Craig at BudgetPulse left a thoughtful comment on my blog a couple weeks ago that I've been meaning to write about:

"How do you go about reaching new clients and trying to pitch them for consulting help.  What specific activities do you do for them?"

The answer is actually kind of interesting.

Despite the fact that business is on the Internet, so far I have met every single client in person before working with them. I meet people mostly through local events or through friends. Even when I'm not trying to, I end up selling. I have convinced my massage therapist and my insurance agent to work with me so far (Facebook and Twitter, respectively). 

Clearly I'm hoping this having to meet people directly will change for the growth of my business. But also this tells me that maybe I'm effective in person, which I guess isn't so bad!

Upon first meeting someone, I mentally put them in one of several categories:

Yes clients– These people know what they want and do not flinch when I mention my rates (and usually they remark that they are 'reasonable'). They are most likely to contact me directly. This is the client I pray for: little or no chasing because they already want to work with me.

Almost Yes clients– These people kind of know what they want to get out of internet marketing but don't know exactly. They are most likely to write back to me quickly after I've followed up with them. This client requires a little chasing but aren't hard to nail down.

Maybe clients– They want something  from me but have "limited funds". They are sporadically in contact with me. They may buy eventually but I can tell not now.

Probably not clients– They don't seem to understand what I can and can't do, even if I've explained it clearly (Example: I can't promise them page one on a Google search for free.) They think the internet is for young people or gimicky. Often they tell me my prices are high.

I concentrate my efforts on the people in those first two categories.
I actually schedule in my email and/or phone nagging on my Google calendar. I nag more initially and slowly taper it off as I figure out what category a potential client should stay in. Someone who seemed excited initially may not return my emails or someone who I thought was not going to buy will email me a New York Times article about blogging and ask how they can get started.

The categories are fluid but I am getting much better at sticking potential clients in the proper categories earlier. It's all about working harder not smarter, right?

Of course, I could sit around giving free advice all day. Sadly I (and my current phone plan) can't afford to have lots of unproductive (ie not money making) conversations. Potential clients get an initial half hour after which I have to start charging. This has the added benefit of "scaring away" people who don't want to pay me.

People who use the online inquiry form seem to misunderstand my services, but I help them anyway. It's hard to explain to people that I don't do web design. I can help them through the web design process (I've done this for a couple people, write content and help them organize and gather the information). Mostly, however, I do web promotion once the site is live.

What I do for "Do you design websites?" inquiries is provide information about people I know who do it.  I hope that 1) they will remember me being helpful and maybe want me involved in their web design process and/or from the promotional side and 2) their web designer will remember me sending customers their way and do the same favor for me.

But it's important to be nice to everyone. Recommendations can come from odd places (I got a referral from the people who printed my business cards for example). Even people who don't become clients may become friends, colleagues, or even just readers of my blog, which is alright with me.

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