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3 small business owners share secrets for attracting more clients & scaling up

Business

3 small business owners share secrets for attracting more clients & scaling up

31 May 2022 · 11 min read

As part of National Small Business Week, B12’s co-founder and CEO Nitesh Banta had the pleasure of hosting a panel of small business owners who also happen to be B12 customers:

  • Julliana Reyes, Founder and Attorney at Bailey Reyes Law Firm 
  • Cormac Reid, Founder and CEO at ROCTEL Telecommunications 
  • Stacey Danheiser, Founder and CMO at SHAKE Marketing Group

The panel discussed how they initially attracted clients and employees to work with them, their strategies for getting people to leave positive reviews, and the mistakes that too many small business owners make. Read on for highlights from the discussion.  

A lot of success hinges on being able to attract clients. What are some strategies that you use in order to bring people to your company?

Stacey: There’s always a balance of sales and marketing. The two work hand in hand together when you’re first starting out. Because of my kind of corporate background, I really leveraged my relationships that I had already built over the years within those corporations.

There’s a stat that says 70% of your buyers are doing their research online before contacting you, so it’s a matter of being able to answer those customers’ questions, having a website, having resources on your website, and being the go-to place where they can find information. The fuel for me to get inbound connections and growth is through having a resource center on my website.

Julie: Echoing what Stacy said, the general public is online to find everything, especially who they want to work with. A lawyer is a very important decision. Is it a good match? You need to be where they are and deliver whatever it is that you’re offering to them in a good way. 

As far as attracting the right clients for our business, we have focused on really drilling down on our buyer persona. Who is our client, the person seeking our services and what do they need, what do they want?

We really focus on online, whether it’s the website, reviews, or social media. We do a lot of word of mouth too, but eventually, it all funnels to the online presence. We like to have a good clean online presence to show people who we are In a genuine way, because if it’s not a good fit both ways, then it’s not a client that we want to take on. 

Is there a secret to getting your customers to give great reviews online?

Julie: Our secret is we are all about quality over quantity in the work that we do. There are only two lawyers in our firm, so we still have a very personal hands-on touch with all of our clients.

Even when someone consults with me and does not necessarily want to hire me, I still ask them at the end of the consultation, “If your experience was good, will you leave me a brief, positive review? You found me on Google and perhaps other people are also looking there.” 

Actually yesterday we got a new review and it was from someone who did not end up hiring us but had a good experience at the consultation. It’s about not being afraid to say ask.

Do you have any lessons on attracting the right clients and not spending time with clients who aren’t a good fit?

Cormac: People buy people at the end of the day, and they also buy knowledge. If you can become a subject matter expert in your field, it’s very important. Promote that as much as you can. 

Being a subject matter expert has helped me get in the door with large clients. Like Juliana was saying, we’re looking at quality over quantity. Ultimately, we don’t have the bandwidth to take on every single opportunity out there, so it’s about knowing our customer. It’s a very good exercise to literally write down exactly what that customer looks like from the number of people in the organization, what their demographic is, etc.

Asking the customer for referrals and recommendations is absolutely key. For our first decade, 47% of our customers came through referrals. We realized the value of your interaction with each individual customer is so crucial.

We’re hearing a lot about the need to define your customer and your persona. If you’re just getting started, those can be intimidating to figure out. Any advice?

Stacey: Let’s go back to the early stages of business. The goal is to get a few customers. You may not have to do a ton of work on structuring your ideal customer profile. You might not even know what that is. I would recommend starting with the focus on who you’re ideally suited to.

What problem do you believe you’re there to solve? Who is the best fit and the people that are experiencing that type of problem? Go out and get a few customers under your belt. Once you have that, start to look at patterns. One practical thing that I think is good for both small businesses and established businesses is to do a win-loss analysis, looking at deals that you won.

Why did you win? Why did customers ultimately end up choosing you versus somebody else? You can get a lot of insights there that help with your messaging and value proposition. Then do the same thing on the losing side. Why are you losing?

Dissecting it helps you just get smarter as a business owner to see what is the real nugget and the trigger that ultimately gets people to want to buy from you. 

Let’s go across the panel. How did you get your first customer? 

