How to reduce the scare factor & fill your new business pipeline
Welcome to another financial year of revenue building for your business one client at a time. Does the sound of that excite you or fill you with dread? If it’s something resembling dread (as it used to be for me), it doesn’t have to be.
Like so many other business owners, as I later found out, I avoided working on filling my new business pipeline. I ignored it…until I couldn’t any longer and had to figure a different way forward.
The revenue disaster
In 2015, my marketing agency sustained record client losses. They were for a range of unforeseen, yet predictable reasons including death, buyins/buyouts, retirement and global reshuffles. These are the kinds of thing that can and do affect businesses all the time. But they’re the kind of disasters that can cripple/kill a business if they’ve not got a sound revenue building process in place.
Oh, and then there are global pandemics — yep, that’ll do it too.
I’d promised myself and my family this business would sustain us the same way my previous agencies salaries had. So you could say, I was all in (and burned the boats). And given the mortgage rested on my shoulders, there wasn’t much wiggle room on the ‘all in’. The reality was, make it work or lose the house.
So when our client loss disaster hit, I had no choice but to get my sales kit out and start again.
Let me just say, I wasn’t impressed that I had to start again — after the five-year mark. I’d figured if I made it past the five-year mark (as we had immediately before our client disaster period), it would be all wine and roses from that point. Ha! Not quite. I knew the work of building the business never ends. I’d gotten a little otherwise engaged (aka lazy), doing client busy work up until that point.
You, no doubt, will be smarter than that.
But staring at a revised budget that was well under expectations was, well, super daunting.
Starting over isn’t starting from scratch (even if it feels that way)
So, as surprised as I was by where my revenue building daftness had gotten me at that point, I wasn’t quite starting over. Well, not from total scratch anyway. This is something we tend to forget when we face a do-over. You’re likely not actually starting from scratch. You will have a raft of useful things you can draw on from your existing business experience.
For us, aside from an awesome team, we had work to showcase, knew what clients wanted and how to create and deliver on that. We just needed more clients to do all of that for.
When it came to new business, and particularly cold calling and/or hustling for new business, well, let’s say, that wasn’t why I started the business. So when I thought of the hours, days, weeks ahead — ugh! Just ugh.
The revenue building rebuild – with a twist
In absolute desperation, the team and I came up with a revenue building challenge. Heck, we gamified it out of necessity. For me. Because I needed a set of clearly defined activities for building a new business pipeline. I needed it to be one small step at a time, that didn’t feel too onerous or scary. If it had felt scary, chances are I’d not have continued and that would have been that. End. Of. Business.
Remember, no wiggle room. It was a case of just ‘Do. The. Work’.
We called it One Small Thing in Business and then, because we’re marketing types, it morphed into 1.S.T in Business. Because that was where we were aiming to be. We had to win.
The premise was 3-step simple:
- Pick an activity card (at random or the next one — your choice)
- Roll the dice to see how many times you needed to do your assigned new business task.
- Set a timer for an hour and go.
You can see an actual game card in the photo above and in the PS: at the bottom, there are instructions for creating your own version.
If it took an hour to do the activity, that was okay. Sometimes, I might even have rolled the dice to see what the lowest number of three rolls was (especially if I rolled a 6 in the early days). Not that you’d cheat like that but if you need to, that’s fine too. Any new business activity is better than none.
To be honest, in the first few days, it often took 30 or 40 minutes of drinking coffee, staring blankly at the phone or screen and psyching myself up to do whatever was required. But then, over time, it became what we did each day and the scare factor dropped significantly. Knowing other people were relying on me to get this thing happening (and watching my example), helped — a bit.
If you’re wondering, it took a month for my first win and 90 days to recover enough business to make the budget happy(er). The first 30 days until the win, were hard. No concrete results meant I had to keep going and believe what I was doing would work . Every day. Until someone signed on the dotted line and invoices could be created.
Now that we’d won clients using the game, I wondered if it might help other small business owners too. After all, I couldn’t be the only business owner out there avoiding new business development, could I?
The answer, as it turned out, was a resounding no.
Others had similar new business pipeline problems
We began to play it for an hour at a time with other business owners at conferences and lunch & learns. We did lightning-fast rounds of it . Players didn’t necessarily do the work, but thought their way through three different cards. They then planned work to be completed later that day (or over a few days). I made them stand up, raise their right hand and solemnly swear they’d do the work. They laughed, but they all did it.
And then followed through and did the work.
People told me it worked exactly as I’d said — they went back to their desks and started. In other words, they now had a plan. They had things to do — rather than staring into new business abyss wondering how to start (and what to do next).
They started conversations. And over time, with spread and repetition, those conversations netted them new business.
All sorts of business owners played it. Hairdressers, location consultants, realtors, solicitors, high-end jewellers, accountants, financial advisers, coaches.
- Some businesses had all their salespeople (yes, sales people — people who were paid to sell as their primary role) pick a card and do the activity at 9am, so it was done.
- Others purchased packs for their customer facing staff to play individually at a time that worked best for them, if they got stuck for new business activity ideas to pursue.
And let’s face it, we’re all likely to get stuck at some point in time.
How much easier is it then, to turn up to your desk, and have a starter task already set out for you. You don’t think, you just do. It’s a bit like those cooking boxes that contain all the ingredients with a recipe card and all you have to do is cook. No planning or fussing about required. So, so much easier.
Scared? You’re not alone — others fear doing new business too
By far, the biggest lesson for me in all of this was, almost everyone finds new business pipeline activities hard. And that’s regardless of how long they’ve been in business and how long they’ve been finding new business, how good they are at it or what their job title.
You are not alone. Lots of others, regardless of their role, admitted they hadn’t given new business pipeline quite the focus it deserved. Why? Because, well, it’s hard, scary and often anxiety provoking.
It’s especially hard when you turn up everyday and have a big blank space in your calendar to fill with some kind of new business development activity. That’s when people hit social media with the thought of doing something useful. Then they fall down the inevitable rabbit hole of reading blogs, news and generally doing anything else but new business.
Far better to have a directed activity that you do each day. And it’s only for an hour or less (if you don’t stare at the phone for the first 40 minutes in fear like I did).
Once you start, your diary will fill. It fills with important revenue building activity. Your pipeline too will also begin to fill. Do it enough times, your pipeline takes on a life of its own. You will have created your own magic.
Talk to enough people. Solve enough problems. Revenue gets generated. Nuff said. Go forth and practice your own revenue building.
Create your own revenue building sales pipeline game
- Come up with a list of new business tasks — we created 52 task ideas.
- The rule is though, it can’t be busy work and it has to focus on building your pipeline. You must reach out to a new client, lapsed client or be offering an existing client a new service (upsell). This is not following up on what’s in the pipe already.
- Roll a dice to see how many times you need to do it.
- Set a timer for an hour to do the task.
It’s that simple. You’ve just got to do it.
I wish you well in your business.
Kristin Austin is the creator of 1st in Business Revenue Building Game. And is currently writing an e-book version because it’s much, much easier to ship internationally. You can read more of her journey on https://medium.com/@KristinAustin
Thanks for reading.