If you don’t know enough people to sell to then … you don’t know enough people to sell to!
It is as simple as that.
If you want to go beyond selling to your friends and family then you need to have an up-to-date and thriving database of potential clients, contacts and other relevant people that are interested in what you do and who might want to purchase from you or commission you.
If you are starting out you will need to identify and include potential people into a database, address book, e-mail management programme.
This process is called ‘Filling the Pipeline’, and is one of the first crucial steps in your marketing.
How do you start creating a database?
Step 1: Select a (computerised) database system
There are different ways to create a database. You can still use a plain old address book or card system, but these days online software makes life a lot easier.
The good news is that you don’t have to use anything fancy. Microsoft Windows Excel, Windows Contacts, Mac Works or FileMaker are very easy to use database software and often part of a software package.
If you want something more advanced you can use Microsoft Access, but you might need to ask somebody to format it in a way that makes it work for you.
Salesforce is for the professional marketeer, and works well to keep you up to date about the entire sales process, and people you have contacted, where they are in the sales pipeline and to create promotional campaigns.
If you send out regular group emails then it is essential to use one of the e-mail marketing software programmes such as AWeber or MailChimp, which act mostly as a database for contacts and their email addresses but can also contain other information.
The problem for many creatives and small businesses is that they often have contact details that are spread out over a variety of these different programmes. They become then rather difficult to handle.
Start collecting and putting all your contact information as much as possible into one place so that you get some more control over the information.
If you are keeping data information about other people and businesses (either on a computer or in an address book) as a business yourself then you are legally required in the UK to register with the ICO – the Information Commissioners Office. This is part of the Data Protection Act. You need to register once, and then pay an annual subscription fee.
Step 2: Gather all your existing contact details
You might be surprised how many people you already know after doing this easy exercise.
The people that need to be in your database are:
- your trade clients and consumers, both old and current contacts as well as potential new clients
- the press – think about local and trade press, but also bloggers
- other useful people e.g. referral partners, trade shows, craft fairs, business support organisations, award schemes, networking groups & events, …
Start with including your:
- current and past clients (Tip: go through past invoices for details!)
- contact lists on your mobile phone(s)
- email contacts
- manual address book or diaries
- Twitter followers list and Linked In Contact List
- business cards you have collected over the years (Tip: Check your drawers and hand bags!)
Ideally include the following info about the above groups:
- their first name, last name, and business name (if relevant)
- contact details such as: job title, address, telephone/mobile, email, website,
- tag each contact: separate into categories e.g. existing client, potential client, press, useful etc.
- notes on when you had your last contact
- in addition you can also rate the potential of the client e.g. 5 star is a really important existing client, while no stars might be somebody you don’t really rate highly to progress your business
Step 3: Research for new information
The best way to fill your database with quality contacts is to do an afternoon of market research.
Find out where your competitors or role models are selling as this is a very rich resource that can give you a good starting point for your own address list. Check their retailers’ or client list on their website, check their CV, Google them in general, read the trade press. Check what exhibitions and awards they got, where they got press, etc and include all the contact details in your database.
Identify potential (trade) clients (e.g. Retailers, galleries, agents, online retailers, businesses, interior designers) research what products or services they currently sell, at what price level (see our practical market research blog post), and put some of the most relevant information on your database too.
Identify people who can help you with referrals (one of the most effective ways to get new clients or to open doors! e.g. ex-tutors, business advisers, suppliers, accountants, specialist membership organisations). Connect with them on LinkedIn, and then approach them with a specific, short intro and a couple of specif business questions or specif request you need help with. Do this by email or phone, or see if you could ‘meet them for a coffee’.
Identify people in the media (e.g trade magazines, consumer magazines, local papers and radio, bloggers, stylists), follow them on Twitter and LinkedIn, research them thoroughly and then approach them direct in a personalised and professional manner.
Identify presentation & selling opportunities (e.g. trade shows, (craft) fairs, (networking) events, conferences, training workshops), and check who is selling or speaking there, how you can get involved (could you exhibit there, create work, participate in an installation, or could you talk at the event, or even volunteer or work there?). See the Design Trust listing of recommended trade and consumer shows.
Identify relevant websites that can help your design or craft business e.g. To learn technical, social media or business skills, for creative & business inspiration and know-how, for info on the latest opportunities and events in your field. Sign up for their newsletter if they have got one too.
