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Startup Life In The Time of Corona, Lesson 2: Sales & Marketing

In this series, I share with you some of the key learnings I have had from my first 6 months of launching my first startup (Shiageto Consulting) and how those lessons are applicable for the challenges my business is facing during this pandemic crisis (and any business at any time in fact)

The initial challenge

In my last blog I talked about what I had learnt about my offering when it came to launching my new business and it turned out to be quite a lot but, while I may have thought that getting a killer offering would be vital, I hadn't banked on just quite how challenging it would be to let people know about it. I mean, in today's world of overwhelming constantly updated information, it is really hard to get people's attention (and that's even before Coronavirus came along). You're not just competing with other businesses, you're competing with the news, social media and even just busy lives.

Now, I don't come from a sales and marketing background so everything I have attempted to get people to look at Shiageto has been based on what I have learnt from my strategy consulting days, some good ol' trial and error and what I have read and been advised by others...with all that digested I think my main takeaway is that people are busy and very rarely come seeking your business out.

Sure, if I was Coca-Cola then everyone would know about my business but in a world where your close family and friends don't even know what you do for a job, how do you expect some client that you worked with 12 years ago to have kept up-to-date with the amazing new business you have created?

Short of rolling out a high-end marketing campaign across print, tv and radio, I was going to have to unleash my creativity in a new direction and overcome my natural tendency to wait for clients coming to me with their challenges (at least initially). I could wait forever for the phone to ring but if I didn't get out there and start selling then this was not going to work.

So, out I ventured into this big bad world and I realised that it's soooo tough as a startup. Not only are people not focused on you but actually there are others trying to also grab a slice of your prospective client's attention pie. In my head I equate this to trying to get served in an incredibly busy bar whilst the other punters are trying to do the same...oh and did I mention the bar only has one member of staff and some of the other punters are actively pushing you back in the queue. If you're lucky, the bartender may eventually notice you and take pity on you but the reality is that unless you come up with some great way to get their attention you're going without a drink for a very long time.

Simple really, that was my challenge! I couldn't rely on having a big brand behind me any more, or other colleagues to share the strain; even the novelty of my business soon began to wear off and claiming to be be the best at anything sounded false when literally everyone out there claims to be an 'expert'.

My response was just to be me. I realised I had a lot of contacts, a lot of good (but admittedly neglected in some cases) relationships and I wasn't afraid to try new things. So I started emailing, I started calling, I started writing articles. Each time I would record what I was doing and review the data on what was having the most effectiveness.

I'd try different styles of writing emails, telling different stories, different topics to write about. I'd try longer items vs shorter items, sending stuff out in the mornings vs in the evenings, putting stuff out on LinkedIn vs putting them out on other platforms, having 3rd parties send stuff vs me sending it directly, etc. You name it, I've tried it and I continue to try things to get through to prospective clients. Heck, I'll just settle for raising the awareness of Shiageto in general not just with prospective clients.

By no means did I come to a perfect way of doing things but slowly I was beginning to get through to people (it was a slog though) and by hitting the numbers I began to see sales coming out the other side (believe it when people say it can be a numbers game, it can take 100 emails to get 10 replies to get 5 coffees to get 3 proposals to get 1 project). Oh happy day!

How has the pandemic amplified my challenge?

Ah, the joys of Covid19! When it came to getting through to people, it just made everything much, much more difficult. The bar I've been trying to get served in now only serves for an hour a day and the number of people wanting to be served has gone up. Oh Sh*t! I'm never going to get a drink now.

The reality is that although it seems that now would be a better time to get hold of prospective clients as they have more time on their hands, this simply is not true. They probably have less actual time as they are desperately trying to home-school their kids whilst working feverishly; they are able to think about fewer new things as they worry about their own employment, the health of loved ones, their sanity, etc. (this is called having less cognitive load); they have less disposable cash and they are flooded with so many more people contacting them.

Add this all up and it means that prospective clients tend to engage less with unknown companies, they read less new marketing/articles/pieces of info and instead fallback on 'trusted' sales and businesses sources.

How do I know this? Well, I have literally tried giving away my (and Shiageto's) services for free in this pandemic only to either get no response or a polite no from companies that I have not yet worked with. On the contrary, clients who do know me have been happy to take this up...and this nicely leads me onto what I have learnt and continue to apply to my sales and marketing....

So, what are my takeaways from this learning?

It all seems so tough and this pandemic will definitely be a time when I'll have to work harder to generate new leads and new pieces of work but I take massive heart from what I learnt in my first 6 months.

To keep me focused and effective when it comes to sales and marketing, I remind myself of the

following every day:

  1. Focus on my established contacts; they are my best sources of work (at least for now). They are far more receptive to hearing from me, they respond and even if they don't have work they might know who does and/or might be willing to recommend me (which goes a long way)

  2. Feed the beast and the beast will feed you. Nobody is out there looking for my business, they aren't googling my website (it's just a hygiene factor really) so unless I'm proactive there is absolutely no chance of getting through. Not just that, but I've got to do some marketing every day, otherwise the beast very quickly will get hungry, lose interest and go elsewhere.

  3. Keep trying new stuff. It's amazing how quickly the novelty of things wears off and how long it can take to build momentum. I really believe that there is no crap piece of marketing, be it vlogs, blogs, quotes, etc. I shouldn't be afraid to try new things; each will resonate with different people in different ways so I mix them up, I don't get disheartened and I keep going.

  4. Don't assume anyone engages with anything. I shouldn't be afraid of repeating my messages over and over, telling the same stories, summarising things in new ways, reposting stuff. It all adds up.

  5. Keep it short and simple to access. This is one I struggle with at times if I'm honest, but I need to remember that I can always expand on a topic at a later point once people are engaged. With the flood of info around us, most people aren't going to click on things or use effort to engage so the more I make it easy for them, the better my chances.

I think that's enough on sales and marketing. I genuinely hope this has been of use to some of you. If you have any questions then send them my way otherwise look out for my next vlog and blog in this series where I'll be talking about what I have learnt about motivation.

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