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Ask HN: We have the expertise but no clients. How to reach them?
224 points by ghoshbishakh 10 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 129 comments
We started a consultancy company 4 months back with two medium sized projects that we got as individual freelancers. We have the expertise and experience in healthcare technology ( FHIR, interoperability ), which is a niche. But now we have zero leads from last month. We cannot figure out how to reach the potential interested clients who need this technology.


B2B consultant here for 30 years weighing in with broad truths:

* If you are waiting on leads, you die. You create leads -- every day, as your top business priority -- by working to inform and educate people. You deliver value now (information, education) to capture value (a sale) later.

* This is going to mean talking to strangers. It's going to mean experimenting with ads, native advertising, figuring out which channels your buyers frequent, etc. The failure-to-success ratio will be high and that, as painful as it is, is fine. It's part of the process.

* As others have indicated: Don't assume you can just hire someone to do sales or marketing. If the founders don't fully understand the value proposition and the pain points of potential clients, it's very hard to succeed.

* You're new and that means you're likely small. You're also specialized. Consider throwing effort at partnering with larger players who have cracked the code, have a steady stream of clients but don't have your expertise. Subconsulting is profitable and a way to keep the doors open while you figure out how to hunt and kill your own work.

* Your rates have to be high enough to support you with 50%+ of your time unsold/unbooked. During that unsold/unbooked time? You are marketing. With the possible exception of sending out invoices, nothing else is as important.

Fellow B2B Consultant here. I had the thread open to find some time to return and add my thoughts and experience.

Everything you’ve said is spot on, and I think you’ve hit everything of substance. Growing a consulting (even a tailored tech solution) business means making it a sales business first and foremost - you can prioritize delivery if you reach a point you want to plateau, but 0 leads is not that point.

> business means making it a sales business first and foremost

i think a lot of people have the misunderstanding that the world works under a "build it and they will come" model.

Frankly, if you build the right thing, they will come.

And it's very easy to deceive ourselves into believing that we're building the right thing.

Unfortunately, the world doesn’t work that way. Especially for a commodity business like consulting/agencies.

Even if you have product market fit, and are experiencing the “pull” of a hot market...if you have no reliable distribution channels, you have no business.

Humans are busy, and the problems that businesses solve for in the modern world are not life or death issues. Any product that solves a problem that tons of people are already searching google for, is by definition, going to also have tons of competitors.

Think bigger. Maybe things that businesses build are not the right things?

And what are the right things?

Yes, this sounds nice, but even if you build the actual right thing, most of the time they wont come.

Can you back this up with a real case?

Great advice. On point 4 (partner with larger players) don’t be afraid to market yourselves as subcontractors/subconsultants to companies and coworkers you’ve worked with in the past. Even if you know they already have the expertise, consulting work has ebbs and flows so they often can use some additional staff when there is high project demand, especially in more complex or niche projects.

I'm an asocial geek and even I've observed that sales or creating leads is the top priority. The best startups I've seen on my end over here in Europe have been one sales guy and one tech guy.

Thanks for the great insights.

As a specialist, do you partner with large firms like Accenture, Deloitte, etc? Or 2nd tier firms? And how formal do these partnerships need to be (ie word of mouth, contract)?

I did both.

I partnered with large do-it-everything firms when I was at a small, woman-owned shop because the big firms didn't have our expertise in house; needed to meet a woman-owned-business checkbox; or both.

On my own, I would almost always chase business out of my local market (out-of-town solutions are generally deemed to be smarter, unfair as that seems) and find a local partner (so the client -- often a gov agency -- could feel like they were spending money in the community.

Sometimes, a bunch of small fry would team up for a large group proposal, but that had iffy results. If it was a big-enough project for that, it was big enough that the client likely wanted one of the larger firms and subbing to them was a better strategy.

It's interesting - how did you identify the expertise gap in the big firms? From their websites, they advertise that they can pretty much do everything under the sun. Also, interesting there's a checkbox for woman-owned-business.

Honestly, I think the gap identification came down to the two different cases for engagement:

* If they chased government work, they almost always needed a minority-owned or woman-owned business. Could they do the work in-house? Sometimes, but hiring us checked the box.

* The big, do-everything firms were looking at the same dynamics we were: Sometimes we got hired because we were the local partner and they needed a local partners. Sometimes we got hired even though they could do the work in-house because our reputation for that work was stronger. Stuff like that.

Don't look for the expertise gap -- look for firms big enough that they're chasing really large engagements where the value of throwing you some of the work is more than offset by the boost you'll bring to the overall team. Not every large firm is that enlightened, but plenty of them are.

I think it will be established boutique firms, not acccenture or deloitte.

Kudos on excellent comments and advice (here as well as in your other reply below). I'm curious about your thoughts on productized consulting, if any.

At the low (and, to a lesser degree, middle) tiers? It's more than just a good idea -- it's a survival strategy. Why? Because you can't knock out custom, 20-page-proposal solutions for all the small fry or you'll spend all your time on that.

Packaged/productized solutions allow you to sell a repeatable product off the shelf at higher margins (ideally) or at a lower/competitive price point (more likely in a crowded space).

Once you hit scale? Well, it depends on your strategy and what you're selling but there's no shame in your game if you leave the productized world behind or dial back on it. Bigger clients in professional services usually have more margin (because admin/overhead doesn't evolve as quickly as billable hours with them) and lots of upsell opportunity, so you may decide to focus on that.

If you do dive into productized offerings, don't just create packages -- create packages that lend themselves to natural upsell breakpoints.

What that could look like in raw consulting:

* Design an assessment package that essentially defines the problem and tells them how to think about solving it rather than solving it.

