Marketing Yourself and Your Business
Tips to get yourself noticed
by Joe DiNunno
So you’re working on a business plan? A key part of a good business plan is a marketing strategy to communicate your message to potential clients. Contract Professional contacted consultants, staffing firms, and marketing experts to gather advice on techniques for building your reputation. Here are some marketing tools and tips that will help you land that next contract.
Don’t Underestimate Freebies
Not only should you make an effort to stay in touch with current and potential clients, marketing consultant Robert Middleton, of Action Plan Marketing in Palo Alto, Calif., suggests that you “always give away something of value for free as a sample of what you can do.” One way to do this is by adding information that is of value to the readers of your newsletter. When you do this, don’t be surprised when you get a phone call from a potential client who read your newsletter because one of your subscribers found it interesting enough to forward to his or her colleagues.
Diane Herrera, a consultant in the Philadelphia area, heard Middleton speak at the Independent Computer Consultants Association (ICCA) conference two years ago and now takes what she learned a step further. “Last year, we established a section of our Web site as a download area for ‘free stuff’. In exchange for filling out a form — name, address, e-mail, phone number — users are allowed to download reports, scripts, macros, and other utilities that they can use free of charge. Many of the customers who came for the free stuff have turned into paying customers for larger, more complex projects.”
Know What You Want
“Consultants need to be much more specific and clear in what they are looking for and expecting,” says Andrew Gagen, president of the Midwest Chapter of the National Association of Computer Consultant Businesses (NACCB). “Technical skill is only about 50 percent of what makes contractors qualified to work with one of our clients. For each specific job, we look at their level of interest and enthusiasm, where they live in relation to the job, their personality, their hourly rate, their sense of commitment, and what their references say about them.”
When it comes to marketing himself, “one guy stands out at our firm,” says Wayne Stellmach, the marketing manager at Oak Enterprises, a staffing firm in suburban Chicago. “He sends a regular e-mail newsletter that keeps him very firmly planted in the top of our minds.”
The fact that Fred Barrett stands out from the crowd at a firm that receives more than 1,000 resumes each week is remarkable. To make it easy for him to keep in touch with recruiters and hiring managers, Barrett set up an e-mail list on Yahoo! Groups and began monthly distribution of his newsletter last October. He distributes it to agency recruiters, hiring managers, professional colleagues, and friends to keep them updated on his activities. It includes information on current assignments, availability, training and certification, and feedback, and a link to a current copy of his resume. Sending the newsletter regularly helps him to build name recognition with recruiters and hiring managers. This, in turn, “makes it easy for them to put me on the top of their calling list.”
Even though a newsletter is an effective way to keep people informed about you, Barrett advises that you still “need to call the recipients from time to time to maintain your relationships.”
Stellmach also reminds consultants that “you are always marketing, whether you know it or not. Acknowledge e-mails and phone calls, because this does impact your image. When people refer consultants to us they talk about their customer service and people skills, not their technical competence.”
Barrett gives the following advice for writing a newsletter:
- Current assignment and project activities
- Training and certification
“How To” Advice
- Maintain the distribution list for maximum effectiveness.
- Keep it short and to the point so the recipient can read it in 30 seconds or less.
- Distribute your newsletter on a regular basis for maximum impact.
- Name recognition — Putting your name in front of a recruiter or hiring manager on a regular basis helps achieve a “top-of-mind” position.
- Saves work for recruiters and hiring managers — Keeps them advised of your availability and makes it easy for them to put you on the top of their calling list.
- No incremental cost — Service on Yahoo! Groups and many other e-mail-list services is free.
- Privacy — Assures recipient privacy with individually addressed e-mail newsletter.
- Fast and efficient — Easy to keep in touch with hundreds of people on a regular basis, anytime, from anywhere.
- Not a substitute for phone contact. You need to call the recipients from time to time to maintain your relationship.
- E-mail distributions (and thus your message) can be ignored, deleted, and/or forgotten.
Get to Know a Recruiter
Dan Ingraham is a developer from Florida who has worked with staffing firms to land contracts around the country. He prefers to work through staffing firms because he no longer has to spend a lot of time marketing his business. “They can save you a lot of time and money,” he says. Albert echoes, “Some contractors don’t like using staffing firms, but when I consider what my time is worth, they provide a lot of value by doing some of my marketing for me.”
The most important aspect of working with recruiters is to establish a relationship with the people at the staffing firm. When you send a resume for a contract, take the time to establish a relationship with the recruiter. That way, even if she doesn’t have a position that matches your skills, you will be more than just a resume when she does have something that is a good fit for you. “While you are working on a contract, take the lead in growing your relationship with the firm that has placed you,” says Albert.
The best time to market yourself is when you are already working, so don’t forget to keep in touch with other recruiters as well, by letting them know when you are coming off of a contract. “Find a method to keep in touch with your clients and staffing services, even as simple as returning phone calls. Try to think about the point of view of the person you are communicating with — staffing firm, client, or other consultants. Making the job of the agency easier elevates you in their mind,” Stellmach says.
