Keeping Your Clients In the Know
Ah, the network. I don’t mean servers and routers, but people. If you can’t afford to advertise, then your network—your expanding circle of colleagues, clients and prospects—is your best route to new business. The question, of course, is how to work it and how to make it grow. There’s good news: Mining your network for new business is not only easy, but also cheap. There are new and not-so-new technologies to do it.
Did Someone Say Blog?
There are lots of reasons to blog, but the best is peer pressure. In a recent survey, GuideWireGroup and iUpload said nearly 90 percent of all companies blog or plan to blog in the future. Nearly 60 percent of those companies have less than 100 employees.
So it’s fair to say that blogging is catching on. But there are more reasons to blog, and they’re compelling: Blogging is a showcase for what you know. As an ASP expert or Siebel whiz, you’re first and foremost a knowledge worker. You sell your expertise, and that means you need a way to prove it exists. If you blog about your chosen profession and talk about cutting-edge concepts, new products or a best practice or two, you give clients a living, breathing sample of your knowledge.
Blogging gets you noticed, too. When someone Googles the topic you’ve written about, they’ll find you, which means they might call you. Just remember to follow these tips:
- Be professional: Write about what you know, not who you are. We don’t really care about what you ate for breakfast. We care about CRM, ERP, network architectures and so on.
- Don’t use geekspeak: Use simple, plain language. Speak in a way that clients will understand (and even warm to).
- Keep the clients in mind: What do they want to know? What information can help them earn money? Answer those questions, and you’ll have a great blog.
A wiki is simply a Web site where users can add their own content or edit content from other users. Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org) is the best-known example, but it’s not the only one by any means.
What can you do with wikis? You can:
- Build an extranet: You can share documents, policies, white papers and all kinds of good stuff. Even better, you can build sections for each client where you post your proposals, project plans, billing information, architectures and more.
- Share documents: The very nature of wikis lets you share documents and collaborate.
There’s a bunch of slick (read: pricey) software that lets you do the same thing, but why not roll it up into your Web site so your clients get a one-stop shop? And with a wiki, they don’t need to install special software on their end. No headache, no heartache.
There is a lot of good wiki software that you can use without a Ph.D. (or two or three) in the subject. Try JotSpot.com or Editme.com. Or, try one of the open-source options such as Altassian, so long as you try something, and soon.
Last, The Newsletter
A newsletter is a simple way to network into a larger client base. Here’s how:
- Define your target field: Be as specific as possible. Believe it or not, you’ll get a larger audience if you limit your focus. So choose something you’re good at, where you can honestly claim expertise.
- Write well: As with blogs and wikis, learn to write a coherent sentence. No one wants to read your work if you’re not articulate.
- Give a good mix of content: Deal with the nuts and bolts and the cutting edge alike. Remember that usefulness is a good measure of value. The content you write should give readers something they can use to build their bottom line.
- Make it free: If you have exceptional, one-of-a-kind content that can’t be found elsewhere, then charge for it. Otherwise, send your newsletter to clients and prospects for free.
For distribution, use e-mail or snail mail. If you go the snail-mail route, be sure to use color. And before you say it’s too expensive, remember that you can buy a good color laser printer for a few hundred bucks. It’s just one of the simple and effective ways to work the network, and it’s one you should be using post-haste.
After all, as a consultant in a quickly evolving market, there’s a simple phrase by which you should live: Why wait?
David Garrett is a Web designer and former IT director, as well as the author of “Herding Chickens: Innovative Techniques in Project Management.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.