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Start Small, Win Big 2012 Challenge, Part 2

Step No. 5 Know who you’re targeting—not everyone is your customer.

Targeted outreach is always better than a mass approach. Knowing your whomakes your marketing efforts so much more effective.

If you sell skin cream, you could logically assume that everyone has skin and so everyone is a potential buyer. Of course, that’s ridiculous. The ingredients, benefits, packaging and pricing all determine your client. Distribution matters, too: Is this a high-end skin cream sold in dermatologists’ offices or would it be found on the shelf of a big-box retailer?

When you know who you’re targeting, you can identify where your customers hang out and how to approach them.

The easiest place to start is with your existing clients. Study them to look for common themes. I worked with the owner of a fitness studio specializing in zumba classes who wanted to grow her member base. I asked her to get to know her current members and identify common threads among their age, occupations, marital status, parental status, hobbies—all kinds of basics.

She discovered that the majority of her members were single professionals who worked in legal and financial services. So much for marketing through the PTA at her kids’ school, which for a year had produced minimal results.

Instead, she began focusing on law firms and other professional services companies within a five-mile radius (where 80 percent of her clients work) by offering complimentary guest passes to employees through their human resources departments. Knowing as much as she could about her client base allowed her to market to her niche and ultimately meet her goal of increasing her membership.

The very best way to get to know your customers is to talk to them. Yup, good old conversation! If your business offers a face-to-face opportunity, plan to greet people for a week or two and chat them up. If that’s not possible, call to introduce yourself. Creating an online survey is another option. Let everyone know that, in an effort to best serve them, you’d appreciate the benefit of a few minutes of their time. Ask the questions that are most relevant to getting to know your base.

This isn’t a sales pitch, so keep it focused. To encourage participation, you could offer a random drawing for a small prize that would be valued by all.

Step No. 6 Create a top-50 list.

I have what I refer to as my top-50 list. At all times, I have a list of 50 people or companies I am eager to do business with. I never wait for the phone to ring to see who just happens to come my way. Instead, I work proactively to pursue the people I want to do business with. Rather than dialing aimlessly or buying lists, I target my efforts: Who do I want to get to know, who would I like to know about my products and services, and who do I believe would benefit greatly from my newest offering?

Sometimes I use popular public lists for leads—for example, the Fortune 500, the 2011 Working Mother100 Best Companies list, and Crain’s roster of local businesses. Unless you have a big budget to buy lists, do the research yourself to create your own.

During the planning stages of my Spark & Hustle national tour for current and aspiring entrepreneurs, I pitched large sponsorships to a handful of companies that were on my top-50 list. One of them was SurePayroll because it’s the leading provider of online payroll services to small businesses, including mine. I was confident that the company would appeal to my audience and I was right: SurePayroll signed on in 2011 and continues to support Spark & Hustle this year.

My list is fluid: Names come off when I close deals or determine that there’s no match or interest at this time. Names are added as I ask for or receive referrals. I may add names because of something I have read in a magazine or online.

To create your list, think of people or companies that you know would be ideal clients, even if you don’t have a personal connection. Look at your competitors’ client lists. Read industry blogs and publications to get inspired about people you should work with. Pay attention to chatter on Facebook and Twitter to spot potential prospects. Add names of people you meet at events when you believe they’re an ideal match. You may not come up with 50 overnight, but if you commit to growing your list daily, the names add up quickly and you’ll have instant structure to your sales efforts.

Step No. 7 Shake it up—change your environment.

It’s easy to envision the role that your environment plays in your life when you’re trying to break a bad habit. Want to lose weight? Clean out cabinets and the fridge: You can’t have cookies and chips tempting you. Want to quit smoking? Get rid of that secret stash of smokes, ash trays and lighters. You know the drill.

But the same is true on the flip side: You can create an environment for yourself that fosters good business habits and success. I use the word environment liberally. It’s not only the physical space where you work, but everything in your mental space, too.

If you have a lousy personal relationship at home, not addressing it is going to hamper any business results you seek. Ditto if you have a toxic business partnership: You can’t gloss it over and think it’ll just magically improve. It won’t. So if either of these strikes a chord, focus on a solution. (Given the importance of this topic, read more on my weekly Start Small blog.)

Similarly, if you’re working in a dark, cluttered office—with piles of papers you haven’t looked at in years and probably never will—devote a day or two to sprucing up your workspace. Put on a fresh coat of paint, create a system for organization or get help to do it. If you don’t have a window, put up some art or photographs. Spend a few bucks on good lighting. None of this has to cost a fortune, so money shouldn’t be an excuse.

