Question: My corporate training business has been doing well in the local markets where we live. But how to do we get national clients and expand our business? On a small budget of course. How can we get that kind of reach to potential corporate clients without spending money on a huge national publication or expensive conference?
Growing a business beyond the borders of your local network is similar to building a business in your own neighborhood. You want to get out there and make new friends, let people know you exist and be uber helpful to others in the process.
When you don’t have money to spend on trade shows or magazine ads (and really, I’d advise everyone to not spend their dollars on these things until they’ve done some groundwork), you’ve got to be laser-focused and strategic about how you spend your time.
1. Make a list of the top 25 potential clients you’d like to work with. Research, research, research. Find out who you need to contact at each of those businesses and begin to connect with them in places like LinkedIn and Twitter. Follow them for awhile and just listen. What are they talking about? What questions are they asking? Is there a blog post or an article (even if it’s not your own) that you could share with them in response? The plan here is to build a relationship with these folks — slowly and naturally over time. Make a point to reach out to at least one of these folks every day — but by being helpful, not salesy.
2. Create content just for them — but try to get it published elsewhere. Write an article or a blog post that’s super helpful and send it off to an industry-specific magazine or blog. The idea is to get some exposure without having to buy an ad. That means, editorials and public relations. It takes work, but it can pay off big time if you get something published in a high-visibility place.
3. Attend the smaller conferences. In addition to being less expensive to attend (especially if they’re within driving distance), these types of events make networking and meeting new people much easier. Just be sure to pick the events purposefully and go in with a plan. If the event shares a list of attendees, get that list and find out what you can about who’ll be there. Make appointments with folks in advance for after-conference meetings. And don’t attend a conference or a workshop unless it will further your ability to meet the people you need to meet.
4. Focus in on one or two locales, if possible. This way, if you’re in the area for a meeting, there’s more opportunity to meet with others while you’re there. And depending on your industry, some locations tend to cluster different types of businesses together (e.g., manufacturing, tech, etc.). This strategy also allows you to build relationships with local trade associations, chambers of commerce and other groups that could help you spread the word.
5. Find a partner in another location. You might not be ready to buy another firm, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work with a complementary business in another region. Ideally, this other company won’t be a direct competitor but one that — should you pool your resources — will help you provide even more services to bigger clients. When you work together, you also have twice as much money for things like advertising or promotion.
These are just five ways to shift your marketing efforts if you want to find new clients in a different region. And most of what’s listed here applies to local marketing as well. The challenge is to remember that marketing takes time — so don’t give up too soon. And always do what works for your business and industry. Each one has its own idiosyncrasies.
If you’ve got a question about any of these, or if you’ve found another strategy that works for marketing at the national level, please share it with us in a comment below.
This post is part of the Table Talk Q&A Series. If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer, send if off to me an email. If I choose your question for the blog, I’ll send you an origami unicorn as a thank you (while supplies last). Be sure to include your mailing address if you want one of these rare beauties.