* Then design a package that lays out the plan but not the implementation.

* Then package implementation in time- or milestone-bound chunks that create breakpoints for strategic account review, which is just a 50-cent word for sitting down with the client to look things over and adjust scope upwards.

Very interesting. I much appreciate your prompt and detailed comment. You clearly know the art and craft of consulting quite well.

In my next life I'll be good at something more enjoyable. ;)

I hear you. :-)

Can you elaborate on the Ad part? What kinds of ads should one be thinking of? What do you think about content marketing (technical blogs etc.)?

Ads: Depends on your niche and where you are in your growth. If you're competing in a big pond, search-related ads + owned content for lead capture and some retargeting once you have the visit/lead is likely going to be faster and maybe cheaper than the longer (and, for some phrases/niches, impossible) slog of establishing SEO dominance.

I'm a big fan of the cheap, audacious ad move to get a foot in the door. Know where the decision maker for your next enterprise sale works out every morning? Geo-fence very specific-to-him mobile ads around the building while he works out. That kind of thing. No ad is going to get you a sale; but ad ad can get you attention that leads to a conversation.

(Yes, that's marketing blah-blah -- send me an email at gregb(at)west-third.com if you want to talk through it. I won't try and turn you into a client; those days are behind me. Just trying to be helpful.)

Content: Content marketing has gone from a silver bullet about five years ago to being like a business card today -- you pretty much have to do it for baseline credibility, but a lot of people (particularly in B2B environments) aren't doing a great job. Their copy is too technical, too promotional, too focused on a shock-and-awe feature set instead of really talking about the problem their prospects have and how their (your) solution is a 10x improvement.

I said in a comment a couple of weeks ago: Marketing is nothing more than delivering value (education, expertise on how a technical problem fits into the larger business, a path to growth, etc.) in order to capture value (the sale). If you think about it that way and enforce it in the organization, you tend to produce content -- well, marketing across the board -- that's more effective. Don't strip mine the audience by just trying to capture value without delivering anything of value.

Hey, thanks for these comments. I was wondering, if someone wanted to do a deep dive into consulting especially for government agencies, and has little to no sales experience do you know of any books that are really good?

Ugh, I'm sorry -- I don't know that I've ever seen/read a book on the subject. (And now I'm horrified at myself for that admission.)

A practical suggestion: If you live in a large metro area, reach out to the city or county purchasing departments, explain that you're new to selling into the public sector, and ask if they have any procurement fairs or seminars scheduled. (A sidebar: Federal sales are a whole other ball of wax and I'm not the most qualified to talk about them.)

* If they say yes, you've got a chance to show up and meet people face to face, which is rare in government sales and can give you an edge. People buy from people they remember.

* If they say no, put on your best aw-shucks humble act and ask if perhaps you could schedule a 10-minute informational call with someone from the department, just to better understand the process.

Either way: Selling to the government means keeping some things in mind. The following is cut/paste from an answer to a similar question I provided about two weeks ago:

* Do not wait wait for them to decide they need a solution and then engage; your business will die. Success comes from educating prospects, helping them understand the benefits -- hell, even helping them write the RFP, if they'll let you -- and being the preferred solution before the bidding process formally begins.

* Related: All of your meaningful sales will come from formal proposals submitted as part of an RFP process. You need to get good at being the insider who helps them write the RFP or you need to get good at writing better, more compelling (not cheaper, not fancier -- more compelling) proposals. Even better? Get good at both.

* You'll have high insurance requirements. Don't let them faze you too much -- commercial liability is cheap. Errors and Omissions, on the other hand, can be pricey and you want to avoid having to have that if possible.

* Get very good at finding local partners, even if you don't need them. Big projects that leave some of the money in the community are more compelling.

* If you are not a woman or a minority, get good at finding local partners who are certified as women-owned or minority-owned businesses. Some public agencies set up their RFPs with an automatic point deduction from your score if you can't tick this box.

Happy to chat more if it's helpful.

Lots of condescending negativity in the comments here. Although a lot of it is true, it's not necessarily helpful.

I've been through this exact frustration, read everything there is on the topic, and have discovered things that work and things that don't.

First and foremost - DO NOT go hire anyone to do this for you. No one can. You MUST learn to sell your own products and services, there is no way around it. And no one can do it better than you.

Second, avoid paid advertising before you've learned how to generate high-ticket sales WITHOUT it.

Paid ads and sales people are for scaling only, once you've got your offer and your messaging down to a proven working system.

The good news is, you can get started easily and you can see results quickly, without spending a fortune on anyone or anything.

If you'd like some hand-holding through this, ping me at code+hn@a115.co.uk

I dunno about the negativity.

The deal with an X consulting shop is simple: you're now a salesperson first and an X second. If you don't like that reality, or expend effort appropriately, your small consultancy is very likely going to fail. That goes squared for selling into the upper midmarket / low enterprise, which is what healthcare software almost always is.

This is good advice. When you are just two people doing consulting services then you need to do your own sales probably starting with a bunch of cold calls.

At some level of scale (obviously not zero clients), a client services person can be useful for chasing down POs, checking in on clients regularly, etc. But in my experience at a couple of consulting firms, a "sales person" has trouble even selling standard packages on their own. And they really have no way at all of selling one-off projects.

> and have discovered things that work and things that don't.

Could you share some of your insights?

Happy to help. Send me an e-mail with a bit more details about what you do and what you're currently struggling with.

It would be helpful to share some general insights, or give some concrete examples from your particular experience, so we can all benefit.

Then people can email you for their specific situation.

Ok, I wrote a blog post about it. Hope it's helpful: https://corebrief.com/2020/09/09/a-better-way-to-find-client...

