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9 questions to determine your ideal client 

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The right fit

You already know you need to identify your ideal client. The process starts with visualizing the person most likely to buy your service or product, and then describing them in full detail from demographics to their emotional state.

You’ve described their personality, traits, values, buying behavior, interests, and pain points.

You’ve considered aspects such as market segment and business size. All are crucial in finding and engaging with folks most likely to want — and be willing to pay for — what you’re offering. It’s a crucial step you can’t afford to skip.


But just because someone fits your ideal client demographics description, it doesn’t mean they’re an ideal client for you. I visualize the ideal fit discussion in two sections: Demographic fit, and Circumstantial fit.

Demographic fit is just what it sounds like. By all indications, clients matching all of your demographic criteria should be a good fit. But what is Circumstantial fit? The client could check every box in your Demographic fit list, but circumstances still indicate it would be unwise to engage.

Related: Tips for creating an ideal client profile and putting it to work

Why include Circumstantial fit as part of the overall client evaluation? 

There’s no shortage of guidance around Demographic fit. Coming up with your own list of Circumstantial fit questions is equally important.

There’s plenty of work out there.

Why be unhappy or resentful when you could just as easily find work and clients you love?

Here are 9 questions not for potential clients, but for you. Formulating answers will help you evaluate responses during initial conversations, and do a better job of pre-qualifying potential clients.

1. How flexible are you willing to be regarding timeline?

Even if they are the perfect Demographic fit, if the client needs a new site in two weeks, and you’re booked for the next two months, that’s a potential deal-breaker.

If the client really wants you, they might wait, but that’s not always an option.

  • Are you willing to take rush projects? Would you charge extra?
  • Are you willing to re-prioritize your workload in order to take on a highly coveted client?
  • Are you willing to extend your working hours to finish this project on time?

2. How flexible are you willing to be regarding price?

If client expectations about the price range are far below yours, where do you draw the line?

  • Are you willing to offer a discounted price to get the job, even if it means reducing profit?
  • Are you prepared to suggest a phased, scaled-back approach, with hopes that more work can be done in a few months?
  • Are you willing to trade services to offset a budget difference?

Related: Pricing for web pros — how to stop sabotaging your pricing strategy

3. Are you willing to engage in a lowest-bid competition to land a project?

If I learn the client is running a bidding war, I gracefully bow out. I already know mine won’t be the lowest proposal. My approach: “You can’t be the best and the cheapest at the same time.”

Are you willing to:

  • Low-ball your estimate to win a bidding war?
  • Disclose up-front that you don’t engage in low-bid competitions?
  • take a lower-paying project that steals time which could be applied to a more profitable project?

4. Are you a purist working in only one platform?

If you’re a WordPress expert, you may think you’d never even talk to someone requesting a Joomla site. But if they fit all of your other criteria, a discussion is worthwhile in case one of you is willing to consider alternatives.

  • Will you only work on a single platform?
  • Are you willing to learn another platform to land an otherwise-perfect fit client?

5. Is client location a concern?

I prefer taking clients in my major metropolitan area. I like being close enough that we could conceivably meet other than on Zoom, and love helping my clients network with each other.

It’s my policy, so I can allow a rare exception when it makes sense.

One long-term local client suggested his brother contact me about redesigning his website. While the brother lives in another state, I was willing to talk with him given the existing relationship. We hit it off and now both brothers are long-term clients.

  • Do you limit clients by geographic constraints?
  • In which cases would you consider making an exception?
  • How far apart can timezones be, where you still find a comfortable overlap for meetings?

6. Do you evaluate clients for strategic positioning within your portfolio?

If you specialize in a niche market, at some point you could be approached by an existing client’s competitor. If they’re not in the same geographic area, it may not matter, but with so many online businesses, it very well could. If they’re in the same area, it could be a conflict of interest if you’re simultaneously trying to optimize SEO on both sites for the city name or other local factors.

Since so much of my work is local, I avoid taking direct competitors as clients. In addition, I actively volunteer on local political issues and campaigns. It would be unethical to accept website projects for opposing candidates, and I’ve turned down work on this basis.

  • Do you have a policy about not accepting clients when there is a conflict of interest?
  • If you would consider potentially competing clients, would you notify both clients? If so, what would you say?

7. Are you focused on short-term or long-term work?

Most web pros prefer long-term engagements. Short-term projects without opportunity for ongoing maintenance or additional projects mean more marketing and sales to replace them in your pipeline.

