Finding clients is equal parts art and science. Susan Varty helps break it down.
Susan Varty has been an entrepreneur since she was a teenager. Back in the day, she had a side gig going at all times, beginning with laying out brochures for real estate agents before desktop publishing was a thing. Seeking out ways to build new businesses was a hobby and a passion.
Among other entrepreneurial roles, today she’s Managing Partner of HeadStart Copywriting, a firm that provides writing services to companies that need support for their internal teams. She’s also a Co-Founder of the Write Up North conference in Ontario. She’s a corporate writer but she mainly focuses on drumming up new business. “I’m a hunter. I go after the business and then I delegate the writing.”
We asked her to share some of her proven tips on for finding clients and making your services stand out in a competitive market.
“Ideas First, Sell Later”
For service-based entrepreneurs, our lifeblood is our ideas. Give them away for free? That’s crazy talk! But Varty says giving prospects a taste of what you can do for them will help set you apart from your competition. It’s also a great way to introduce yourself to a client or company you want to work with.
Give ideas away for free? That’s crazy talk! But Varty says giving prospects a taste of what you can do for them will help set you apart from your competition
“If you’re a graphic designer and someone posts on LinkedIn that they’re looking for help redesigning their home page, take five minutes to review their website, come up with a brief idea and offer it to them. Ask them if they’re free on Friday at 11am to discuss. Instead of pitching your services, you’re starting a conversation.”
No matter what type of service you provide, you can target a client or company, think about what they need that you can provide and approach them with ideas.
As a writer, this has worked for Varty more times than she can count. “It’s how I got to write for the Globe and Mail and lots of other publications. People don’t care about your bio, they want to know what you can do for them. Show them. That’s the most important thing.”
The follow-up is just as important as the pitch. Her advice is to be specific with a date and a time to have a phone call or in-person meeting.
Be Smart About Networking
While getting together with your peers is a perfect opportunity to learn about the industry and pick up some best practices, it’s worth your time to cast a wider net. Choose events designed for your ideal clients’ industries.
“Because I write a lot about payment trends, I talk to banks. They’re my customers. So recently I attended a payment summit. I want to network with mostly bankers, not other service providers,” said Varty.
Before entering a networking event, use your knowledge of your current clients to consider what clients like them might need. What are their pain points and how can you alleviate them? Be prepared with examples and anecdotes about how you filled a need for a client with similar challenges.
“You really have to hook them in a way that’s beneficial for them. It’s not about you. Look for a perfect match—you have what they want and they have what you want. Find that common ground and you’re on your way to building a relationship,” said Varty.
One way to alleviate the awkwardness of networking is to go at it with an intention to learn more about others, not share about yourself. “I often ask people about their goals, which gets them talking and I learn what they’re interested in. It’s also a window into learning what their challenges are and how I might help with that. Or, I can make a referral, which is another great way to make an impression.”
Build Relationships Online and Offline
It’s easy to develop a business relationship exclusively through social media platforms like Twitter or LinkedIn. But how strong is that relationship?
If you’re really interested in landing a particular client, it’s important to meet face to face, even if it’s for a quick coffee. The act of putting a face to a name makes you real in a way that emails and online networking simply can’t. You’re adding dimension to yourself that will pay off when you post on LinkedIn or send them an email. They’ll have a stronger memory and a clearer picture of you than if you’d just exchanged online messages.
When cultivating a new business relationship this way, it’s important that your online persona matches your offline one. Be sure you have an updated photo on LinkedIn and that your professional summary matches your personality as much as possible. “It’s about exuding a consistent, executive presence. When you project your personality the same way online and offline, that’s reassuring and builds trust with potential clients,” said Varty.
The act of putting a face to a name makes you real in a way that emails and online networking simply can’t. You’re adding dimension to yourself that will pay off.
Conversely, if you meet someone you may want to work with at an event, it’s important to immediately connect with them on LinkedIn. “What the online networking piece does is reinforce your offline relationship. If I meet someone offline first and then connect on LinkedIn, I’m reinforcing our knowledge of each other and when we meet again we’re more familiar with each other,” said Varty.
Use LinkedIn Wisely
Are you taking full advantage of LinkedIn? According to Varty, it offers prospecting gold. “It’s the go-to source for me. If you’re running a service business, you can get new business almost exclusively using LinkedIn.”
Here are some of her favorite tips for finding clients on LinkedIn:
Mine Company Pages
If you’re a B2B business, you can find out a lot from a company’s LinkedIn page. You can identify whether you have any contacts who could introduce you or make referrals within the company. The page will also indicate which other companies are like them. “If I have a credit union for a client, I can go on their LinkedIn page and find out how many other credit unions are in my area, then I can look them up and see how many employees they have and how many of my connections work there. It’s an ideal prospecting tool if you’re looking to get work that’s similar to what you’re already doing.”
Take LinkedIn Conversations to Email
Sending messages through LinkedIn is a good way to make first contact, but once you’ve done that, Varty advises taking it to email. “People usually check their email more regularly than LinkedIn messaging.”
Look at Job Postings
As an entrepreneur, you’re not in the market for a full-time position, but pay attention to the kinds of roles that provide similar services that you do. “If a company is hiring a copywriter or graphic designer, you know they have money to support that role. Reach out to them to see if you can provide interim support while they’re hiring. When they do hire, you’ll be on the top of the list if they need to outsource any work.”
Don’t Spam Your Connections
It’s smart to keep your connections in the loop about what you’re doing professionally, but it’s not okay to constantly post about your achievements. “Use LinkedIn to raise other people up as much as you promote yourself. Offer kudos, make connections, write encouraging comments to others. They’ll remember that and return the favor.”
Look for Hidden Opportunities
Sometimes companies give you more information than they intend to when they make announcements. For example, a director posting a welcome to three new hires is telling you that their company is growing and there may be opportunities to outsource work. The same goes for new launches overseas, mergers and acquisitions, expansion into new markets and more.
For Varty, looking for new business is a way of life. She adapts her business planning and outreach practices to allow for business trends, industry changes and new technology.
“Being organized, managing relationships and looking for new opportunities should be on the daily agenda of every business.”