I gave a podcast interview a few months back that has generated a lot of interest in how my company, Atlas Civil Design, operates (In fact, I just made a key hire for a Project Manager position in Los Angeles as a direct result of that podcast. Thanks to Anthony Fasano for helping get the word out!). Anyway, I received a question this week from a listener of that podcast and I thought I would share my answer here on the blog. “Seth” asked the following question regarding business development for a startup engineering company:
When you first started out, what methods of marketing worked best to bring in clients? Existing relationships with architects, GCs and owners? Networking at realtor/land developer associations? Web site development? Others?
What a great question! Here is my response with some additional details thrown in:
When I moved to Southern California in 2008, I knew hardly anyone in that market. However, I latched onto an emerging technology called SITEOPS which presented very well and allowed me to provide a lot of value to clients in the early project stages. Using my new skills, I teamed up with a well connected architect and we proceeded to give about 200 presentations to various prospects over the next 3 years. During that time, my contact list grew from about 250 people to 1,000. I’d say about 95% of my current client base can be traced back in one way or another to people I met during those demos.
That’s a quick overview of how I did it. Clearly not everyone is going to be able to apply the exact same formula. However, here are some of the lessons from that experience that I believe everyone looking to start their own engineering business can use:
- Build your network now. Traditional networking, fancy web sites, and glossy brochures pale in comparison to building and maintaining authentic relationships BEFORE you actually need them.
- Provide value that sets you apart. No one cares that you provide “great service,” use the “latest technology,” or focus on the “success of your clients.” These claims are so overused that they have become meaningless. Instead, you need to be able to demonstrate that you can provide value that your competition cannot.
- Latch onto a Super Connector. Find someone who is well connected with your target market and can make introductions on your behalf. This person needs to become your new best friend.
- Practice your pitch. When your new best friend introduces you to prospects, you better have something to say besides “nice to meet you.” Keep your message simple, but clear, so those that you connect with can help spread the word.
- Keep in touch. Collecting business cards is not enough. You need to maintain existing relationships through periodic follow-up. Don’t spam them. Don’t annoy them. Look for appropriate opportunities to help others and let them know that you value the relationship.
Too many would-be entrepreneurs go into business for themselves thinking that focusing on creating a cool logo, developing a professional web site, and occasionally hanging out at a professional networking event is a good use of time. They are setting themselves up to fail. Creating and maintaining genuine relationships with potential clients is key. Providing ongoing value to those in your network will serve as the fuel for long term growth and success.