In addition to Care Plan commitment, my ideal-fit clients have additional billable work for me, such as content creation, social media, newsletter, or print collateral. A short-term project doesn’t rule out a client, but I’d rather invest the time in a client with long-term potential.

  • What is your definition of “long-term?”
  • Would you consider short-term projects, even if there is no long-term work with this client on the horizon?

8. Would you turn down a client based on your perception of their business skills?

There are also red flags you may not discover during the Demographics fit discussion, especially if that first screening is in the form of an online questionnaire. There are no easy questions to ask clients to get answers on these topics, until you’re having a discussion.

Would you turn down a client if they…

  • Have an unethical or unstable business model?
  • Can’t clearly articulate their business or site goals?
  • Don’t seem to be on board with your expectations around payment, communication, and day-to-day engagement?

9. Would you turn down a client based on interpersonal skills?

In addition to the definable characteristics, I listen closely to how the client speaks about their project. Seemingly casual statements can foreshadow potential issues down the road.

Would you turn down a client if they…

  • Vocally expressed opinions indicating you’re on opposite ends of the political spectrum?
  • Appear to have poor communication skills?
  • Have what you consider an offensive sense of humor?
  • Say they “want the best” but also say they have a very limited budget?
  • Perceive cost to be a burden (as opposed to an investment) and ask “how much will this set me back?”
  • Start the conversation with a barter offer?
  • Promise visibility in lieu of payment?
  • Say “I don’t know how to describe what I’m looking for, but I’ll know it when I see it?”

Related: The 17 types of clients that every web designer deals with

What if you discover a Circumstantial bad-fit situation?

If it’s not the right fit, I recommend orchestrating a graceful exit as soon as possible. There’s no point in wasting either party’s time.

  • If I can confirm a solid reason for rejection, I’ll do my best to explain it so the client knows why. If it’s an item related to interpersonal skills, I may avoid direct confrontation or embarrassment, and just say “Sorry, I don’t think this is going to work out.”
  • If there’s a logical opportunity to make an exception, I’ll consider it — but I never feel obligated. I might tell the client I have a concern, need to consider the options, and will get back to them.
  • If the client is someone I’d like to work with but can’t due to Circumstantial fit, and I can suggest another web pro I trust, I’ll offer to make a referral. I’ll say “I can’t take the project, but let me check with some trusted peers, to see if they’re available.” I never want to send referrals without first checking the person has the bandwidth to take on new clients.

Conclusion

Before speaking with potential clients, it’s critical to have a clear understanding of the topics on which you’re willing to compromise. Starting with a self-questionnaire clarifies your boundaries, leading to better preparation before Discovery Sessions or other preliminary “is this a good fit” conversations.



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Starting A Business

4 Tips for Starting an Industrial Business

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The industrial sector is a broad category that covers businesses involved in the manufacturing, production, and distribution of goods. Small industrial companies are growing across the country and there are many opportunities for entrepreneurs to get involved in this sector.

As with any type of business, there are certain things you need to do to set yourself up for success. Here are four tips for starting an industrial business:

photo credit: Pixabay

1. Do Your Research

Market research means figuring out who your target customers are and what they want or need. There are a number of different ways to do this, but some of the most common include surveys, interviews, focus groups, and observation.

Surveys can give you a good overview of customer opinions while interviews or focus groups can help you to delve deeper into specific issues. Observing potential customers in their natural environment can also be helpful in understanding their behavior and needs.

2. Choose the Right Niche

When it comes to starting an industrial business, one of the most important decisions you’ll make is choosing the right niche. There are a number of factors to consider when making this choice, and it’s important to do your research before settling on a particular industry.

First, you’ll need to identify the needs of your potential customer base, such as the products or services they need. Once you have a good understanding of the market, you can then start to narrow down your options. Consider the competition in each niche and decide which one offers the best opportunity for success. When making your final decision, it’s essential to choose a niche that you’re passionate about.

3. Create a Business Plan

In today’s competitive marketplace, it’s more important than ever to choose the right niche for your industrial business. When you specialize in a specific industry or type of product, you can better meet the needs of your target market and stand out from the competition. How do you know what niche is right for your business? Here are a few things to consider:

First, think about your strengths. What does your company do better than anyone else? What unique skills or experience do you bring to the table? Use these strengths to narrow down your focus and choose a niche that you’re passionate about.