Identify potential awards, grants, residencies, places where public commissions are announced.
Is your database getting fuller already, and more importantly …
… is there some really good quality information in there now too?
Step 4: Some other creative and social media ideas
There are other great ways to boost your database!
Have an interesting business card or post card with your work on, as it is more likely that potential clients will remember you or keep the card.
Moo cards do great business cards where you can include images. VistaPrint business cards are far cheaper and quick to order online. You can read here a guest post by photographer Yeshen Venema, that includes using images on business cards.
Participate in professional development programmes, ideally ones that includes talks by or mentoring/advice from various experts or successful creatives. This will allow you then to send a ‘thank you’ follow up, or to swop business cards. For example the Crafts Council’s Hot House programme, or our partners the School for Creative Startups and young creatives development agency IdeasTap (the latter very good for new photographers as they work closely with Magnum).
Identify other local or regional creative and small business/freelancer networks such as membership organisations, studio spaces, creative co-working spaces, freelancing networking events.
Create a Linked In profile (if you haven’t got one yet). Search and add people you already know, and invite them to connect with you. Research weekly 10 potential new contacts and approach them. Add 10 new contacts each week from the Linked In suggestions based on your current existing links (the more connections you have the better Linked In gets in predicting who might be useful to you.)
Become a member of relevant Linked In groups and either post a question or add to a discussion on their forum every two weeks or so. It’s better to focus on a smaller group and contribute regularly, then posting one-offs. Don’t oversell yourself, as your comments might be rejected (or even worse you might be banned from the group) and other users don’t like it either. Instead be informative and interesting, add some value and people will start to notice you and connect back. Our Business Club members can watch a webinar recording with Justyna Sowa on how to network online here.
Through Linked In you can see how you are connected to people you want to get in touch with. The more connections you have got the more likely it is that somebody you know is connected with the person you want to speak to. You can then ask your existing connection politely for an (e-mail) introduction.
Use Twitter to start following and connecting with people in your niche (incl. potential trade clients, press, journalists, role modls) and then connect with them via a Direct Message (DM) on twitter or email them directly referring to your recent twitter conversations. For more on Twitter see The Design Trust’s favourite social media tools
Sign up for a computerised email management system such as MailChimp or aWeber. Create a signing in box for your website or online shop. Do this in combination with driving traffic to your online shop or website.
Offer people something in return for signing up online to encourage more people to sign up e.g. A regular newsletter, information about you and your work, invites to future events, exclusive access to a short film of you at work or a short interview with you, special discounts or offers, an e-book that you have created, a competition to win one of your pieces, …
Organise your own event with other creatives, such as e.g. An Open Studios event, a creative workshop, an Art Trail or ‘Tupperware’ party to get more people to sign up to your address book in advance and during the event use a contact book for them to leave their name or email address. If you do this with a group of creatives it is more likely that more visitors will attend, and you can boost each other’s mailing lists.
And then? What should I do with all this data?
You have just started to fill your pipeline with high quality contacts!
This is the first stage in the four-stage selling process.
The other stages are: Following up, getting meetings and presentations, getting the contract or the sale. You can read about How to turn a stranger into a client: the 4 essential stages of selling here.
Boosting your database isn’t just about numbers … it’s about quality! Sometimes just adding 35 people to your contact list is the best marketing boost you can give your business – but you then need to have done extensive research to hand-pick this small group.
The worse thing you can do now is to start spamming people on your list and bombarding them with emails! It is definitely not good practice to email people who haven’t asked for information so make sure that you get their consent asap. Professional email management tools will not allow you to store any contact details, unless the recipients have expressly given their permission. In many countries it is even illegal, and you could be fined.
What you need to do is to contact people in a personal, friendly and professional way. Ideally contact them with a specific request or proposal, or send them a personal invite or e-newsletter – your success rate will massively increase.
Need to boost your marketing skills & confidence? Join Get Clients Now!
Do you want to create a simple one month marketing plan that stops you procrastinating about marketing and get into action?
This is an intensive 6-week programme for designers, makers and other creative soletraders, freelancers and small businesses to help you get more and better clients. It combines marketing theory and knowledge, with building your confidence and accountability. Check it out now.