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New Business, New Customers?

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Sean Foster

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Post Wed Jan 20, 2016 5:15 pm

New Business, New Customers?

Hi All,

Please excuse the naivety of this post but I need some help!

I've been building my sign and print business over the last year, and really spent most of it getting premises sorted out, learning how to operate equipment, software etc (got lots of graphic design experience but not a huge amount of sign making experience!).

I've had a few clients over the last few months mainly involving vehicle graphics (vinyl) and signs for industrial units.
The clients were referred to me and have been pleased with their finished products.

I need to get more business in to start paying the bills (obviously) and although I'd love most of the work to come from referals, I need to start somewhere.
I've spent quite a bit of time building a good website, building social media pages and getting on free directories, but wondering now what are the most cost effective ways to get my name out there?
I'm looking at cold calling (face to face) to local businesses, networking events, local advirtising, but really don't know where to start!

I suppose my question is, if you were to start a new sign and print business in a new location without any previous contacts, how would you start? What sort of businesses would you approach?

I've researched my competitors in my area and am certain there is room for my small outfit, the services I am offering are vinyl signs of all types, simple shop signage, street signs etc, vinyl wrapping, banners and all of the usual stuff.
I also have sublimation priting for personalised clothing, mugs etc. but as it's just me I want to concentrate on the sign side first.

Any help would be greatly appreciated!
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David Hammond

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Post Wed Jan 20, 2016 8:02 pm

Re: New Business, New Customers?

I joined BNI and stuck it out for 3-4 years.

Got some good customers and friends, but it did become a burden. Don't let it take over your own business, and keep an eye on how much £££'s it's really bringing in.

Effort vs Profit.
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Sean Foster

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Post Thu Jan 21, 2016 6:21 pm

Re: New Business, New Customers?

Thanks David,
I hadn't heard of BNI, had a good look on the internet and looks like a good, if strictly structured organisation, my only concern would be worrying about bringing referrels as I'm a new business starting out.
I think it's worth further investigation though.
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David Hammond

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Post Thu Jan 21, 2016 6:27 pm

Re: New Business, New Customers?

The group I was in wasn't too strict. Which is good and bad. Visit a few groups and get a feel for each.
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Iain Pearson

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Post Thu Jan 21, 2016 8:18 pm

Re: New Business, New Customers?

Where are you based Sean - I may be able to give you a few contacts
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James Boden

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Post Fri Jan 22, 2016 10:30 am

Re: New Business, New Customers?

Hi Sean,

When I started out I had some business cards printed up and went on foot down the high street door to door. I would say for every 5 shops I entered I would get some kind of business from one. I secured one of my best clients this way and he still uses me on a regular basis.

The second thing I found worked for me was putting a large A-board out on the road side. I was contacted by a councillor who asked me to remove it or it would be removed by the council. I was very slow and vague at getting back to him and 2 years later it's still there (touch wood). This has been great at getting regular business through the door.

Hope that helps.

Best

James
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Phill Fenton

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Post Fri Jan 22, 2016 5:10 pm

Re: New Business, New Customers?

I'm not a great fan of BNI for a number of reasons:-

1/ You are put under pressure to recommend others in the group even though you may not have any direct experience of the quality of their business.
2/ The quality of leads you receive are highly variable and at times can be poor and simply a waste of your time.
3/ You will need to spend a lot of time and effort into getting referrals for others in the group - time that would be better spent simply promoting your own business
4/ It's a relatively expensive way to promote your business

Having said that - you will most certainly get work through becoming a member - but the gains may not be justified by the cost in terms of the time and effort you will need to put in along with the monetary cost of membership.

Once you've joined it's difficult to get out - a bit like joining the scientologists :-?
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David Hammond

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Post Fri Jan 22, 2016 8:31 pm

Re: New Business, New Customers?

Further to Phil's post, BNI don't mention the training, and the roles you're expected to undertake, like visitor host (that actually prevents you networking), committee member, and heaven forbid you get lumbered with Membership co-coordinator :shake:

Yeah perhaps BNI wasn't my best idea!
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Martin Pearson

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Post Sat Jan 23, 2016 3:28 pm

Re: New Business, New Customers?

Although joining BNI might not be your cup of tea, yes I have been a member as well & while it did bring in a little work it was time consuming & not the most profitable method of advertising you are allowed to go to a couple of meetings as a guest which is a way to meet other business owners & learn something about them without becoming a member :lol1:
There are probably a few other networking groups in your area that are also worth a visit as a guest to see how it goes so a google search of your area is an idea.
A walk down the high street to introduce yourself is worth doing, I found the best way to do this was not to try & sell to people but just introduce yourself & ask if you can leave a business card & any other info you have. Do you wear branded workwear? I have had quite a bit of work over the years because someone at a filling station or somewhere else asked about something. Not a fast way to build business but every little helps.
Oh & rather than put a business card/flyer through the door of empty shops I use to put a small easy peel sticker on the door normally by the lock.
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Sean Foster

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Post Sat Jan 23, 2016 7:10 pm

Re: New Business, New Customers?