Next, consider your target market. Who are you trying to reach with your products or services? What needs do they have that you can address? When you choose a target market and understand their needs, you’ll be better able to choose a niche that meets their demands.

Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment. Trying new things is essential for any business, so don’t be afraid to test out different niches to see what works best for you. By keeping these tips in mind, you can be sure to choose the right niche for your industrial business.

Engineers work with industrial printer

4. Optimize Your Processes

Through industrial control engineering, you will be able to identify opportunities for improvement and design solutions that achieve the desired results. In many cases, these solutions involve the use of automation and other advanced technologies.

By optimizing industrial business processes, industrial control engineers can help to improve efficiency and increase productivity. In addition, they can also help to improve safety conditions by reducing the potential for accidents. As industries continue to grow and become more complex, the demand for qualified industrial control engineers is likely to increase.

Endnote

With an increased demand for industrial operations and manufacturing, there has never been a better time to start an industrial business. By following these four tips, you can be sure to set your business up for success.

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How to Find the Right Business Coach — and Avoid the Wrong One

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At its best, business coaching can connect you with a mentor and supporter who helps you generate ideas, make plans and execute on them.

But at its worst, a business coaching offer can cost you time, energy and money — without much to show for it.

Here’s what to expect from a business coach, how to find a coach that suits you and how to spot red flags.

What a business coach can do

Business coaches draw on their professional experience to help you set and achieve your own business goals.

“I’m here to help you, and I’m here to raise your level of knowledge in whatever way I can,” says Gary Robinson, who chairs the Memphis, Tennessee, chapter of SCORE. SCORE offers free business mentoring for entrepreneurs nationwide.

Some ways a business coach or mentor might do this include:

  • Offering feedback on your ideas and suggesting new ones.

  • Giving you templates and other tools that help you make plans.

  • Connecting you with resources in your region or your industry.

  • Giving you deadlines and holding you accountable to them.

Some business coaches may also offer coursework or group training sessions on particular topics, like sales.

Working with a coach should help you identify opportunities you hadn’t seen before or develop new strategies for pursuing those opportunities, says Sophia Sunwoo, who coaches women and nonbinary entrepreneurs through Ascent Strategy, her New York City-based firm.

“[Coaches] don’t necessarily have to have all the answers,” Sunwoo says. “But they are the people that know how to maneuver and create a bunch of different thinking paths for their clients.”

What a business coach can’t do

A business coach isn’t the same as a consultant, whom you would hire to perform a specific task. A coach or mentor could look over your business plan, for example, but they wouldn’t write it for you.

“If you were to hire me as a consultant, you would expect me to roll up my sleeves and pitch in and work with you to get things done, and you would pay me for that,” Robinson says. Coaches, on the other hand, “try to show you how to do things so that you can do them [yourself].”

Business coaches are also not therapists, Sunwoo says. Entrepreneurship can be emotionally and mentally taxing, but it’s important that coaches refer clients to mental health professionals when necessary.

Business coaching red flags

If a business coaching opportunity “promises guaranteed income, large returns, or a ‘proven system,’ it’s likely a scam,” the Federal Trade Commission warned in a December 2020 notice.

In 2018, the FTC took legal action against My Online Business Education and Digital Altitude, which purported to help entrepreneurs start online businesses. The FTC alleged these companies charged participants more and more money to work through their programs, with few customers earning the promised returns.

In both cases, these operations paid settlements, and the FTC issued refunds to tens of thousands of their customers in 2021 and 2022.

To avoid offers like these, the FTC recommends that you:

  • Be wary of anyone who tries to upsell you right away or pressures you to make a quick decision.

  • Search for reviews of the person or organization online.

  • Research your coach’s background to see if they’ve accomplished as much as they say.

Sunwoo says to also be skeptical of one-size-fits-all solutions. A coach should customize their advice to your personality and skill set, not ask you to conform to theirs.

“The moment that a business coach pushes you to do something that is really not compatible with your personality or your beliefs or values,” Sunwoo says, “that’s a huge problem.”

How to find the right coach — maybe for free

Here’s how to find a coach that will be as helpful as possible.

Determine whether you need advice or to hire someone. A coach isn’t the right fit for every business owner. If you need hands-on help organizing your business finances, for instance, you may need a bookkeeping service or accountant. And take legal questions to an attorney.

Seek out the right expertise. A good coach should be aware of what they don’t know. If they’re not a good fit for your needs — whether that’s expertise in a particular industry or a specialized skill set, like marketing — they might be able to refer you to someone who’s a better fit.