You can also help your marketing efforts by having an understanding of how staffing firms find people for a contract opening. “I contact those qualified contractors with whom I maintain personal relationships first,” says Atlanta broker Marene Emanuel. “If none of these people are available, I network by asking for referrals and guidance on possible sources. Next, I search my internal database of professionals I have spoken to and worked with previously. Finally, I look at external databases and posting sites by keyword search.”
Write Your Way to Experthood
Many consultants suggest that writing articles for magazines and other publications is an excellent way to gain name recognition and become known as an industry expert. This approach may not bring you a lot of business overnight, but over time the benefits can be tremendous. Although he had obtained some business from writing occasional articles in the past, it wasn’t until David Zimmer and his partner started writing articles on a weekly basis that they really began to get noticed. While attending a couple of conferences several months ago, Pennsylvania-based Zimmer says, “Five companies walked up to us, handed us their cards, and said that they needed our services.” Now, he says, not a conference goes by at which they aren’t approached by several people who say they know them from the articles.
Once you have written that article or paper, take advantage of multiple methods of distribution. Middleton recommends updating your Web site regularly with useful content because it gives potential clients a reason to return to your site. Zimmer includes his articles in a weekly e-mail newsletter and also archives them on his company Web site. The more pages on your Web site contain valuable information, the more hits you will get from search engine results.
Practice Your ‘Elevator Speech’
For those of you who prefer talking to writing, take advantage of every opportunity to tell people what you do. You can start with something as simple as your “elevator speech,” says communications consultant Craig Harrison of Berkeley, Calif. It’s an introductory paragraph given when meeting a stranger that says what’s special about your talents and lets the listener know what’s in it for them while encouraging a conversation to begin.
Harrison’s booklet includes the following advice on writing an “elevator speech”:
Your elevator speech should consist of your name and title, company, and something special about yourself: your talents, experience, or approach. Remember the goal is to stand out from the crowd, so be memorable. For example: “Hi, I’m Steve Zebriskie, I’m one of the few, the proud, the remaining COBOL programmers! I was a pioneer in business data processing. With 10 years of experience modifying embedded systems, I’m available immediately to assist you with your lingering Y2K problems. Call on me if I can be of service.”
More information is available at Harrison’s Web site.
Get the Inside Scoop
Even if you get all of your business through staffing firms, networking is still very important to obtaining new business. “As you work on a contract, establish relationships with other people working there, including contractors from other agencies that can give you exposure to more people,” says Atlanta contractor Gregg Albert, currently working on a project in Chicago. “They often know when the company is in need of additional resources and the person at the company or agency I should contact to apply for the position.” This can give you the inside track to an opening.
Teaching software development continuing education courses gives Denver consultant Greg Holling “another chance to get in front of people and show them my expertise,” he says. “After class they may ask me for some help with a problem they may be facing at work. Sometimes their problem is so big that it leads to a contract. I don’t get paid a lot for teaching these classes, but the business I pick up makes it worth my time.”
Be a Loyal Networker
User group meetings are another great place to “participate by speaking on a subject and becoming known as an expert,” Holling says. “After meetings people often ask me a couple of questions to help them get unstuck on a problem. This provides invaluable exposure and sometimes will lead to a contract.”
Lori McClellan, a consultant from Chicago, agrees. “Almost all the good relationships that I have built and keep for contracts are from user group meetings,” she says.
“Networking is absolutely critical,” concurs consultant Tom Tyler. “Building our referral network not only helps us find new business, it also becomes an asset to help current clients by getting other consultants to help in areas outside of our focus or availability.” The president of the Boston chapter of the ICCA, Tyler says, “Don’t go to any networking meeting with the mindset that you’re going to get a job from it. You go to the meetings continuously over time, building up a network of people who are familiar with you and what you do, and whom you are likewise familiar with. Getting more involved in these organizations costs more time, but increases the networking benefit.”
“If the vendor of a technology that you know well has a professional services division, get to know some of the staff in that division,” Atlanta consultant Jay Morgan suggests. Al Cole, a New Hampshire-based consultant who obtains many leads from software vendors, recommends, “Look for a vendor with an established partner program. Once you have demonstrated your technical competence, you will start getting leads.” After that, you can leverage these references to find future contracts.
Consider a Coach
If you need a little help with your marketing program, consider working with a marketing consultant. For a few hundred dollars you can get some advice on developing an action plan or some marketing materials. A comprehensive program to help you develop and implement your own marketing plan can cost you less than $2,000.
Middleton lists the following criteria to use when choosing a marketing coach:
1. Do they specialize?
2. Do they have broad skills?
3. Do they have several service options?
4. Do they provide lots of free information?
5. Are they well read and up to date with current marketing ideas?
6. Do they have a Web site and a free e-mail newsletter?
7. Do they have a robust marketing model and a way to evaluate your current marketing?
8. Can they work both locally and long distance?
9. Can they give plenty of references?
10. Are they easy and fun to work with?
More details are available at Middleton’s Web site.
Originally Published in Contract Professional Magazine in June 2001.
For a summary of this article, check out our Top Ten Tips for Marketing Your Business.