Great read, thank you for taking the time to write it and share it.

Thank you!

Wholeheartedly second this advice.

This is an incredibly common story among people in tech who learn the skills to build great things and believe that's enough to start a company. Being good at building tech is only half the story. You can write the best code, build the best apps, and design the most amazing UX, but if you can't market your business and sell to people you won't make any money. To run a successful company you need to be good at getting your message in front of people who buy what you're selling.

I don't have an answer beyond the advice that you should always be marketing, generating leads, and selling even when you think you have years worth of work in the pipeline.

Not to mention that it's a common misconception in technology that a company creates value by shipping increasing complexity to the customer. I.e. "this is what we have built, this is how we know how to extend it with more features, now let's figure out how to sell that."

Starting with an idea and trying to market it is the opposite of what to do. Instead, figure out what problems your potential customers have (by talking to them!) and then set about solving those problems with as little technology and ceremony as possible.

Once you're done with that, your potential customers are practically already lined up, because they were the ones who ordered your solution in the first place.

Edit: The key thing is that in the initial exploration of the problem space, you are not selling anything. Those discussions are all about the potential customer. You have to put yourself into their minds and view yourself from the outside.

They will be really insecure. Both because they are not ready to buy something any time soon, and because they don't want to reveal sensitive information to an arbitrary third party.

You know that you care about them and their business deeply, so it's easy for you to assume that everything you say comes from a good place. They don't know that yet – and worse, they're used to awful salespeople that just want to trick them into buying more complexity – so they will interpret everything you say in the most dismissive way possible. You have to show that you're different and that you're not in it to sell stuff, but that you have a genuine interest in understanding their business, in which they are the expert.

This is seriously hard but something that can be practised.

> You have to show that you're different

what if you prove that you're different by making your sales model different - i.e., you create a solution for a problem of theirs (and hand-hold the implementation and deployment etc), and if/when said solution is shown to have value, then you get paid?

That sounds like an interesting experiment I would not want to be the one who makes. One of the issues I can picture with that approach is the extremely late feedback you'd get, when your customer has no skin in the game.

Funnily, the reverse is not true:

You can write the worst code, build the worst apps, and design the most terrible UX, but if you can market your business and sell to people you can still make money.

Did you mean "IS true"? Because that is certainly true.

Yes Marketing is the main challenge as you say, not technology ( for us ). Searching LinkedIn is our only bet which is difficult. Also we think posting google ads won't be of much use. Am I mistaken?

Dont limit yourself to one avenue, expand your horizon. Find platforms catered towards teams like your own. Putting all your eggs in one basket is never good. When you drop that one basket all your eggs are ruined.

> You can write the best code, build the best apps, and design the most amazing UX, but if you can't market your business and sell to people you won't make any money.

This reminds me of a comment I read here: "It's why Google salespeople make more money than Google engineers."

In short: you want to hire someone who does marketing and networking.

That is an option, but that person could walk away at any moment and you'd be left with no one in the business who has relationships with the companies or people that you build things for. That represents a high level of risk. Ideally you need someone at a founder level who will maintain those relationships. For most tech startups that means one or more of the technical people is going to have to take a step back from technical work and move more in to marketing and networking.

When I hear founders talk about starting companies so they can "give up the 9-5 grind" and "spend more time coding and less time in 'pointless' meetings" I hear alarm bells. Someone in the business has to actively enjoy meeting customers and discussing what they need for any tech company to succeed.

we have zero leads from last month

I had no idea what FHIR is. I googled. I followed about five or six links without backing up to land here: http://www.hl7.org/about/gold.cfm?ref=nav

Start cold calling. Collect names. Fill a rollodex. Don't stop. Fill another. Follow up in person.

Ask about what's in their current budget. What's coming down the pipeline. How they currently handle work in your area. See their physical infrastructure. Know what the decision maker's office looks like. Get a sense of their actual problems and assure them that you can mitigate them.

Get your ass to work. Out of the chair. In the car and cheap motels. Stop pretending there are clients on Hacker News. There aren't. It's just easier to post here than cold call.

Good luck.

This. In my previous company, I did ~3k cold calls to get it off the ground. In my current one, ~1k cold calls. Get on the phone. Yes it's painful, so what

The hope is always hard work will persevere, but there is certainly a gift to sales too. Something tells me you have that gift in spades.

This is the reality. Hell show up at conferences potential customers would go to, set up a booth and sell yourselves.

You won't find clients in a niche like this by setting up a website and waiting for them to show up. When clients need custom development, they turn to recommendations from friends or they turn to industry leaders. They usually don't have the expertise to evaluate a new player on their own.

So you need to either establish yourself as a recommended friend (by networking and/or completing successful projects) or as an industry leader. For the latter, you could use strategies like blogging on how a facility should deploy or consume FHIR, write about best practices in interoperability, or whatever. That might lead to people asking you questions and eventually lead to them asking for help with projects.

If you don't know many people in the industry yet, one way to get to know more people might be to partner with another company on a dev project where they need extra help. It might not be as exciting as getting your own project, but you have to start somewhere.

I have a company in this niche and may need help with FHIR and related dev work in the future. Feel free to send me an email to the details in my profile and introduce yourself.

When clients need custom development, they turn to recommendations from friends or they turn to industry leaders.

Good clients just call the people who they've worked with before...if the people they've worked with before haven't called the good client first.

I'm CTO at one of your target firms. Integration is a major pain point for us. We don't have a need for you now, but I've noted a few things based on what I could find on Alstonia.io. My needs are different than others, but hopefully this helps. If any consultant or agency wants someone like me to hire you, I want to see that they have used the tech we use, that I can estimate your cost reliably, that they're reliable people in general and that I can understand the code they write. The stuff about security and high availability/fault tolerance kind of comes as a matter of course.

