Q: It seems that I'll get really busy and sales are going through the roof. But then all the sudden, everything comes to a halt! It's like I must start all over again with my marketing efforts just to get new orders coming in. What can I do to make things more consistent?
A: You describe a common pitfall for start-up entrepreneurs. You get caught up in a vicious cycle, where you're so busy completing today's orders that you neglect to make time for marketing, which is what got you so busy in the first place. As a result, your sales hit a wall, and you find yourself having to ramp up your marketing efforts from scratch. How do you break this cycle to create more steady sales?
Remember the law of the harvest. In order to reap consistent sales, you must regularly sow the right activities to achieve your goals. So think of your marketing as three distinct phases: sowing, cultivating and reaping. This way, when you're reaping a new contract, you're still working other tasks (such as prospecting and follow up calls) today that will lead to a harvest of sales tomorrow, the next day and so forth.
So take a sheet of paper, or simply use a journal or day-timer, and divide it into three equal columns with the headers "Sowing," "Cultivating" and "Reaping." Then plan your day with specific activities listed under each column. What tasks fit which category? Here's a breakdown for you.
SOWING = PROSPECTING
In order to grow your business, you must do things on a daily basis to keep your name in front of customers. In other words, you're trying to sow the seed of your message in the minds of as many qualified prospects as possible. How do you go about achieving this objective? Here are a few avenues to consider:
- Attending networking events
- Sending out direct mailers
- Cold-calling prospective customers
- Placing ads in the Yellow Pages, print publications and the broadcast media, or on the Internet
- Teaching seminars
- Generating media coverage
- E-mail prospecting
- Asking customers and other contacts for referrals
- Organizing charity events
Ask yourself: "What three to five tasks should I do today to put my name in front of more new prospects?" Then make those activities part of your plan for the day.
CULTIVATING = FOLLOWING UP
Once you've established contact with prospects, how do you cultivate the relationship? This is your follow-up phase. These people already know about you. Now you're looking for ways to nudge them closer to buying from you. There are a number of ways to accomplishing this objective, including:
- Periodic newsletters
- Birthday and anniversary cards
- Special announcements letting prospects know about great deals, new products or services, special events and so on
- Courtesy follow-up phone calls
- Follow-up meetings
The idea here is to plan activities to build as much rapport as possible with your prospects and give them more and more reasons to do business with you-instead of a competitor.
REAPING = CLOSING THE DEAL
This is the fun part! You've done the hard work-now it's time to get paid. When you list your deal-closing activities for each day, you boost your motivation to keep doing the prospecting and follow-up tasks you need to succeed.
So, don't depend on luck to help you build your business. Make things happen! As the late motivational author and speaker Earl Nightingale put it, "Luck is what happens when preparedness meets opportunity." When you sow the right activities and spend time cultivating relationships with your prospects on a daily basis, you'll reap a continuous harvest of sales and exciting opportunities!
Sean Lyden is the CEO of Prestige Positioning (a service of The Professional Writing Firm Inc.), an Atlanta-based firm that "positions" clients as leading experts in their field-through ghost-written articles and books for publication. Clients include Morgan Stanley, IFG Securities, SunTrust Service Corp. and several professional advisory and management consulting firms nationwide.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.