Thanks for your replies everyone, I really do appreicate it!

Actually before Christmas I went round in person to a number of local businesses (mostly the ones on my industrial estate) with a pack of mince pies and a few business cards. Not heard anything back yet, but it was good to meet people and what I want to do is sow the seeds and come across as a friendly trustworthy service.

I've looked into BNI in quite some depth over the past few days and there seems to be lots of people saying how good it is, but even more about how regimeted it is. Also it's not cheap, and as you may appreciate, money is very tight at the momet!

I've decided to try out Business 4 Networking events, there are 5 groups within a 25 mile radius of me and they are supposed to be 50% social-50% business, I like the idea of getting to know people on a social level too!
I'm going to the first one on Tuesday in Derby (My business is based in Hilton, Derby) and i can go to three without having to join up, so I'll see how i get along.

Once again, thanks for all of your replies, it's really given me something to go on.

Sean
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Sean Foster

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Post Tue Feb 23, 2016 4:17 pm

Re: New Business, New Customers?

Just a quick update on this;

Since I started this post about a month ago I've been to numerous networking events around my area including 4N and BNI.

I managed to pick up quite a large Van/exhibition graphics job from my first 4N event plus two van jobs and three promotional wear jobs from the BNI meeting!

Since there was a printers seat available at my local BNI chapter (I do sign and print) I've decided to join.
Got to say the BNI meeting was really easy going and not what I expected (in a good way!)

Thanks everyone for your comments. :D
Last edited by Sean Foster on Tue Feb 23, 2016 6:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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David Hammond

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Post Tue Feb 23, 2016 6:30 pm

Re: New Business, New Customers?

Great news Sean!

Keep an eye on you own figures, your business comes first!

In my opinion you want a steady stream of new clients, not a few returning clients from BNI, or you may as well leave like we did and look after the clients you gained.
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Chris Ranner

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Post Wed Feb 24, 2016 4:13 pm

Re: New Business, New Customers?

BNI has been quite profitable for me I must admit, I think it completely depends on the chapter and thus people in it.

I've been "in" for about 18 months now and (for me) it is great, I made my yearly fee back (in profit) in my first referral.

My best advice with it is to make sure you know exactly what you want as a good referral and make this explicitly clear to the group, for example, I mentioned I wanted to meet with a certain architect whom I didn't have any contacts who could get me in, the next day I was sat in their office. I also get a good few from other local chapters so play the game and sub in for other members.

I even got my printer from the ex sign maker in the group!

You are lucky you are in an industry where referrals should be reasonably easy to come by, our sign maker only left because he was looking to retire and moved away from the area. Work on your 60s and get it slick and specific and you'll be fine.

As mentioned, you will likely be coaxed into roles within the chapter, steer clear of membership coordinator and secretary treasurer but (if you're OK with talking infront of people) Chapter Director is one of the better roles, you get to meet with every visitor and has the least work outside of the meeting! Certainly don't get roped into anything higher like area director, tooooooo much hassle and will likely sink your company with the amount of time required.
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Sean Foster

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Post Thu Feb 25, 2016 4:14 pm

Re: New Business, New Customers?

Thanks Chaps,

That's really interesting to know about the BNI roles, I agree that anything more than a few hours extra a week would be difficult!
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David Hammond

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Post Thu Feb 25, 2016 8:08 pm

Re: New Business, New Customers?

Yes they're very selective about what they tell you.

Roles, and the compulsory Training aren't mentioned.

Committee roles are OK, just a few hours a month, and you get to air your opinion and help steer the group... if the others listen.

Visitor Host - found that defied the point of being there, as your not 'networking' your meeting & greeting and introducing visitors to the room. Yeah you get a shout out each meeting, but I suspect it'd be more productive networking.

I've done both of those. Chapter director is probably OK if you're confident and have a personality.

Membership co-ordinator, avoid like the plague!!! The horror stories of people inputting data into an archaeic system, then it goes missing, and needs redoing! Treasurer, only if you really want the responsibility of looking after everyones money.

I'm not anti BNI, it worked for us, BUT don't get distracted by all the bumph they push, PALMS, TYFTB, make sure it really does work for you.

The TYFTB is an illusion IMHO, BNI wants you to put white cards in for every bit of business, even the referral the accountant received 10 years ago, for someones annual accounts. There may be £10m TYFTB in the room, but how much is actually a) from current members b) from referrals that year.

I recorded our TYFTB annually (clarity helps as we set BNI as a lead source), then deducted those companies who were referrals the previous year to see what new customers we gained.

We had a few members leave and ended up with a few external referrals, where if we were in or out of BNI these customers wouldnt know, and we would likely retain them.

Maybe I am geeky, I spend quite a bit of time looking at our business, and analysing figures.

In short do not solely rely on BNI, and don't get tunnel vision with it, good luck, I am sure you'll be alright and you're sure to make some money!

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