You can check a lot of those boxes by 1) some content on your website describing previous projects (like whitepaper PDFs or long-form blog posts), 2) GitHub projects, 3) references/testimonials. Then give a giant call to action form including asking for a phone number (I hate giving out my phone number, but it seems like everyone requires it, so I imagine it would help you more than not).

Note that these needs are very different then what I'd need from an employee. For instance, I can invest in employees and give them time to learn our tech. For consultants, I can't.

Hi there, I'm someone who builds and buys SMART on FHIR tech, albeit small potatoes in the space. A few thoughts from checking out your site to see if I should follow up with you, I hope these are helpful.

1. WHo are you? Your site says nothing about you. I'm going to give you the keys to the PHI kingdom, I need to know who's soliciting me. Are you two twenty-somethings with amazing skills and ideas, or 20 ex-Epic employees looking to fill a particular gap you found? Without this general information I wouldn't know what sort of project to think about including you in.

2. Where are you? I'm under contract with numerous health agencies that require data to be on US soil. I have no idea if you are in Romania or Virginia. (Side note, government is the biggest purchaser of health care and therefore your paths will cross at some point, even if it's simply being downstream of federal or state data.)

3. How compliant are you? Your one page tells me nothing about your understanding of HIPAA, nor how you ensure the security and privacy of the data you will be exposed to. It may seem as if anyone in the space _should_ know about this and the reader can assume compliance, but frankly it's not the case. Yell at me about your third-party audits, your ability to transact PHI, as well as any SOC/FISMA compliance you have.

4. What have you done before? There are a lot of corners in the niche, and I'd need to know what systems you've worked with, what you've built and who for, so I can get an understanding of whether or not you'd be a good fit.

As for leads, with most conferences going virtual your usual approach of HIMSS is buggered, but Healthcare Datapalooza just put out a call for presentations so they're likely looking for (virtual) sponsors already. I assume HIMSS and HCDP sell attendee data, have you looked in to that? And how about FHIR aggregators like 1up and Redox, they are likely plugged in to many of your potential customers.

I'd be happy to chat more, my profile has an E-mail address you can use. Good luck with your venture!

EDIT - forgot to mention, starting out a great way to get noticed is to participate on a HIT Challenge, not sure what's up for grabs lately but challenge.gov - easy way to find the right people to start netowrking with.

Having had some exposure to the healthcare interop niche before -- this whole response is great.

Came here to say #1, which is articulated well here. Basically, who are you and why should I trust you -- the info I need in order to assess that would include at minimum your experience (detailed, like you worked with X tech on Y problem with Z firm, not high level fluff) but could also include your background (experience working at $EMR, managed $TECH at $HOSPITAL, studied or taught healthcare tech at $SCHOOL).

I'm sort of looking for your resume. The fact that it's NOT here makes me think it's not all that impressive (sorry to be so negative).

I worked in this space for 12 years, this is one of two or three “correct” replies in this thread.

OP, you’re in a pretty niche market (albeit a largish niche). standard marketing advice isn’t going to do you a lot of good here. look for the responses coming from people who have anxious experience in HIT and take whatever advice they’re offering.

Meta-advice, don't take all the advice here too seriously :) People here don't know you situation as well as you do, and following too many different advice will lead you to not have any consistent direction.

So here are my humble thoughts on the website. I have no expertise in healthcare technology, so maybe that's the reason, but I could not understand what types of problems you are solving and what you are doing from your website.

1. For example, 'Reimagining Healthcare' is an empty phrase. All your sentences seem vague to me: "Comprehensive Healthcare Solutions and Integrations with FHIR, HL7 and SMART", are you consulting on how to create these solutions? are you developing these solutions? are you selling a created solution? Are you integrating somebody's else solution?

2. There is not a lot of connection to your company in your texts: > Healthcare Data Interoperability and Analytics > Standards like SMART and FHIR allow healthcare providers to store and share data in an interoperable manner which enables organizations to derive insights to provide effective care efficiently.

This is a good description of these standards and why they are important, but what is your connection here? If you are using these standards, then mention it directly. Maybe something like this is better: > We use standards like SMART and FHIR to allow healthcare providers... All other texts in Services section have the same problem.

3. I don't understand the Solutions section. It looks like a collection of icons and slogans. Let's take one example: Cloud. So I can guess that you are developing your solutions to be deployed on the cloud. But why make clients guess? Write it directly and mention why this is good. "Our solutions are deployed on cloud. This is good because <...>.".

4. This is just a suggestion. I would add a section of Problems that you can solve. Client come to your sites with problems. So I would write: "1. You have problem X? We can solve it by doing Y."

Overall, you have to think from the eyes of the client. What is the client looking for?

But again, I do not know anything about your field. I don't know who your clients, what problems they have, and what technology you are building. So you should be very quick to ignore this advice if you think I don't have the necessary understanding.

But regardless, good luck :)

EDIT: typos

Thanks a lot for the feedback. We will work on improving it.

adam, i liked the way you wrote this feedback.. I was asking to myself how can I get similar one in this portfolio: http://bit.ly/bix-technology if you dont mind. Thanks in advance.. igormsg at gmail dot com

URL shortening/tracking is frowned upon on HN.

Here’s the expanded URL: https://www.beautiful.ai/player/-MFqstolmpEWkDs-Y_mv/Bix-Tec...

I’m not Adam but your portfolio uses a non-traditional style which is akin to a presentation.

Overall, it was easy to navigate for me as a human but doubtful if its current format is friendly to web crawlers like Googlebot. More specific feedback below.

