Seven years ago William Buist left the comfort of the corporate world to start his own consultancy. Here he shares some secrets of how to start (successfully) from scratch
I’ve learnt a lot about what it takes to start a business since I left Lloyds TSB Insurance in August 2001, after seven years. Now, a further seven years on, it’s good to look back with some pride at how I have built my own consultancy.
There are many reasons why my practice has succeeded, but I have chosen to focus on one of the most important elements: how to attract new clients through marketing, advertising and, most of all, networking.
When you work for a big organisation, the team is bigger and includes many specialists. When I went solo, I soon realised all the jobs I’d never really understood at Lloyds TSB still need to be done in a smaller business – marketing, sales, product development, accounting, taxation and so on.
Marketing and advertising are key for attracting clients. But whatever your skills base, you won’t have them all. I used an agency when I was setting up, recognising that although you can save money by doing some things yourself, using experts at the right time is lower risk and more efficient.
This was a decision that I would repeat many times as the business expanded (Plus, the real cost of doing it yourself rarely factors in the cost of messing it up).
So, the business has been set up, the stationery has been printed, the business cards are ready and the phone is firmly on the hook. Most of your old networks probably aren’t your potential customers and they aren’t calling anyway. People need to know that you exist.
You can’t be successful without clients, so any strategy that doesn’t have gaining clients at its core might mean you run out of the financial resources you need to realise your goals.
You need visibility. The web is a great place for this, but it’s a massive sea; you won’t be seen unless you can define who your target clients are and understand what they will be searching for.
Marketing and advertising make you visible to those who see it, but you must network too as this gives you more reach. Online networking gives you access to a global market and the chance to communicate at a personal level with thousands of people.
Remember that networking on behalf of a smaller company is different from meeting people as an employee of a large corporation. When I was at Lloyds TSB, people were more attracted to who I represented than who I was. Representing a much smaller player made me less interesting to many.
Acknowledging this led to a step change in my networking strategy and helped the business to expand. Any successful business has fans – people who tell others about the good service they have had. People who know, trust and respect you will become your advocates.
Only by building awareness can you hope that others will get to know you and become advocates. Again, you need to be visible and broadcast to a big potential audience. Be good, be noticeable – or be missed. But don’t be noticeable for just anything. You have to be consistent as you will be judged by first impressions.
As people learn more about you and your business, they will start to understand the way you work, the people you work with, the needs you meet and your target market.
However, they won’t yet become your advocate – your name will only come up when you are the obvious person to meet a particular need.
Advocacy comes from confidence, deep knowledge and the absolute trust that people have in you. You need to understand each other on many levels, to be open and to share a mutual respect. It is the last leg of the journey and the longest one.
Once you are trusted, a small referral is likely to be made. If it is well handled, and the person referred feels well looked after, he or she may become an advocate.
You can then expect to be mentioned regularly in the many conversations he or she will have with others.
The journey to advocacy is complete, but the journey to profitability over many years is just beginning. IT
William Buist, former head of business risk management and chief underwriter for Lloyds TSB Insurance, is now managing director of his own consultancy, Abelard Management Services (abelard-uk.com)