If you follow SP Home Run, you’re probably well aware that we recently began the process of pivoting our business focus from being a training materials publisher to a marketing agency. It’s still largely the same niche, but who we can realistically help has changed quite a bit.
Over the past 15 years, in the different formats in which I’ve trained others, I’ve observed thousands of small- and mid-sized IT consulting businesses, managed services providers, computer repair businesses, VARs, and more recently cloud services providers. And a few things really stand out that very few in the IT channel are willing to talk about, kind of the elephant in the room.
Note: Frankly, there are many different angles on this issue – depending on whether you’re with a really small IT business, a more mid-sized IT business, an enterprise IT company, an IT channel program, or other IT channel influencer organization. For the purpose of this particular post, I’m primarily addressing the owner of the one-person IT business that doesn’t do much, if any, marketing – and as a result, doesn’t really want to learn about segmentation, lead scoring, marketing automation, or sales cycle optimization. In other words, it’s difficult to talk about data, metrics, and benchmarks for marketing if marketing isn’t even budgeted for.
Small IT Businesses Stay Small Because They Don’t Invest in Growth
The overwhelming majority of IT businesses, like small businesses in general, are really small companies. How small? It depends on who you ask and which segments you examine. But if you were to invite 100 owners of IT businesses to a networking reception, and you gave zero thought to segmentation and targeting, I wouldn’t be surprised if 90 of the 100 in attendance were 1- or 2-person companies…or even ½- or ¼-person companies. What are “fractional” person companies? Moonlighters.
Now I love startups. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being a startup. And there’s even nothing wrong with deciding to stay deliberately small and awesome. (To see some great accounts of companies across industries like this, I highly recommend reading Small Giants by Bo Burlingham.)
But what I have an issue with is small IT companies staying small by accident, rather than deliberately because of a well-conceived plan. And this usually happens because growth isn’t a priority. Both marketing and sales are viewed as optional.
Where the Best Client Often Comes From for Tiny IT Companies
When I ask owners, sole proprietors, of small IT companies where their best client, or clients, came from the conversation usually goes something like this.
Proprietor: “It was a friend of my brother-in-law.”
My response: “OK great. How long have you known your brother-in-law?”
Proprietor: “Let’s see, my sister and her husband have been married 3 years and dating for 2 years before that.”
My response: “And how long have you known your sister?”
Proprietor: “Oh, about 30 years.”
My response: “So you’re working on a 35 year plan to get your next best client? Do you need something that delivers results a little faster?”
The Challenge: Marketing with a Limited Marketing Budget
We’re not going to solve building a whole full-blown marketing plan – especially if you’re in marketing denial -- in this post. But there are some basics, absolute minimum requirements, that the one-person IT company needs. Heck even the ¼- and ½-person IT company needs these:
A value proposition: Why someone should hire your company.
A target market: As a tiny company, you must be extremely specific because you simply won’t have the resources to market to “everyone”.
Buyer personas for your ideal clients: Especially behaviors, goals, and pain points of those you’re trying to reach – and just as important: who is not a good fit. (For SP Home Run, if you don’t believe in marketing, or you’re not prepared to invest in marketing that’s realistic with your growth goals, you’re not a good fit.)
A company name and brand: It should reinforce everything else that you’re doing.
A business entity: Invest in some legal advice and set your company up with the right kind of entity – both to protect your interests and convey professionalism. Even legal protections aside, it looks really unprofessional to ask clients to make checks out to you personally.
A business phone number: It’s the same basic issue: how your phone is answered speaks volumes about your business.
A business domain name, website, and email: At this point and time, even a 1-person, heck even a ½- or ¼-person IT company, must have a:
Company domain name that matches their company name as close as possible
Company website, even if it’s as simple for the time being as a single page – a few hundred words -- that answers the basics of Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How? (Note: Using free website hosting destroys credibility.)
Company email address for the owner – and any additional hires – that matches the company domain name and website. (Note: Again, using freemail destroys credibility.)
Business cards: While it’s definitely not a cost issue for most, make sure to cover most of these other issues first to ensure you make a professional presentation on your business cards.
Corners Not Worth Cutting
Look, I “get” that a 1-person IT company often doesn’t have much of a marketing budget. But to grow your business, you need to create awareness beyond just relatives, neighbors, former coworkers, and high school/college buddies. There are many low cost ways to make this happen – if you have a lot of available time to devote to marketing, sales, and business development. And that’s the rub: most owners of startup IT companies simply don’t.
But at the minimum, there are certain professional standards that are relatively inexpensive, that if you skip altogether, basically sabotage most other marketing and sales activities later on.
Defining your value proposition, target market, ideal buyer personas, company name, and brand doesn’t require much cash out of pocket -- if you’re willing and able to do the heavy lifting yourself.
A business entity – at least in most places in the USA – runs a few hundred dollars a year after the initial set up. Again, don’t cut corners on legal advice.
A business phone number – whether a VoIP or a mobile solution – that’s definitely not a cost barrier either. There are tons of creative ways to approach this for $10 to $50 per month.
A business domain name -- budget on $10 to $20 per year.
Business website hosting and email: plan on $50 to $200 per year.
Business cards: budget anywhere from $20 to $100 depending on bells and whistles.
Sure: add it all up and it totals somewhere between $500 to $1,500. But this is a business right?
And you’re targeting business clients right? That may each spend $5,000 to $30,000+ each year on your company’s services?
So whether you own a 1-person IT company, or a ½- or ¼-person IT company, if you want to exude the professional credibility that you need to have, to have a chance to present yourself, don’t go cheap on the basics.
Now, nothing we’re talking about here even begins to generate the right kinds of leads that you need for your business.
But, if you go cheap on any of these items, there’s a very real possibility that you’ll harm your chances of being taken seriously -- when you get that rare foot-in-the-door that happens with zero marketing plan and budget.
So to answer the Title of this post: Can a one-person IT business use a freemail address on their business cards?
If you’re looking for the more profitable B2B clients, don’t take shortcuts that lump you in with the amateurs. Focus on building up your professional image by taking care of all the little, relatively inexpensive things that are totally within your control.
Sure, there are many reasons why small IT companies lose potential clients to competitors. But don’t let your company get eliminated over something so basic and easy to fix.
How consistent is your company’s branding and professionalism? Do you survey potential clients and existing clients about this issue? Please share your thoughts in the Comments box below.
And to build a marketing plan that makes sense for your business, be sure to download your free copy of the Top 10 IT Marketing Strategies for Consistently Attracting New Business Clients to Your Small IT Business.
Creative Commons Image Source: flickr Carlos García Torrado
Topics:- Computer Consulting Business