Many companies located in Central Virginia — Richmond, yes, but even more in smaller markets like Charlottesville, Staunton or Harrisonburg — find it difficult to get better customers.
And by better, I mean bigger and longer-term.
In a smaller market, customers of many businesses have smaller budgets. So they tend to favor one-off projects rather than ongoing engagements. And those projects tend to be smaller than in big metro areas like Washington, DC.
Project work vs ongoing engagements
While project work can offer acceptable revenues if it’s priced right and if your business is lucky enough to have a steady supply of projects, project work is unpredictable.
One month, you may have so many projects come in that your staff is slammed and you’ll have to turn away business if you don’t hire someone else fast. But you’re hesitant to hire because you know that next month, projects may slow to a trickle, leaving your employees plenty of time to catch up on their filing.
It’s hard to build a sustainable business in Central Virginia or anywhere else off of project work because both the workflow and the cashflow are variable. Your business will grow faster if you can win more ongoing work where you offer your customers services on a monthly basis.
But is an ongoing engagement with you better for your customer than a one-time project?
Your customer isn’t convinced. In their mind, they just need your help on a project to set something up initially but that afterwards they can handle the work in-house — and more cheaply than outsourcing it to you.
And if that were always true, then your business would just have to reconcile itself to doing 100% projects for the foreseeable future. However, customers are often wrong about being to handle ongoing work in-house.
Hiring an employee is expensive these days, and Obamacare is just the start. Then, even after complying with labor regulations and payroll taxes, a company still has to find 40 hours of work for an employee every week. That’s not always possible, so employers may find it hard to get their money’s worth out of in-house hires.
In many cases, it’s cheaper and safer for your customer to hire out ongoing work to you. Especially if you have expertise in your field that the average potential new employee doesn’t, then you can offer the customer higher quality work.
How to win longer-term work online
Showing your expertise is one way to recruit longer-term customers. Of course you demonstrate expertise by delighting your current customers.
But to get new customers who’re open to going beyond projects into ongoing engagements, you need to demonstrate ROI. And the place to start is on your website. Even if a potential customer hears about you first through a referral, these days any prospect will check you out online before calling you up.
But to get better customers, you need to go beyond referrals from current customers who are mostly doing projects and will set the expectation with their referrals that you do primarily project work. To get more longer-term work, you need to begin attracting new prospects directly to your website.
So make sure your website is ready for the customers you really want:
- Upgrade your homepage. If you’re in Central Virginia, chances are your website could use a refresh. If it’s got a visual design that’s dated, if it’s not integrated with Facebook and LinkedIn or if it doesn’t look good on an iPhone (mobile devices can account for up to half of your traffic) then it will be hard to attract the kind of customers — better ones — who’ll have the budget and need for ongoing work.
- Focus on value not services. Yes, you offer a variety of services in your field and those should be on your website. But your site shouldn’t lead with what you do — instead, it should lead with the problem you solve for your customer. Then show how you solve that problem with the right services, but also, by showing that you’ve solved it before for other customers.
- Offer only the right case studies. Showcase stories of ongoing work for customers rather than one-time projects. If you’ve only done projects so far, then those case studies will be a good start if you make sure to demonstrate customer ROI. How much did your customer make or save as a result of your work? Show ROI not just in case studies but also in testimonials in the right places on your website.
Even in a market like Charlottesville, Harrisonburg or Staunton where costs are lower, it’s still expensive to take out ads in the paper or the local business magazine, sponsor breakfast meetings at the Chamber of Commerce or (yikes!) print and send out a direct mail piece to a list of prospects. It’s much cheaper to get your message out online, on your website and through social media and email.
Online might even work better than traditional marketing. These days, when people hate ads as much as they hate cold calls and only want to see marketing that they’ve already given permission to receive, it may also be more effective to prospect for better customers on the Web.
— Erik Curren, Curren Media Group