It’s very common for businesses to stagnate. Whether it’s because you get so busy creating product that you don’t have time invest in growing, you’re comfortable the way things are, or you’re not sure how to grow your business. There’s a saying in business that if you’re not moving forward, you’re falling behind. And that’s a reality, because if you let your business stagnate, over time, you’re actually going to lose business. Or perhaps you’re noticing you’re able to complete jobs faster and so you’ve got time to take on new clients. Or you’re thinking about expanding, whether it be another employee or another embroidery machine.
Whatever the reason, you’re going to need more business. We’re going to spend the next three blog posts examining some key, and simple, actions you can take to help set you off on the right steps to be earning more money next month.
The first is building active word of mouth.
You’ve already got customers, and you’re doing a good job with their orders, they’re happy with the product they’re receiving. Perhaps that’s how your business started – you made a few shirts for your friends or family, they told someone else who ended up ordering from you and so on. That’s word of mouth.
Think about the last time you needed a product or service that you’ve never needed before. You bought a car for the first time and you need an oil change. You bought a dog and need to take it to obedience school. How did you go about finding those services? More than likely you talked to your friend/family/neighbor who has a dog, and asked where they went.
But how do you go about creating active word of mouth? What steps should you take? Just like with any business objective, you’re going to want to create some kind of plan – actionable steps that you can follow through on.
What do you do?
While this first step may seem obvious (I make custom t-shirts), you’re going to want to give it a fair amount of thought. You make custom t-shirts, is that all you do? Embroidery or HeatFX? Do you have a niche? These questions are important because it will determine the types of businesses that you reach out to. If you specialize it custom apparel for pets, the salon down the street may not be your target market. If you’re more of a general practitioner, then almost everyone is a potential customer, more or less.
There are different benefits to being in a niche market or a general practitioner, so there’s no right or wrong, better or worse. We’ll split them into two sections to help you get a better sense of the specific steps for each.
If you’re a General Practitioner, because everyone is a potential customer, you’re going to have to focus on one area at a time. Whether this is a physical area – the four block radius around your business – or perhaps one particular market – church groups.
If you’re going to a particular market make a list of where each of the churches are and build your sales plan from there. How many churches can you visit in a four hour block of time? When is someone at the church?
If you’re going to visit the businesses directly in your area, what are those businesses? Are they independent shops? How many are there?
Wherever you decide to start first, there are two important questions: What do you need to bring with you? What are going to say?
To help answer those questions, you’re actually going to want to start out with an outcome. What do you want to accomplish? Here are two goals that we suggest:
- I’d like to get an order (regardless of size)
- I’d like to build my contact/email list
Perhaps you think you can talk to about 20 businesses in your immediate area. Your first goal is to get one of those businesses to place an order right away. And the second goals is to get a business card, or permission to contact those businesses again, from at least ½ of them.
Something key to be conscious of when you visit these businesses is you need to find out who the decision maker is. Have a set spiel or two that you use when you walk into the business: “My name is ___, I do custom embroidery for businesses. T-shirts, caps, aprons (think about what that business might need in terms of custom apparel), and I wanted to introduce myself to the person who makes those decisions, and perhaps speak with them directly, or send him an email about some of the things I can offer your business. Would they be available today?” The worst thing to happen would be that they say no, they’re not interested. Even from there, you can still leave them your business card, or ask if they know anyone who is looking for custom apparel.
They could say yes. Perhaps they were just talking about getting their new logo on their aprons or they have a company event coming up. Awesome. Ask to speak with the decision maker, and if they’re not around, find out when they might be free, or their email or phone number so you can reach out to them later.
If you’re going to general businesses, perhaps you can reach about 20 businesses each time you go out. And you’re not going to go out every day. You have a business to run. Let’s say you go out once a week. By the end of the month, you’ve introduced yourself to 80 businesses. If you achieved your goals, you got 4 new customers already, and you’ve got 40 other potential customers. Next month, someone is going to order something from you.
In a niche market you have specific places you’ll be going to. If you do custom pet clothing, there aren’t going to be that many places you can reach out to, so it may not take 4 hours of your day. But some of these businesses might be further out, so you’ll spend a little bit more time driving. Because there are fewer businesses in your niche, you are going to need to invest a little bit more time, and be more calculated when you visit these businesses.
You know what type of product they’re going to what, what brand of shirt works best for them, what designs are most common. It also means that you have a better idea of pricing – what those items cost and what they retail for. And also, how long it would take you to make them. If you prepare all this information in advance it will actually help you close a sale faster.
As a general practitioner you might have had a polo you did your company’s logo embroidered on, or a pamphlet with examples of your work. In a niche business it’s incredibly important to have multiple samples prepared to show the clients. Your sales call needs to be the best it can be, and samples that are exactly what those business are looking for are going to help them make their decisions.
Just like with a general practitioner, you’re going to want to set goals for yourself. And they can be the same:
- I’d like to get an order (regardless of size)
- I’d like to build my contact/email list
Because you’re talking to a smaller market, you’re going to need to take notes. This isn’t something you do once and then you’re good. You may need to talk to a business more than once. So it’s important you have your contact notes – who did you talk to, did you get a business card, are they not interested because they already have a supplier, or are they not interested right now, do you need to send a follow up email. The next time you talk to them, if you do, you have a starting point: “Hey my name is ____ a couple months ago I popped by and spoke with ____. They mentioned that you might be needing some custom apparel closer to this time of year, thought I would check in and see if that was still the case.”
Use your own product
We mentioned earlier about wearing a polo with your company logo on it that you embroidered. This is hugely important, in any business. You go to a car dealership and the salesperson will be driving the same make of car the dealership sells. You go to a salon and the hairdressers use the products the salon uses. Make yourself items using your embroidery machine or your heatfx. Make sure it looks professional, clean, if you have to make yourself a new shirt every few months, make a new shirt. You’re showing potential clients what you can do. It’s easier for someone to make purchase decisions when they know what the outcome is going to look like.
We’re talked about making sure you know what your business is – general or niche. We’ve talked about setting goals – make them specific. We’ve talked about writing up a spiel for when you talk to businesses – it’ll help things go smoother. And the last two things are to schedule time to go out and make these connections, and then go do it! Sometimes the hardest step is the first one, going up to the business and introducing yourself. But the only way to get better at something is to do it again and again.
As we mentioned if you can talk to 100 businesses next month, you’re going to get at least one or two sales next month. And those customers can in turn, create even more business if you manage them properly, and create a great customer experience.