1. The 1st & 2nd demos could use an “Introduction” explaining what the demo is about, similar to how you have it in your 3rd demo.

2. Even better would be to copy the “Introduction” text just below each demo link so the reader can decide for themselves that the demo will be relevant to their interests enough for them to click-through to a third-party website.


3. It turns out Beautiful.ai is a third-party presentation tool—I initially thought it was your domain. Might be better to embed/host the Beautiful.ai player (if one exists) showing your portfolio on your own domain. This would give your online presence additional credibility and avoid the mild brand confusion I experienced.

So, I work in pretty much this exact area. The main issue is you're trying to sell something that customers don't buy - any integration, FHIR or HL7 or something, is only ever needed to get one product to talk to another. Usually a new one to talk to the old one; and the business selling the new product is the one in whose interest it is to get the integration working.

While it's always possible to take existing kit and do more/better automation, this kind of operational improvement tends to have little to no budget unless there's some specific project being undertaken (e.g. going to structured reporting). Generally, although people are often unhappy with internal software, the business will be operating as-is pretty comfortably. You'd need to deliver an awful lot of value to make it worthwhile paying you what you need.

I would probably look to better define your customer. You might have a better shout trying to approach ISVs who are selling new healthcare products, and asking them to use you as a delivery partner. Many ISVs have weak deployment teams and cannot deal with complex integrations, but they will be the ones with a customer and a contract. If you can speed up time to implementation, they get paid quicker and can do more.

I agree it's important to define your customer, although when starting out it can be difficult to do so as it brings a sense of closing some doors that you might want open for a bit longer, but in general I'd say your comment:

>you're trying to sell something that customers don't buy - any integration, FHIR or HL7 or something, is only ever needed to get one product to talk to another

is not entirely correct. I for one buy small scale interop product, and the FHIR space is growing quickly, more and more companies will be looking for small and medium activity in the space as new regulation starts taking hold.

I am going to be blunt. If you can’t get the people you used to work for to hire you or recommend you to their contacts then you are going to fail. Get on the phone to everyone you have ever worked for (assuming you left a good impression) and chase those leads.

Our existing client is very happy with our quality of service. However we never approached them directly about referring or providing us leads. Show we do that?

You should ask for referrals and you should also ask if you can use them as a case study for your website. After referrals and case studies you should probably divide your time between sales calls, cold emails and content marketing, i.e. white papers on technical topics, blog posts, short videos on your topic of expertise. Better badly produced videos that a potential customer can find than planned well produced ones they can’t find. If you’re confident enough in your skills as a trainer giving classes/courses in person is a wonderful way to build a name and helps a great deal with the book. It is very good to have a book you authored on the topic, even if it is a slim book. Slim books can be the basis for expensive courses, which both make money and serve as advertising.

Call them.

Exactly. For the past decade, we have been in a declining economy with no upward mobility for individuals. So anyone who has money now already has an existing network of suppliers to keep their business running smoothly. They don't need new suppliers. Those who have money by now don't need your expertise. If you don't have connections by now, you have no chance.

The game of capitalism is over and the results are in. If you're a billionaire, congrats, you won the game! If you don't have your own successful business, you lost the game!

The existing big players have all the customers. But the reason for that in this niche is the clients are hospitals, clinics etc., who are not always willing to search for better and affordable alternatives than what everyone around them is using.

That's the reality in every industry right now. The financial structures and power structures have interlocked. Companies will use inferior products because their business relationships are not based on merit but on personal connections between company directors.

Companies everywhere are using inferior products and inferior processes. It's obvious even in academia. Social networking is the only force which drives business nowadays. Social networks are not based on skills, they're based on kin selection. If you want to get business from psychopaths, you need to be a psychopath (or act like one).

Faking psychopathy worked for me. My bosses didn't like me for years when I was a nice guy trying to make things better, never promoted me then one day I blew up and quit the company in a really bad way which probably scared the crap out of them, then they ended up indirectly helping me with my next venture. Maybe they did it out of fear but it worked.

It's not about value creation, it's about being an asshole. Assholes respect assholes.

It sounds like you are talking about the present as being the peak of "it's who you know". But has this ever not been true? I feel like what you are describing could easily apply to hundreds if not thousands of years of business history (admittedly not necessarily across all cultures).

In my observations of cutthroat corporate politics, I’ve seen that assholes have do have real powers, but as with many strong emotional features it leaves one more vulnerable to manipulation.

Real assholes are real predicable, that works out ok if you are already in a position of power or are up against others not trying to play the game, but not if you are trying to maintain or gain on other psychopath types.

A merit-focused company will outcompete and take market share from nepostically run companies.

There are a lot of useful comments already.

Something that hasn't been pointed out yet as far as I can tell is that there are accessibility and quality errors on your website. If I am looking to hire somebody it's one of the things I look at when I want to see if they know what they are doing. Not everybody is like me, but these problems are worth fixing anyway:

- The "Explore" button is a span with a click handler, the click handler updates the URL hash. It's not keyboard focusable, and since it's just a link to a different location in the page, it could just be a link, but if it must be JS, it needs to be a button element.

- The form does not have accessible labels. Placeholder text is not a label. Also "fullname" looks like an error.

Lighthouse reports some other low hanging fruit.

Overall vibe of that website is that somebody chose some readily-available bootstrap landing page template and didn't check it for basic errors. That combined with the scant information about the company & the fact that your website is really just a single page does not inspire confidence. Even in the small amount of copy that is on the site, there are three errors in this one sentence:

"Healthcare providers will need an infracstructure what is open, interoperable and standards-compliant, which ensures the security, confidentiality and privacy of presonal data."

