the prospect’s situation clearly, suggest potential solutions. At this point, assuming the prospect is intrigued, you can talk about your background and how you have helped others with similar problems. Finally, let the prospect choose what they want to do next, without any pressure.
10. Deliver outstanding results when you are hired.
11. Get testimonials that you can include with your marketing materials from clients, influential people, and colleagues attesting to your expertise and capabilities.
12. Ask for referrals.
13. Keep in touch with clients so that they call you FIRST when they need help. Do this not by selling but by offering valuable support, information, and follow up.
This simple plan will attract loyal clients to you, generate referrals, and establish your reputation as the expert in your niche.