How to contact and start a relationship with large clients

Contacting new clients can often seem daunting. Even more so if you are a decorator and traditionally most clients actually come to you in the first instance.

However, for a lot of decorators, there will come a time when you want to approach clients yourself. This might be schools, estate agents, architects, large building firms to name a few.

The point is, you are going to have to approach them and you are going to have to do the chasing.

So, how do we do this? Where do we even start?

Here’s my tips on how I would approach the situation.

Tip 1.

Utilise your network!

Recently, someone asked me for my advice on how to approach a school as a decorator. The first thing I did was call my Dad, who is a carpenter by trade, and has done work for schools, letting agents and local authorities. I then called a friend of mine who is a local decorator and has just secured some work at a school.

From these two conversations I managed to find out that it’s not actually an overly complicated process to get work for schools. Often it is just a case of making connections with the right people so that you can get your foot in the door.

For example, my Dad has secured work via the school governors. It is often these people that make the decisions on what work needs to be done and who they get quotes from. You can usually find a list of their names on the school website. You might even find you know one of them already or you are connected to them on social media.

My decorating friend also said that although the head teacher has the final sign off, he was asked if he wanted to quote for the work by the school receptionist. She is an old family friend.

These conversations also led to me finding out that getting work for local authorities and other local commercial projects can happen purely by being an active member of the community.

Imagine there is a local carnival on in your town/village. You decide to volunteer to help out. This means you’ll spend some time in meetings with other key members of the community. You’ll likely even get some facetime with the mayor. Suddenly, a number of very influential people in your community all know you and your business. Now next time the town hall needs painting, you get contacted. Or you might even know it’s going to get done ahead of time and you can be the first person to quote!

Perhaps you actually join the local school governors, or Round table, or you coach your children’s local football team and/or sponsor the shirts. Now 11 sets of parents are posting pictures on facebook every week where your company logo is on the front of the football shirt.

As the old saying goes, it’s not what you know, but who you know.

One thing to be cautious of though. Try to avoid giving discounts when quoting for work at schools or larger projects. Whilst it might be very tempting because you want to secure a big contract, you could find yourself working for months on end at a lower rate than usual, costing you thousands of pounds in the process.

Remember, £20 a day discount doesn’t sound like much discount. But that is £100 per week. 50 weeks a year minus 2 weeks for holiday = £5,000 in lost revenue. All for a £20 a day discount.  

Tip 2.

Use the standard sales process.

Sometimes you won’t be able to find a warm lead. You won’t know somebody, who knows somebody, who knows somebody…

For this example, let’s say we are a decorator who wants to get regular work from an estate agent.

In this case, here is a process you could use:

Step 1: Do some research

You don’t need to spend hours researching each potential client, but it helps to know a little bit. You’ll likely need to visit the estate agent’s website in order to get the contact information. Whilst you are on the website, take a couple of minutes to check out the company. They might have information on there about how many properties they manage, whether they specialise in selling properties or renting them. You might even find a ‘meet the team’ page. This could tell you exactly who you need to talk to!

Step 2: Phone them

In my opinion, it’s always best to phone in the first instance. Yes, it is very tempting to email because using the phone can seem scary as you don’t know what to say, and you don’t want to feel like you’re interrupting them. However, it is the best way to start building a relationship. Phone calls are harder to ignore than an email and a phone call involves two-way communication. This means regardless of the outcome of the call, you will learn something that could potentially help you with the next estate agent you contact. Whereas if you send an email, you may get no response and learn nothing.

Making the call:

Here is a quick breakdown of the first call I’d make.

  1. Introduce myself: ‘Hi my name is Jon Mears and I’m calling from JM Decorators’
  2. State why you are calling: ‘I’m calling because I’d like to learn more about the lettings side of your business and how you organise the ongoing maintenance’
  3. Pique their interest: ‘I’ve completed a number of projects for companies similar to yours and I believe with my experience I can help you save time getting properties up to rental standard between tenants.’
  4. Ask for what I want: ‘I appreciate you are probably in the middle of something at the moment, so would it be possible to arrange a phone call to discuss your requirements further and see if I can help? Or I could come over and meet you at your office if that’s easier?

Done.

In and out. I’ve delivered my message and hopefully I will get a positive response.

The thing to notice is I didn’t start the phone call with, ‘Hi, how are you?’

I just quickly delivered the message I planned and asked for what I wanted. I wouldn’t even leave a gap in between the above 4 statements.

I am doing it like this because I am being respectful of their time. And I am being respectful that nobody wants a sleazy salesman trying tired old tricks and techniques to get them to engage.

This is all you need to do.

(If it helps, write out this little opening script for yourself before you make the call)

Now, after you have done this, they will either do one of several things. Arrange a call with you, put you through to someone in a better position to discuss this with you, ask for a meeting or for you to email them. Or they might just tell you they are not interested.

If you get a positive response, then all you have to do is make sure you follow up promptly. If they want an email with more info, do it straight away.

If you get a negative response. Oh well, it’s taken me less than 1 minute to make that phone call. I’ll just ring the next company and try again. Their loss.

Step 3: Follow up

As I’ve said before:

The fortune is in the follow up.

If they ask you to send an email which you promptly do, but then a week later you’ve still not heard anything, or maybe you had a meeting and 2 weeks later you’ve had no further contact, this is when you need to start following up.

People often think following up is difficult because they don’t want to come across as hassling anyone.

This is why you need to get a bit more creative and use different methods.

For me, I would plan to follow up maybe once a week or so. Here are some things I’d do:

Week 1: Send a follow up email gently asking if we could move the conversation forward. Maybe ask to set up a face to face meeting or whatever the next step might be.

Week 2: Give them another call and ask if they have any work coming up they needed a quote for.

Week 3: Connect with them on social media and maybe comment on a few of their posts.

Week 4: Maybe I’m walking past and I just drop into say hello and drop off a business card, so that they have a visual reminder of me on their desk.

Week 5 onwards: By now you should have a relationship with them. If you’ve not already been asked to quote for work or your not confident that it is going to lead to something then don’t worry.

I would keep in touch via social media and maybe pop a leaflet through their door every now and then just to keep familiar with them, but I would likely start to dial back my pursuit and start focusing on someone else.

Either way, by this point you have now been in contact with them 6-10 times and you can’t tell me it seems like I’ve been ‘hassling’ them.

Most people give up after the first phone call, but the vast majority of sales come through effective follow ups. So, don’t forget to do it!

Try setting reminders in your calendar to follow up with certain potential clients. This has worked for me time and time again.

Bonus tip: If you want to learn more detail on how to structure an email to a new client, I wrote a blog with everything you need to know. You can read it here.

Hope this helps you find more business. Remember, if you ever want to ask more specific questions, feel free to get in touch with me directly on jonmearsblogs@gmail.com and I’ll do my best to help however I can.


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