If you are not spellchecking your copy & shipping valid HTML for a single web page you make for yourselves, it would be wrong of me to expect higher quality in something you are hired to build. FHIR and HIPAA are tough and I have a ton of respect for you for being able to work in that context. The quality of your website should reflect the high standard you bring to that work.

Talk as much as you can to your potential customers about their problems in your area of expertise & try to best align. Try to identify, understand and solve points-of-friction from these conversations.

Where to find potential customers? I'd try in following order: - Talk to existing customers / contacts for referrals - Talk to your past colleagues / friends for referrals - Quality cold emails with decent research & pre-work - Hang out on social wherever your potential customers hang-out and engage in meaningful conversations.

You may not strike success right away but do persist & keep identify what's working / not working. Follow-up regularly. If above gets tiring once-in-a-while - write content that can market your expertise.

Background : Been offering website speed / scalability services expertise for 3+ years.

Collected some suggestions here: https://www.gkogan.co/blog/consulting-advice/

Read: Million Dollar Consulting, by Alan Weiss.

Do: Build your visibility and credibility. Fish where the fish are. Where are your target buyers spending their time and getting their information? Find a way to publish there.

Figure out who are the best connected people in your network or vicinity and talk to them, let them know you're taking on projects and be clear in what kind of projects you can help with. Make it easy for them to refer you.

Without trying to be provocative I just looked at your website and this leapt our at me.

“Lean Development methologies and modern cloud deployment startagies enable fast paced development with shorter iteration cycles.”

Apart from the buzzword bingo, you’ve misspelt “strategies”.

Your copy is incredibly bland and nebulous and doesn’t really say anything about what you do.

I do work in a similar space. You need to talk to the safe contacts within your clients who may know other people in the industry who are working on similar things and ask for intros.

Healthcare is really hard to sell into, that is why a few companies own so much of the paying field. The hospital system I worked for had 2,4 and 5 year cycles for their contracts, so things didn't the often and vendors had to be around at the right time to get consideration. It seemed very bizarre and antiquated to me. My best advice would be to to find vendors that have adjacent solutions and partner with them, maybe making their own sales funnel easier.

I worked in insurance for 5 years.

If what you do can be sold to doctor's offices instead of hospitals, that's where I would start cold calling people.

Every doctor's office is a small business. They aren't that good at the business end of things and their HIPAA training tends to be poor compared to what hospitals do.

If you can figure out how to educate doctors on why this matters and what the rules are and how you can solve their problems, I think that's your best shot at developing a solid customer base.

Larger healthcare organizations, like hospitals and insurance companies, do their own in-house training and custom solutions. It's doctors offices that can't afford their own IT department but still need to comply with things like HIPAA that are in a world of hurt and could benefit from someone coming in and serving as their part-time IT department and staff expert.

I’ve often wondered if an opinionated solution — in the Rails sense — would sell to SMEs in healthcare. Ask any physician group in the US what their pain point is and it’s probably reimbursement. They have to deal with finicky rules from different insurance providers, and usually employ a couple people dedicated to getting reimbursed. They also have to wait long periods of time for those reimbursements.

A company that could promise to improve that situation by standardizing how the practice operates and optimizing reimbursement could have a great sales value. You could also standardize data sharing/HIPAA practice.

You still have to sell it to buyers, one by one.

1- Offer over funnels : Funnels are important, but if I have to choose between a funnel or an offer, I’d choose the OFFER FIRST. You can close 6/5 figure deals over text message, PDFS, ugly 1-page websites, and emails. The offer is the key. Don’t create offers that you “think” people will like, instead, find out exactly what they want, do some digging… and give them exactly what they are looking for, and don’t overthink it.

2- It’s not all about the “one close call” : High Ticket clients have a different psychology. Part of attracting high-paying clients is knowing what triggers them to buy (exclusivity, high perceived value, emotional, psychological, time investment, etc..)

3- Don’t sell, select : Everything in your funnel should be designed with you SELECTING them, not you begging for their business.

4- Break the rules! You can go through copying what works, and try it out to get some quick success but eventually you’ll get to a point where you create something new in the marketplace, and you are the first one to offer it (angle wise, position wise, offer wise), so take it! First mover advantage is risky, but that’s where all the upside is, if you get it right.

Personally I've been researching in healthcare mainly on CVD for the past five years.

Coming from outside healthcare, I was really shocked initially on how primitive the technology in clinics and hospitals as if they are still in the 1980s especially in the hospital management and operation. I've come to conclusion that healthcare is a very well-funded area and it's ripe for disruption. Consider these scenarios in where I live:

You want a digital copy of your ECG reading, nope they give you the paper based reading of several seconds recording that will lose their ink in a few months time.

You want to transfer your health data record to another hospital or clinic, nope that's impossible since the hospitals or clinics don't perform any proactive data sharing even between government's hospitals, paper based or digitally.

You want the over crowded hospital outpatient section to send you SMS or at least make an online/website call numbers, nope you have to wait physically, and if you've missed your turn when you're away then you are basically screwed.

You have a disabled family member who cannot even move to attend the hospital, nope you need to pay expensive third party doctor to make a visit to your house.

I think you get the idea by now, and since your expertise in healthcare IT and depending on where do you live just talk to the hospital management or govt appointed organization (e.g. NHS in the UK) about any of the above issues and how you can you solve the above mentioned problems or others for the benefit of hospitals/clinics and the society in general.

For HIPAA integrations you're going to need to a lot of security auditing. Something that might work well is publishing a white paper of your personal security practices. Things like full-disk-encryption for developers, password policies, hardware 2FA for ALL company accounts, SSO for all logins with a single place to delete a credential set, mandatory monthly/weekly HIPAA training, etc.