Julie: I was working for a law firm before we decided to embark on this crazy journey and I actually brought three clients with me from my old firm. The only reason I was able to do that is because I had established a relationship and they wanted to come with me. So I guess the first customers came from letting people know — mining your personal network and letting the people that you know, that know you and know your integrity, “I’m embarking on this new venture and I would appreciate your support.”

That doesn’t mean they have to hire you or buy your service. It can be spreading the word and letting others know who may be looking for my services that I’m in business and that you vouch for me. You can recommend me as a good person to give our business a chance and consult with you. When we were first starting out, we had no budget, so it was all about mine your personal network. 

Cormac: This is 20 years ago, so we had to curate our local network and go around and talk to people. One of our PR agents at the time knew somebody who needed our services. It was an interesting transaction because they sponsored our entire website, which gave us enough funding to get through the next quarter. We had a bit of breathing space to figure out what’s next. 

It was about walking around, meeting people, networking, and getting the personal brand out there. Ultimately, you land a big client because you create your own luck. It was because of the hustle and the conversations that you have with people. Eventually, you keep knocking enough, something comes your way. 

Stacey: I spent a long time in corporate and there’s a lot of advice out there to go start a side gig, which was completely unrealistic for me. I was a mom with two young kids, working full time and commuting to work. There was no way I had time to do a side gig. 

When I decided to leave the corporate world and start my own thing, honestly I hadn’t spent a lot of time kind of figuring out a business plan, but I went to my employer and I said, “I’m leaving to start a business and I want you to be my first client.” And they said yes.

It was a natural progression because I was already working on projects and I continued to work on those projects. That helped me go to my second client, which was my employer before that one. I was like, oh, I’ll just go through my résumé. All the places where I worked, I reached out and they’ve become clients. It was all about the personal network at that point.

Separately as a marketer, I definitely wanted to have a website and needed a logo. I wanted to appear like a bigger company than I was, not just somebody trying to figure this all out. So, in the early days, I used those projects to help get funds to get my website up and running and get some content out there so that I could start to attract people to me versus reaching out to my network. 

That whole idea of having a really strong first impression and one of the reasons websites are so important for small businesses is that it impacts the way your customers or prospective customers think about you.

Are there tactics or channels where you make a first impression on potential new customers?  

Cormac: Obviously website is massive and having a compelling online presence. We did a rebrand a couple of years ago. We wanted to make a new impact and engaged with B12, where the process was clean and easy. 

Entering [your company] into various awards, giving you a bit of credibility and underpinning what you’ve achieved all help. For us, case studies are also very important.

If you’re going to give a proposal [to a potential client], make sure they have good engagement with you. Even if they walk away thinking we’re not the right fit, we want them to think “they’re a great company and maybe we’ll work together in the future.”

One of the hardest things is thinking about how to grow your team as a small business. How have you thought about adding team members?

Julie: During the time of Covid, we were like everyone else working from home, essentially a virtual law firm. So while we needed help, it was a little bit unique. For many, many months it was just me and my law partner.

Our hands were just not enough. We were doing less and less lawyering and more and more administrative, housekeeping things that we needed to keep our business running, but we were getting pulled away from the actual service that we provide, which is legal services.

Once things started opening back up in Texas, we started seriously considering bringing somebody on. It was about finding the right fit because we serve the public in a very personal way. We need to make sure that person not only aligned with our values and what we want to provide for our clients, but also was going to be a good representation of us in all interactions.

How do you think about things that you want to do yourself versus delegating to a team member? 

Stacey: It’s about what I feel energized by and the work that I really like to do versus the work that I don’t like to do. Of course, I love the marketing side, I love creating content, and I also really like sales.

Whereas the financials and billing and the legal aspects, I knew from the start that was going to be outsourced because it’s not my expertise. It kind of sucks all my energy and drains me versus filling me up and making me feel like I could work all day on something.

The nature of consulting work is there are certain projects where I don’t have the expertise and need to bring in people to work on short-term engagement. I have a bench of people that I rely on, so we’re all working on pieces that we feel we are experts at, but then the greater good and the project at the end are better because somebody is specialized in that area.

