As well as doing the actual work, as a leader you also need to ensure new and repeat business is continually coming through the door to maintain cash flow.
It seems that everyone has their own strategies for attracting new customers. Having spoken to hundreds of SMEs from every corner of the country, one trend keeps cropping up: relationships.
Here’s a look at how some of your SME peers use networking to increase their customer pool:
Sascha Moore, marketer and founder of Create Design & Marketing
“[When we started] really what we did is we leveraged the network that we had, and through my years of being in design and marketing, it was really making the calls. It was picking up the phone and saying, ‘Look, this is now what I'm doing, where are you at?’ and being really quite proactive with that process,” explains Sascha.
How has this changed since establishing the business in 2012?
“It's similar in the sense that it's conversational, but I'm much more aggressive without being confrontational now,” she says.
“I will always identify the client, the industry sector ... and through my network, quite often I'll identify, ‘Within my scope, there's room for X industry. Who do I know that's going to have a connection that I might be able to help?’.
“In my world, it's not about cold calling. A lot of companies do it very successfully; it's not my style, I don't do it well. What I would prefer is a slower burn but a more targeted approach, so when business is becoming drier for me, I'll get on the phone and say, ‘Who do you know that might need something?’.”
Mark Bilton, leadership consultant and founder of Thought Patrol
“I love LinkedIn. I think LinkedIn is a fantastic platform. Any customer I’m ever going to want is there,” says Mark.
“I use LinkedIn quite extensively. I’m always publishing articles, usually other people’s, just around leadership, strategy and culture, which are the three areas I operate in, building that profile and making sure I’m well connected. I go along to different events and speak ... At the end of the day, for me it’s the trusted adviser position.
“I’m still not as disciplined as I should be around those things, a little bit ad hoc. I do need to become a bit more disciplined around making sure I’m thinking about, ‘Well, where’s that pipeline coming from?’. I did work for a living before I became a CEO, and was a sales rep for a long time, so drawing on some of those old experiences.”
Rick Stone, risk management adviser and founder of Tigertail
“We struggle with having the time and finding the time to look for more work. It's an endless struggle. It means that despite the fact that we'll block away a day or half a day a week for development work and marketing work, it's the first thing that gets cut,” says Rick.
“It's a challenge. Finding the right people is a challenge. Finding the chief finance officer who's frightened about risk or finding the chair of the board who's frightened about risk is difficult.”
However, as Rick explains, he has two very different customer streams, which require very different amounts of work to obtain contracts and deliver solutions. So the real challenge is attracting more of the higher-paying, lower-workload customers while still meeting the needs of the firm’s bread-and-butter clients.
“We sell 60 per cent of our work to government clients and 40 per cent of our work to private sector organisations. [But] the revenue is the reverse of that: so our 60 per cent government clients give us about 40 per cent of our revenue, and our 40 per cent private sector clients give us about 60 per cent of our revenue,” he says.
“The government stuff is relatively process-driven, so that's mostly tenders, requests for quotation, writing proposals, completing monitoring websites that provide you with tender opportunities, and that's fairly passive. It comes to you. We don't have to go out hunting a lot of that work.
“Where we do look to hunt for work is in the private sector. How do we do that? We look for opportunities to speak at events.”
Samantha Wills, jewellery designer and founder of Samantha Wills Jewellery
For Samantha, times have changed significantly over the 12 years she has been in business. For a start, the pulling power of celebrity endorsements is on the decline.
“When that was happening for us in a really big way, it was probably like 2008, 2009, kind of before Instagram, and it was very much before this digital movement,” she says.
“There was digital around, but [a product] would get placed on, say, like a Rihanna, for example, and then it would be in a weekly magazine. It had a lot more value on it because you kind of had to wait for that weekly placement, whereas now Rihanna is showing what she's wearing on a daily basis. While the currency is still there to have a celebrity placement, it's definitely not as rare or, I think, as valuable as a few years ago.”
This means Samantha’s business has had to change tactics to attract new customers.
“We have SamanthaWills.com, which is our own online portal, and then we stock through department stores worldwide and independent boutiques. About 48 per cent of our revenue is our own online store, and we ship globally for that.”