Another thing you might want to consider doing is open sourcing some stuff to help setup FHIR/HL7 integrations. Pretty much the only fully fledged HL7 "solution" you can get for free HAPI [0]. You might want to make some open source tools around all of this. For example: a reverse proxy that prints all to a log that's censored for PII for debugging. Make that for free, push that to github and open source it.

This will get you:

1. Lead generation: People in this space will know who you are

2. Trust: Hiring consultants is difficult if you cant see the quality of their work. If you do a good job on these OSS tools you can prove to people that your code quality is high. This demands a much higher price tag.

Something else you might consider discussing is what EMRs you have direct experience with. For instance Epic [1] provides "training services". HL7 has a "HL7 Certified" exam you can take to prove you can memorize it's obtuse message structures. Taking, passing, and displaying this might make some buisnessy-people happy.

[0] - https://hapifhir.github.io/hapi-hl7v2/

[1] - https://www.epic.com/services

I’ve never been in your exact position and won’t claim to be an expert but I have a fair bit of sales experience and a few close friends who’ve started their own businesses. One thing that stood out to me is that if I were to stumble across your website I’d have no idea what you’re actually providing or looking to provide. It could easily be my personal lack of healthcare industry knowledge and not an issue for your target market. My advice would be not to try and rethink the strategy that seems I see as “if you have a tech need in the medical field, we can handle it” and create something specific. Find a specific problem, create something that solves it, and sell that. Once you have customers for that you can move on to try and grow your business with them. The other big thing is with a field with such sensitive data as the medical field, you need to establish some level of trust and a relationship before a business like a hospital is going to take a gamble like that.

I'm sorry to say this but, in my experience targeting very niche needs, a well targeted Google Adwords campaign is hard to beat and gives you the data to help structure the rest of your marketing. If you have the expertise you will learn to get the search terms right.

I had the completely opposite idea and thought google ads will be of little benifit. Thank you for the advice, I will try adwords.

There is a small amount of people searching for what you offer. Adwords lets you be there when they search for it at a relatively low cost in a very short timeframe. Hard to beat really.

One of the ways that sometimes works well is to find big potential client, and then hire (or even partner with) someone that works in their product team. You can use his network. I know it sounds silly. But, that's one of the tactics that many companies use.

The easiest customer to 'do more with' is the existing customer you have. You have two projects (presumably two companies), reach out to them and ask them where else they need more help, "what other projects could we help with?" If you're doing a good job then it's natural. It's all about forming a strong relationship at different levels in your customer and having them advocate to use you in other projects.

The other tactic is that your customers know other companies and contacts in the space. Ask them for help - "as a new consultancy we're trying to build our contacts in healthcare, is there anyone in the industry you think we should speak to?".

Did you try to connect with your prospective customers via LinkedIn? What do they say to you?

The issue is these prospective clients are generally hospitals using an existing EMR system. And when they need some custom solution then they tend to connect to their provider instead of giving us the deal.

Well, what about the decision makers in those hospitals? Do they have accounts on LinkedIn? If they don’t, where could you meet them, maybe some industry fairs or conferences?

We attend conferences such as FHIR DevDays which is more about the technical aspects and attended by less prospective clients and more market competitors. The decision makers in hospitals are hard to contact. But you are right, probably some conference/fair might be there with better target audience.

Even if people don't have particularly accessible LinkedIn profiles, if you know their names it's often possible to guess or construct an email address for them based on the format of other publicly available emails for the same institution.

There are also tools like https://hunter.io/ and https://rocketreach.co/ which attempt to automate the process for you. I've had very mixed results with those kinds of tools, but they're worth knowing about.

IMO hospitals are your worst target. They have seven figure deployments, maybe eight, and they have an army of HIT techs. THey also have a vendor relationship you cannot break.

However... hospitals have partners, contractors, vendors, processors. In your shoes I would be looking at people who want to interop with hospitals.

Some ideas:

- State Medicaid agencies. Generally do not have the tech staff, but they do have money and contracts, and much of it is set-aside for small business.

- Anyone with an NQIIC contract. All tasked with reducing provider burden and imprving care transitions. FHIR to the rescue. https://www.g2xchange.com/statics/cms-awards-25b-network-of-...

- Case in point. I need a legacy data dictionary transposed to FHIR elements so that instead of manual record abstraction I can ship an HL7-ready spec for data abstraction.

- Case reporting. There are FHIR-aware case reporting frameworks, no-one knows how to use them. There's a global pandemic on at the moment, so lots of case reporting is needed. Public health agencies exist in just about every county and city in the US.

Random internet advice (not an expert) is to call everyone you know who might know someone. Also would it be so bad to take a contract from a job site or even a job in the intermediate time. Maybe one of you does a job the other biz dev.

E-Myth \ 'e-,'mith\ n 1: the entrepreneurial myth: the myth that most people who start small businesses are entrepreneurs 2: the fatal assumption that an individual who understands the technical work of a business can successfully run a business that does that technical work

Voted #1 business book by Inc. 500 CEOs.


The core expertise in a consulting company is getting the clients. Half of the consultants have absolutely no idea what they're talking about and do fine, domain expertise is 1/10th of the job, getting clients is 50% of the job, and putting together a work product that feels like it could represent domain expertise is 40%. So I'd approach the problem from "I have no expertise in consulting, how do I build some" which will be more fruitful.

> We have the expertise and experience in healthcare technology ( FHIR, interoperability ), which is a niche.

Cool, but what's the value you offer? Who needs it? Why? What do they usually do? What's their title? Where do they usually look for solutions to their problems?