Consider free options. There may be some in your city or region:

  • SCORE offers free in-person and virtual mentoring in all 50 states, plus Guam, Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories.

  • See if your city has a Small Business Development Center, Veterans Business Outreach Center or a Women’s Business Center. All are funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration and offer free training and advising for entrepreneurs.

  • Do an online search for city- or state-specific programs. Philadelphia, for example, offers a business coaching program designed for entrepreneurs who want to qualify for particular business loan programs. Business incubators often offer courses or coaching.

Make sure your coach is invested in you. They should take the time to learn about you, your business and its unique needs, then leverage their own experiences and creativity to help you.

“I’m on your team now,” Robinson says of his clients. “Let’s do this together and make this a success.”

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Are There SBA Loans for the Self-Employed?

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Many of the same SBA loans are available to both self-employed people and more formally structured businesses, such as limited liability companies and corporations. However, self-employed individuals, like sole proprietors and independent contractors, might face a higher barrier to entry for having limited credit history, inconsistent revenue or no collateral. If they can’t qualify for an SBA loan, other business financing options are available.

Who qualifies as self-employed?

Sole proprietors, independent contractors and partnerships all fall under the self-employed category. In these cases, there is no legal distinction between the business owner and the business itself. Sole proprietors, for example, are solely responsible for their business’s gains and losses, while LLCs and corporations are legally distinct from their owners. This distinction helps protect the owners’ personal assets if their business runs into legal or financial issues.

Are self-employed SBA loans hard to get?

While a sole proprietorship is much easier to set up than an LLC or corporation, lenders may be more hesitant to finance them for a few reasons:

  • Self-employed business owners are legally responsible, as individuals, for any debt and liabilities that their businesses take on. If someone sues their business, for instance, their personal assets — not just their business — could be at stake. This makes it riskier for lenders to finance them.

  • Sole proprietorships and independent contracting businesses may have lower revenue or less collateral to offer since they’re often a business of one. This could make it more difficult for them to prove that they can pay back the loan, plus interest. And it may require more paperwork.

  • Some banks set lending minimums that surpass what a self-employed business owner is looking for, either because the business owner doesn’t need that much funding or doesn’t qualify for it.

  • Since there is no legal distinction between the self-employed business owner and their business, they may lack business credit history. To establish business credit, you’ll want to register the business, obtain an employer identification number and open a separate business bank account and credit card to keep your business and personal finances separate.

SBA loans for the self-employed

SBA microloan: Best for small loans and more lenient requirements

Applying for an SBA microloan is a great option for self-employed business owners, especially if they’ve been turned down by traditional banks and don’t need more than $50,000 in funding. In fact, the average SBA microloan is around $13,000, according to the SBA. SBA microloans are administered by nonprofit, community-based organizations that can also help train applicants in business practices and management. And because the loans are small, the application process may be easier — applicants may have limited credit history and typically don’t need as high of a credit score as they do for an SBA 7(a) loan.

SBA 7(a) small loan: May not require collateral

Funds from the SBA’s most popular 7(a) lending program can be used for a variety of business-related purposes, such as working capital or purchasing equipment. While the maximum SBA 7(a) loan amount is $5 million, SBA 7(a) small loan amounts don’t exceed $350,000. And if the 7(a) small loan is for $25,000 or less, the SBA doesn’t require lenders to take collateral.

SBA Express loan: Best for quicker application process

SBA Express loans are a type of 7(a) loan for businesses that need quick financing and no more than $500,000. The SBA responds to these loan applications within 36 hours as opposed to the standard five to 10 days, which may speed up the process for borrowers working with non-SBA-delegated lenders. Additionally, borrowers might not have to fill out as much paperwork — the SBA only requires Form 1919. Beyond that, lenders use their own forms and procedures.

SBA loan alternatives

Online lenders

Self-employed business owners turned down for SBA or traditional bank loans may be able to qualify for financing with an online lender. These lenders offer options such as term loans and lines of credit, and they often process applications faster and have more lenient requirements. However, applicants should expect to pay significantly more in interest than they would with an SBA loan.

Business credit cards

Not only can business credit cards help build your business credit history and pay for everyday business purchases, but they can also help finance larger purchases (within your approved credit limit). And if you qualify for a credit card with a 0% introductory APR offer, you’ll have multiple months to pay off the balance interest-free. Just make sure you’re able to pay off your purchase before the intro offer ends and a variable APR sets in.

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