Any advice for bringing on your first hire?

Cormac: The very first hire was somebody I knew very well. You need to know you can work with this person and get along with them. This was someone I knew would deliver and work hard. Whereas as you scale, that’s not as important — you’re looking more for outcomes. 

As an entrepreneur, there are a million things to do every single day. Beyond delegating to team members, are there other ways you’re finding efficiencies when it comes to running your business?

Stacey: I spend a lot of time on content creation, so tools like Hootsuite, where I can schedule my social media once for the entire week, getting a graphic designer to create templates in Canva so I can go in and drag and drop, and scheduling recurring billing through QuickBooks.

Julie: Our practice management software is invaluable. It’s a fundamental part of the process because without that, how do you track everything going on with your clients, documents, or information.

We use a lot of tech as far as making things more efficient. A client doesn’t have to come in person to sign, instead, we do online signatures. Even though it’s so simple, it makes a huge difference and allows us to move faster.

As a young firm, we are very dogmatic in an old-fashioned industry. Using technology has increased efficiency compared to our peers or colleagues who have been in practice a little bit longer.

What’s something that you would never outsource or automate and something that you always do on your own?

Cormac: I like to outsource or automate as much as possible, but I like to be looking at the marketplace for what’s happening next and what the customer needs are. Where the business is going to go and what technologies or services we may bring to the floor.

I think you have to stay in the trenches in that regard. If you’re managing a business and you start to outsource too many tasks, you become a manager. If you’re onboarding new customers, especially larger customers, you definitely need to be part of that process as well. You can’t entirely walk away from it if you want to get the heartbeat of where your business is. I enjoy the business, enjoy the journey, and enjoy being actively involved. 

As a business owner, there’s a never ending to-do list. A lot of the challenge is prioritizing and working on things that will be high impact. What’s one thing you’d tell every small business owner to stop doing right now and why? 

Stacey: Stop overthinking. We spend a lot of time wanting things to be perfect, but you potentially miss customer opportunities. We can paralyze ourselves by thinking we need more and more data to make a decision. The sooner you launch something, the sooner you get feedback, iterate, and build momentum.

Cormac: Sometimes you’ve got to jump in and start swimming and you learn a lot that way. I also think you need to turn off notifications on your phone. Bury some of those apps way in the back so they don’t distract you. People need to look after their own time management really, whether it’s shorter meetings or making lists at the end of the day. 

Julie: When you don’t know how to do something, like bookkeeping or accounting, all these things that are fundamental to the business but are not your expertise and you are more likely to perhaps mess it up, then you should outsource it as soon as you can find the experts. We’re lawyers, we’re not accountants and people don’t come to us for accounting services. So why would we do our own, if we have the ability to have someone else do it? You’ll have peace of mind, so you can focus on your core competencies, your business, and what services you’re providing clients.

How do you stay on top of industry trends that are important for your business? 

Julie: It is figuring out what people want. We like to get feedback from our clients, what do they want?

Stacey: Rather than industry trends, look at trends happening within your customer base. Stay tightly aligned and have a pulse on how well your business is doing based on the feedback you’re getting from customers. Look at things like, are they renewing their service, are they referring your business or writing reviews? Those are good indicators that things are going well. 

I’m also doing an annual customer research project to get insights into what customers think to identify areas for improvement in my business. In the sales cycle, we have promised a certain value, and then operationally, we want to know, did we actually deliver that value? Is that the experience that customers are having or is there an opportunity for us to make our business better?

Any final advice you’d want to share on scaling your small business?

Cormac: There is no one size fits all approach to how to scale your business. You’ll see a lot of advice about things that you should be doing, and that can feel really overwhelming, especially if you’re starting to compare your stage with somebody else’s stage. The important thing to remember is to think about what is it that you really want, what scale looks like for you, and what is your vision for the business?

Operational process is key. We made a big error 10 years ago by implementing a major ERP system at great expense. It put so much bureaucracy into our company that it almost ground us to a halt. Operational efficiencies with all these new cloud apps can save you a huge amount of time. Try to flatten the process around these as best you can to make it as repeatable as possible, then you’ll be in a good place to scale.

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