Selling expertise vs selling value is the difference between being an laborer vs a business owner. If you're trying to sell your expertise, you're thinking about it wrong.

While I believe even a good webpage wont currently help you, your current one is missing vital information. First: you business location and email. I mean you use .io, are you in the indian ocean? Are you a UK, US or India based company (this matters a lot to possible customers).

Also I find it not clear from the webpage what would be the benefit of hiring you. (What pain do I have which is solved by you)

For a consultancy, the web page is what Graham calls "playing house." It's easier to build a web page than find clients and building a web page feels like meaningful work. It isn't. Nobody hires consultants from a web page.

Nobody hires consultants from a web page, but also, nobody hires consultants without checking their web page.

Nevertheless, they have the time to make these small improvements. Also, I don’t agree with your last sentence as there are decision makers who do research, and others in their organization who definitely do research because they don’t want to hire you.

I work for a IT company in healthcare. We also do FHIR, interoperability, and such.

This is the easy part. The really hard part is to get customers.

It means having a network, a good reputation, to reply to tenders in time with a ready to use solution that is competitive, adapt to the cursomers needs, etc... We have more employees doing sales and support than software.

You may find work as a contractor for a healthcare company though.

If you can spare the time, get actively involved in HL7 FHIR standards development by participating in work groups, showing up at Connectathon events, and volunteering to write sections of implementation guides. This will raise your visibility among customers who hire interoperability consultants.

The best way to get leads is to ask you customer to introduce you to other potential customers. If they say yes, get the intros done quickly and make sure you do a great job with the new prospects so your customer refers you more.

How to get clients.

Or put another way, how to have a business.

The hardest question of all.

As Paul Graham says sell something people want.

Give free presentations (webinars), youtube videos, show your work, demos, working products. Meet people in the health industry. Try to reach them and show what can you do. Ask for intros, show what you can do.

You need to go where your customers are. Our customers are startups so we went to every startup meeting we could find in our area, talking to people, perfecting our pitch.

I assume there are places where your customers gather too.

You should look at basic marketing 101. Identify market segments, identify customers, who makes purchasing decisions and how do they decide, target those people.

Who are you targeting?

The clients we started with are online nutritionist and dietitian providers. The had to integrate with FHIR to get referrals from other medical practitioners.

Similarly potential clients are hospitals, clinics, or EMR development companies seeking solutions on FHIR.

Hey there, just giving food for thought - the closest i've worked with healthcare marketing was media buying for big pharma.

This is your website claim.

>Reimagining Healthcare & Digitizing Businesses

>Comprehensive Healthcare Solutions and Integrations with FHIR, HL7 and SMART Digitizing Businesses through Cloud, Mobile, and Automation.

But since you have this insight from your customers:

>The clients we started with are online nutritionist and dietitian providers. The had to integrate with FHIR to get referrals from other medical practitioners.

Wouldn't it be better to point that you're helping healthcare businesses get more referrals by making them integrated with standards?

Something like:

>We will help your healthcare business generate more referrals

>By setting you up to standard integrations - FHIR, HL7 and SMART - and make you more effective with Automation, Cloud and Mobile.

This was just something I thought quickly, the point is to show how you've added value to other businesses. This is closer to their reality, just like you, they might be struggling to get referrals and their lack of integrations could be costing them business.

Good luck :)

Why are so many people starting businesses without even knowing how to sell their service/product?

No service/product is so good that it automagically sell itself.

If you are based in Europe drop me an email. We might have something for you.

Market yourself on B2B forums of your industry and create a funnel.

How many people are in your sales team?

Currently we are a very small team. Only one person handles sales and marketing ( and social media ).

At least double that number

Just out of curiosity: why doubling the amount of human resources will fix the issue? What is the indicator that points that they have an HR bottleneck?

One advantage of having multiple people do the same job is that unless both are dogshit incompetent, you can tell whether your problem is the person doing the job, or the job you're asking them to do.

If you ask a running coach to coach me and then find out that I am slow as a snail, you might conclude that the running coach sucked. But if you hire another one and find the same result then you know I suck.

Well, a) the textbook answer for not enough sales is to add sales power b)any important function should have at least 2 ppl (so if one is at a trade fair, sick holiday etc, the other can continue) and also the team can discuss ideas how to progress

Edit (since reply depth is reached): more ppl might have also different ideas what to do

I still mantain one of the problems is not enough ppl in sales. There there might be more problems: probably, but it is not my company (meaning if other people want to figure out the other problens: go ahead)

Of course also one of the programmers can take over this role. (Aptitude assumed)

But you need to be think critically taking into account what OP said.

>a) the textbook answer for not enough sales is to add sales power

Yes, but ff your lead generation isn't working, or if the current sales team can't turn them into clients, then the problem isn't lack of sales power. You could throw 10 sales guys at this problem and still get the same results, because your conversion rate is 0%.

b)any important function should have at least 2 ppl (so if one is at a trade fair, sick holiday etc, the other can continue) and also the team can discuss ideas how to progress

I understand that, but for some companies that's a luxury they can't afford - they need something to sustain that person. Else every business would start with 2 of each role, because every role is important.

In my opinion, if the marketing/sales isn't working properly, they need to fix that first. Throwing more people at the problem won't fix it.

Get a good biz dev person

that's the last thing you would like to do.

As a CEO, when you start a company, you are the only one that need to sell until you consolidate Product Market Fit. A biz dev will be only 50% efficient after months of training.

How do I start searching for one? Post in job boards?

that's one way.

It's a tricky position as you want somebody with the right mix of tech knowledge, business knowledge and bullshiting ability.

Sadly, in my limited experience, there seems to be a large amount of people that excel at the latter but not so much at the other categories.

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