Monday, May 5, 2008

See Other Entrepreneurs as Hot Prospects

On your first day in business, you may think, “Wow. We are the newest business in the world. Every other business has a head start on us.” That may be true for about two seconds. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, 1,569 businesses start every day. By the time you complete your first week in business, nearly 11 thousand businesses will be younger than yours. That’s 11,000 businesses trying to reel in their first customers, too. By the time you complete your first year, more than a half million companies, most of them tiny, one- or two-person operations, will be newer than yours.

Somewhere in the half million or so new businesses may be the perfect first customer for you. Think about it. If another entrepreneur thinks her newness should not prevent anyone from doing business with her, why shouldn't she be eager to do business with another startup? Nobody can empathize with you more than another new company, whose founder understands all too well what it’s like to be small and desperately seeking paying customers.

If you call on any young company, the introductory call should be easier than most. “I’m Ernie Entrepreneur with Ernie’s Hi-Tech Denture Technologies. We’re a new company, too, and we may have a solution for your…” You will find instant empathy and, perhaps, an instant prospect.

Something else those companies have in common with you is a tight budget. Maybe they can't afford what you ‘re selling. Maybe—probably—you can’t afford what they’re selling either. Perhaps then, each of you could benefit from what the other has without spending your meager funds. Therefore, you can work a trade. You quickly line up a customer—one with a special understanding of your newness and customer void—who can also provide you something you need but cannot afford. Voila. You both get your first customer.

Here's a partial list of services provided by potential trade partners that might otherwise be luxuries in your early days:
· Professional marketing advice
· Advertising services such as business cards and brochures
· Computer networking and security
· Software development
· Web design
· Cleaning services
· Sales consulting
· Clerical Services
· Accounting
· Legal advice
· Office and conference space

If your trade partner has very few customers yet, you can bet she will be eager to act as your reference, provided you reciprocate. Also, it is another form of networking. Her prospects, which call you seeking a reference, can also be good prospects for you. Your prospects can be good prospects for them. You both have a lot at stake, and a lot to benefit from working together.

Even companies that are a couple years old are still new, still a startup. (Look back two years from now and see if you don’t still think of yourself as a babe in the woods.) Such near-new companies will still have a fresh understanding of what it’s like to land the virgin customer. They can lend a sympathetic ear, too. But they may also have something even nicer: money. You get the nice combination an understanding prospect and a check that won’t bounce.

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