In my New York City office, we used a few gallons of Idea Paint (IdeaPaint.com) to transform the walls into gigantic dry-erase surfaces for anyone to jot down anything from telephone numbers to charts to inspirational sayings.

The key is to create an environment that fits the success you’re going to create.

Along these lines, establish a daily routine—from morning to night—and stick to it.

If you’re overwhelmed by all there is to do, focus on your top three priorities and break down the action steps to reach each goal. If you tend to procrastinate, get in the daily habit of making a list every night of the two key things you must accomplish the next day; put the most challenging and difficult task first.

When I think of great ideas on the go, I send quick “remind me” emails to my assistant who compiles them for my review. By then I’ve lost interest in half of them, which validates the benefit of not having pounced in the moment, but rather having taken a day or two to think about it.

Focus on the reward each accomplished task may bring. For example, even though you loathe cold-calling, the person at the other end could lead to the big win you’re eyeing. You may be fearful of public speaking, but you recognize that giving the presentation will likely expand your customer base.

My editor at SUCCESS scans her emails every morning and marks the ones she must get back to immediately. She saves other emails and less important tasks for the afternoon, once she’s gotten the priorities out of the way. Determine what works best for you and stick to it.

Step No. 8 Don’t reinvent the wheel.

Yes, Mark Zuckerberg did something entirely new and revolutionary with Facebook and now he’s a billionaire. Other moguls have also made a ton of money by offering something fresh and unique.

But here in New York, I walk 14 blocks to work each morning and 14 blocks back home, and every time I do it I pass seven banks, 10 coffee shops and 12 dry cleaners, some within the same block. They all do and sell the same stuff and it’s nothing original. But each one of them thrives because they do it well with their own spin—and you can be sure they’re aware of what each is doing, what each is offering.

It’s smart to look at what others in your field are doing. Check out the competition and look for simple best practices. Instead of complicating your life, racking your brain to invent a new mousetrap, study the landscape around you. It’s not always the idea that’ll make or break your business, but it is always how you implement it.

The late Steve Jobs was fond of this Picasso quote: “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.” Take a page from his playbook. Mentors, business leaders, coaches and teachers do this all the time by encouraging others to model what they do because they know what works.

Speaking of Facebook, a client of mine wasn’t particularly active on the wildly popular social network, but her top competitor was. So before she created her Facebook strategy based on what “might” work, she studied what the competitor was doing well and not so well. It made her entry to Facebook all the more successful because she dove in with the right tactics.

There are simple things to look for: What are your competitors doing on Facebook or a discount site like Groupon or LivingSocial? Is there an opportunity for you to increase your engagement here? Are companies or people in your space using video—and might you dabble in video, too? Look at the marketing copy that your most successful competitor uses. Does it inspire you to make any changes or tweaks to your own?

A life coach I know wanted to get herself booked for speaking engagements, so she looked at the website of another coach she admires, someone whose success inspires her. She found where the other coach would be speaking, attended some of the events, got to know the organizers, made a strong pitch and through some additional networking, was booked as a speaker. She figured if the audience was valuable to her competitor, it’d be valuable to her, too.

I’m not suggesting that you become obsessed with competitors nor should you turn off your inventive side or rip off exactly what others do, but don’t think you have to catch lightning in a bottle, either. Become inspired by others’ actions, inspired by their successes.

Finally, try to not overthink stuff. The key is to get going. Once you have something started or in place, that’s when the genius ideas will come. Maybe that means creating a website or Facebook and Twitter accounts and becoming active on them. At a time when everyone seems to have a YouTube video of themselves, perhaps now is the time to create a couple of videos teaching whatever you know best. It could be the time to finally start writing a weekly newsletter.

On my Spark & Hustle website, we have profiled dozens of entrepreneurs we call “Daring Doers.” Kristina Hahn Atelier, a Los Angeles architect, said two things on the site that I loved. “1) Success is when you reach the goal that you have set. There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs. And 2) Starting out I used to be a perfectionist. Perfectionism is the enemy of the entrepreneur. Perfectionists get nothing done.”

She’s right. Trying to achieve perfection often results in being stuck in planning—not doing—mode. You don’t make money when you’re locked behind closed doors or hiding behind your computer to make sure everything is just so. Reframe your standards and go for excellence. Chances are you’re able to achieve that more easily than perfection. And sometimes good enough is, well, good enough to get you moving in the right direction.

This isn’t about lowering your standards. It’s about adjusting for reality. You have the power to make your reality look mighty fine.


Previous: Part 1 of the Start Small Win Big Challenge

Next: Part 3 of the Start Small Win Big Challenge

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