Copyright 2006 Donna Gunter
I’ve been in business now for 7 years as the owner of a virtual company. That means that roughly 97% of my clients have come to me with no face-to-face contact. I prefer to conduct most of my marketing from the comfort of my own home, rather than getting dressed, driving to a networking event, struggling to find a parking space, forking over $30 or so for the event, and proceed to be uncomfortable because I really don’t want to be there.
Several years ago I thought moving that moving to the big city and networking with the “big girls” was exactly what I wanted to do and would be the bonanza I had been seeking to grow my business. Hindsight is always 20/20, and as I reflect on that experience, I realize that I just don’t network in person effectively — not because I don’t know how, but because I just don’t care to do so. Face-to-face networking is hard work for me, as it requires me to put on my “extrovert” face and go out and “meet and greet” the crowd. I’ve been told that I do this well, but I find the experience to be tiring and draining because it’s not something that I do naturally, nor does it tap into my gifts and talents.
Fighting my “inner introvert” has always been a struggle for me, as I tend to end up in careers and situations requiring much face-to-face contact. If you read many business books, most have the same message: the way to get clients is to build relationships with them. This usually means attendance at networking events or professional association meetings, visiting with clients at their offices, volunteering on boards of charitable organizations, etc. Those strategies are quite effective, but what strategies would someone use to build relationships virtually with people?
Here are 7 strategies I’ve used over the last 7 years to help me build virtual relationships and get more clients online:
1. A relationship-building website. Creating a website that is content rich for your target audience is key. When a visitor arrives at your site, she wants to know that you feel her pain, understand her problem, and have a ready solution to help her. Having page after page of information about how wonderful you does little to reassure her that you are the solution to her problem.
Some ways that your website can convey that you can solve the problems of your visitors are by providing testimonials from clients, case studies, free articles, free reports, online assessments, online surveys, and links to other online resources that might help.
2. Email newsletter. Creating and publishing an email newsletter on a regular basis is one of the best marketing moves I’ve made to date in my business. The format has changed from year to year, but here’s what I find that works: put “you” into your newsletter. If you plan to publish your newsletter every Thursday morning, for example, then create a schedule for yourself so that you can do so. Shorter newsletters that can be read (or skimmed) quickly are the best. Make sure that your newsletter’s subject line is compelling (and use personalization if your email broadcast system has that feature) to ensure that a greater number readers choose to open and read your current issue.
My newsletter consists of a personal reflection from me (what’s happening in my life either personally or professionally), a feature article to help my readers and demonstrate my expertise, and then 2 resources that my readers will find useful. A great newsletter doesn’t have to be long and complex, but should give you readers a strong sense of “you”. ConstantContact.com and EzineDirector.com are two reputable services you can use to broadcast your email newsletter.
3. Blog. I was slow to embrace the blogging craze, and still don’t use it as much as I should. I tend to use my blog to post info that I’ve learned from my day-to-day experiences, or to update readers on some type of business experiment that I’m trying. Occasionally, I’ll just post something I’ve found that’s funny or really useful to my readers that I won’t put in my newsletter, for one reason or another. Since the term blog is derived from “web log” or diary, use your blog as another way to reach out and touch your target market with some defining moments in your life and business. Blogger.com, WordPress.com, and Typepad.com all offer blogging software to get you started.
4. Article submission. Using a service to submit articles to various websites has done more for establishing my credibility and expertise than any other marketing technique I’ve used to date. Nothing is cooler than having a friend or colleague send you an email telling you that he just read your article in someone else’s newsletter. If you’re going to use this technique, you need to provide your readers with good, solid information and expertise to help them solve a problem.
Ideally, your articles should be between 700-800 words. I’ve found “how to” articles, or ones that break topics down into tips, in the way I’m writing this article, to be most useful for online readers. Remember that online readers are looking at light, rather than print, so the eye’s ability to read long passages of unbroken text is compromised when reading something off a computer screen. Make your points short and sweet, and bullet or number them to enhance the article’s “scanability”.
5. Online forums/discussion lists. Discovering where your target market hangs out online and reading and responding to posts made to their forums or discussion lists will put you in front of hundreds, perhaps thousands, at very little cost. Before posting to any online lists, go back and read what the group has been discussing previously, and lurk (hang out without posting) for a week or so to get a feel for how things are done on the list. If the list owner has guidelines, be sure and read and abide by those. Owners of lists that have large numbers of members and great discussions are vigilant about adhering to their guidelines and don’t hesitate to boot violators immediately.
Two great sources of online groups are Yahoo Groups, http://groups.yahoo.com , Google Groups, http://groups.google.com/. Scott Stratten also maintains a great list of good business-oriented discussion forums at http://www.un-marketing.com/index.php?p=u. Before you post to a group, make sure you have a great email signature line that contains a compelling offer. You’d be amazed at how many times I visit websites because of what I read in an email signature.
6. Teleconferences and webinars. One of the least expensive ways to offer interaction with your target market is to offer a teleclass or a webinar. Teleclasses (teleconferences) are pretty easy to design. If you plan for an hour-long teleclass, spend about 40 minutes providing content and allow 20 minutes for introductions, questions, and a very short promotional pitch, if you have one.
Colleague Jean Hanson offers a comparison of teleconference bridge lines here: http://www.virtualizeyourbiz.com/free.html. I like the service at FreeAudioConferencing.com. Here’s a list of 20 questions you can use to help you design your teleclass, as provided in the newsletter, Today’s Coach: http://www.todayscoach.com/2003/021003.html. And, to help you promote your teleclasses and teleconferences, visit SeminarAnnouncer.com.
7. Press Releases. Submitting an optimized press release (optimized with key words for your target market) is the newest trend in helping you get clients online. If you’ve never created a press release, here’s a wonderful online tutorial on how to write an effective release, including an online Press Release Builder, http://www.canadaone.com/promote/newsrelease1.html And, there’s an email newsletter devoted exclusively to the topic at: http://www.press-release-writing.com/. A listing of some of the online services I regularly use can be found at http://www.onlinebizcoachingcompany.com/resources.htm.
You don’t have to employ numerous strategies to successfully get clients online. Just pick a few that appeal to you and apply them consistently. Some experts will tell you never to give away your information or expertise (“why buy the cow if the milk is free” theory). I advocate that you should demonstrate what you know, as that is key in helping you build online relationships. and those who are really ready to implement your strategies will seek you out, as most won’t or can’t do it on their own.