There are lots of different ways to attract new clients, and some of those routes-to-market can be more challenging than others. But one of the simplest methods – and in my opinion, the most satisfying – is to give away something of value to you.
Something that you know your lovely prospects will also really appreciate, need or want.
It might be timely information, useful advice, in-depth resources or a chance to test something. It might be giving away some of your time for free, or letting them try out a particular service, the try-before-you-buy approach.
For this to work, it has to have value to you
But whatever it is – and this is the important bit – you have to give it freely and without strings. Or people smell that rat. Which rat do I mean? The hard sell rat.
Because what people will truly value is not WHAT you have given them, but the WAY that you have given it – and that is where you can start to build a relationship.
Who can give what to attract new clients?
You have to give away something that has value to you, and give it without the expectation of reward. Or the giving is meaningless in the context of building a relationship – because people see straight through the giving-in-order-to-get approach.
- Consultants and advisers
They can give their time. For them, time is money, so it’s precious – and prospective customers know and appreciate that. Best of all, giving that time can make an immediate difference to a prospect. So take the time for a face-to-face meeting, make suggestions based on your experience, steer them away from directions you think may be wrong (and explain why) – all in that first meeting.
- Creatives and designers
Creatives and designers can give ideas, sketches or thoughts on approach, colour and style. Take good paper and pens along, cut snippets out of a magazine or have the meeting in an art gallery for inspiration. Invite the prospect to bring along 10 of their favourite photographs or to set up a Pinterest board (if they are that way inclined) that you can view to get more insight into what they like.
- Market researchers
Market researchers can ask questions – lots of them, in different ways. List out – just from experience – ten smart questions that help to answer a few of the most common problems that your clients in the past have struggled with. Explain the differences between some of the technical terms, share your knowledge, boost your prospect’s understanding. Simplify or demystify some of the processes involved in research. Encourage a prospect to lean on you for insight, education or information about your specialist area – and give it freely and willingly.
- Retail and commerce
In the world of retail, products and ecommerce, the transaction is a bit different. In fact, anyone with a product of any sort can of course give physical stuff away. To loyal customers, to randomly selected prospects – there’s a chance to surprise and delight people with spontaneous gifts, samples, new product lines and more. But this can have a very low perceived value to the customer (a free Mars Bar is yummy, but who’s kidding if we think that gift has any real value to Mars PLC? On the other hand, a Breitling watch might be nice….)
So the opportunity, here, lies in seeing how you can give away something of value to you, and to the customer, to create greater trust in the brand – without breaking the bank. You may have to get quite creative, and you’ll have to understand your customer, but you can always find something.
How much should you give for free?
This is a much more difficult question to answer, because it’s different for everyone.
Yes, there is a fine line to be drawn between (at one extreme) travelling around the country offering out free advice willy-nilly to anyone who asks. Helpful but not terribly profitable. And (at the other extreme), guarding one’s time so preciously that if a prospect calls with a query you tell them you won’t invoice them unless call takes longer than 3 minutes. Just plain horrible.
So the answer is – it’s up to you. But it has to fit with your own business proposition, its brand, your personality and your way of working.
I give my help and my time
From my own perspective and over the years in different scenarios, I’ve gained new clients through a mixture of giving and helping:
- Helping people find permanent work when I have good contacts in a particular area – and no, I don’t charge fees
- Helping people find freelance work when I think there’s a good fit between client and freelancer – ditto
- Free breakfast briefings with specialist content that clients have told us they want to learn more about – standard B2B method of sharing useful knowledge and creating stronger relationships with prospects
- Putting people in contact with other people who you think could benefit from knowing each other – just because you can
- Writing long-form articles to pass on what I’ve learnt about positioning, sales and marketing to people who are newer to it – admittedly, I like writing. And it helps clients to understand my approach and skill set. (So it shouldn’t really be in this list…..)
- Barter arrangements where I’m the wrong fit price-wise for a very small business, but they have something that I very much value and we can do swapsies to benefit both of us – win/win
- Writing a – very rough – business development action plan for a prospect on the back of a two hour meeting. This could either be used as a blueprint for action, a guide for ideas, or never referred to again. I sent it with a health warning that it might not be right for them (as the thinking in it stemmed purely from experience rather than careful market research and planning) – done mainly to demonstrate where I could add value and to help them assess whether it was possible/best for them to just get it done in-house without me
Going too far in giving stuff for free?
The last one – number 7 – would be going too far for many people. But I’m quite a spontaneous person, so I don’t take long (not long enough?) to think through whether I should give help or give something away for free. By the time I’ve thought about it, I’ve usually already gone and done it. Pinged off the introductory email. Stuck a bunch of proactive suggestions on a Word doc and sent it over. Asked a friend to put a new freelancer in touch with someone. And that suits me and my way of working.
People have often asked me whether I feel like I’m losing money – or at least losing the opportunity to earn money – by doing these things for free. The answer is, I never feel like that. And I have picked up clients in doing it. Makes me happy. 🙂
So, what can you do? Here’s some homework.
Grab a pen and paper and list out a whole load of things that your clients and customers would love to have for free. Put your empathy-o-meter on, get client curious, sit in their shoes and think about what would really help them – crucially, it might not be directly connected to what you offer, but it may still be something you can help with.
For example, I’m not a recruiter, but I seem to help find a lot of people work – I love it, it makes me feel good, people appreciate it, and somehow clients seems to appear off the back of it. Bit of a mystery really.
Then balance your list with the time you have available at the mo – it’s not always the right time to be giving stuff away for free. Take into account your own personality, style and attitude. It has to feel right for you and your business.