Tips for Marketing Coaching Services to Small Business Owners
By Lynda C. Hess
With the number of small businesses in the United States soaring annually, there is a huge opportunity to offer business coaching services to these entrepreneurs.
Many of these owners started their business because they had a strong technical skill (programming, painting, being a doctor) or a hobby (cooking, fixing things) that they thought they could turn into a profitable business. The problem is, where there may have been passion, there wasn't business acumen. This is where small business coaches can fill a vital role.
The business size this article will cover is a company with between 5 and 50 employees where the owner is very involved in the day-to-day operations. The kind of services needed by many of these companies are business improvement services—how to implement a marketing plan, how to control the finances, who/how to hire, deciding what to delegate, etc. While some might call this consulting, I believe it's better called coaching, because it generally entails helping find the problems and sticking around to help implement the solutions. This is a step beyond what most typical consultants do.
So what are the challenges in selling business coaching services to this market segment? These companies are generally tightly controlled by the owner who gave them birth. They've managed to get this far in life by relying on themselves. This mentality creates special hurdles when trying to sell services that they may desperately need but don't want to admit they need.
Given these unique challenges, I'd like to offer some tips I've learned about marketing to small business owners.
Meet them face-to-face. Because so much about improving their baby (their business) involves trusting you, owners have to believe they'll be able to work with you. They want to meet you, test you, and see if they think they can trust you. While stay-in-touch mailing programs can be used as a follow-up tool, there needs to have been a face-to-face experience initially.
- Target market.
In order to meet people directly, select a target market that you can regularly see and have access to on a consistent basis. This generally means picking an industry that has an association where members have monthly meetings and their membership list is available to members. Attend meetings, become involved and contact this group regularly.
- Good target market.
Select a target market that has a problem they are willing to spend some money to solve. And then, make sure this problem is one that you are equipped to help them solve. For example, if knowing where their cash is going is a key issue to this market, you must have a strong financial background.
- Be an expert.
Another reason to find a niche market is because you must become an expert. People won't pay big bucks to a generalist. You will need to understand the owners' industry and know the pains they experience trying to grow a business in their market. With credibility, you can establish yourself as someone who knows what they need.
- Offer faster fixes.
Self-starting business owners generally think they should be able to read a book and figure out how to 'fix' their businesses. While for some this may be true, the best thing to do is to appeal to their sense of getting it fixed faster with your services. How will they know what book to use? How will they know what part of the book to apply? How will they know how to use skills they haven't shown they have to date? An outsider can quickly determine the top areas that need help and get to work on them in a unique way for their company.
- Clear prospecting process.
Have a process that you follow to take people through your qualifying phase. Use steps like: initial contact, short introductory phone call, face-to-face meeting and then contract signing. Make sure the prospect knows your process. This will put you in charge and help you control the time given to prospects as well as make you seem like a real pro.
- Use an assessment.
Most people aren't familiar with business coaching and want to understand how you'll work together. I use a full-company assessment to find strengths and weaknesses and then turn these into a 90-day goal-setting tool. This is also a good selling tool. People like to do assessments on themselves and see where they stand.
As well as tips, here are some marketing cautions:
- Don't work with start-ups. They don't have much money and really don't know what they don't know yet!
- Don't work with companies that have been in business for more than five years and are still smaller than five employees. If the owner hasn't figured out how to let go and grow in that amount of time, he/she won't with you either.
- Don't take everyone as a client. Make your prospecting process be a hurdle that prospects must follow in order to be your client. If they miss appointments with no explanation during this phase, odds are they're not going to follow through on larger assignments.
- Don't make your fee a big secret. If that part is going to scare them away, do it as early as possible in the process.
While this is a challenging market with whom to work, the rewards are significant because you're dealing directly with the person in charge. Once you've earned their trust, chances are you'll be their friend and advisor forever.