However, one thing that I still haven't figured out is this: how would I find say, that small insurance company in Kansas who has $100k to spend on a solution I could offer to their problem? Where would I begin to look? Cold-contacting seems unscalable.
I know networking goes a long way toward such contacts, but it can't be just that. Is there a way to search for clients that's between cold-calling and a personal network contact?
Talk for an hour on how to solve business problems with email. After the hour is over, you're going to be mobbed with people who want to pick your brains about email. At that point you just continue teaching them things until you win the engagement.
This built Brennan Dunn's business (to a ~7 figures consultancy with 10ish FTEs if I recall correctly), in a very not-generally-associated-with-great -Rails-sales-environment part of the country. It was also, broadly speaking, a major portion of my lead generation when I was consulting. (I sold consulting services primarily to B2B software companies, so speaking at events likely to be attended by them was generally a win.)
n.b. "I follow your newsletters and get great value from them" a) Thanks, that really makes me happy and b) this points the way towards another option for you, since if the small insurance company in Kansas was saying that about your newsletter then you're pretty much made for pipeline.
Also, with regards to cold-calling: I've never done it, partly because it would give me stress hives and partly because I've never needed to do it, but I disagree that it is necessarily unscalable. After all, if you're selling $40k engagements, then adding ~10 qualified leads to the pipeline every month would easily sustain a small consultancy. That's not all that much calling. As your consultancy grows you tend to collect recurring engagements / referrals organically, but if you absolutely positively have to make e.g. $2 million this year to cover all employee salaries, that's still only one engagement a week, and if you're counting in the millions you have throw-money-at-this-problem options to being tired of all the talking on the phone.
* As Patrick mentioned, tap into your CoC's network of local businesses and offer to host a presentation. This will help you seed an audience - you'll later want to host your own events.
* Go to your local office supply store and get those folders with business card inserts. Print out your slides, and insert them and your business card into this folder.
* Hand folder out to each attendee, and include a strong call to action: "Want to learn more about how your business can best utilize email? Go to bit.ly/xyz and sign up for my FREE email course."
* Try to get everyone in attendance to opt-in to your course. Reinforce your email course during and after your presentation. (BTW, this is MUCH easier when you're running your own events and have some sort of registration system - you can then just auto opt-in everyone who attended.)
* Over the next month, teach them more about email via autoresponders.
* After your course completes, personally email each attendee and ask them point blank how they're planning on implementing the advice you taught them both at the live event and in the email course in their business. Tell them you want to buy them coffee and listen to their plan + give them some advice (note: this is a FOOLPROOF way of securing that first meeting.)
* The general takeaway from this meeting should be, "Wow! I now a LOT more about email marketing thanks to this guy. But hey, I'm busy running my business, and it's obvious this guy knows what he's doing, I trust him, and he's already delivered me an overwhelming amount of value."
As soon as I get over the typical impostor syndrome and realize I have a lot to share in a newsletter, I'll follow your advice :) 'Tis true, "do stuff, tell people" is still the best advice.
One thing I'm still struggling with is how to explain and justify the (otherwise normal but perceived as) high cost of web development to a crowd that's anything but tech savvy. How do you justify your consulting fee? "Everybody charges that" doesn't sit well with me...
Although, I do see a point in making them do the math to figure out how much more they'd make by paying me, but I'm bearish on how many small business owners would actually do so.
Maybe I'm still thinking too small...
> I know networking goes a long way toward such contacts, but it can't be just that.
For me, it was literally "just that". However, understand that "networking" is a vague term. For me, networking was more than just showing up at social events and being nice to everyone, although that certainly counts. For example, I had a reputation for showing up at my clients' offices any time there was cake (birthdays, etc). It became a kind of running joke with everyone, and always got lots of laughs. But I digress.
Networking is the subtle combination of being present and expressing your value to those who are interested. This does not mean shouting your pitch at everyone you meet. Rather, it means listening to what people say, thinking about the challenges they're facing, then offering your advice on how technology could help them.
> One thing I'm still struggling with is how to explain and justify the (otherwise normal but perceived as) high cost of web development to a crowd that's anything but tech savvy. How do you justify your consulting fee? "Everybody charges that" doesn't sit well with me...
Maybe I'm just being narcissistic here, but my very favorite piece of advice for people in the technology field is "stop selling technology". The person you're selling to isn't interested in buying technology. The world is full of companies selling technology, and the buyer you're targeting doesn't understand any of it. The most successful sales pitches I've been a part of (and continue to be part of) are couched entirely in the language that the buyer uses, not the language I use.
Take a second and internalize that.
The small business owner doesn't have the time to become an expert in technology. They might even think that they do. For example, I would occasionally have a customer ask me what technology we used to build our websites. Some customers would ask about specific technologies: "Do you use 'pee-aych-pee'?" I would always deflect those questions tactfully by explaining that the technology that drives a website are nuts-and-bolts, which we can figure out once we really understand the problem the customer needs to solve. I would say something like:
"As a geek, I'd love to talk to you about PHP, Ruby, and ASP.NET, but I think that might be getting ahead of ourselves. I like to approach technology problems from the other direction. All of those technologies are great, but they're a means to an end, not an end in themselves. Let's talk about what problems you need to solve, then figure out what technology fits best."
If the client doesn't light up when you say that, then you're probably talking to the wrong client. It's very difficult to work with pseudo-experts. They end up meddling too much in the technology side of the work.
Back to the bigger picture, I don't think you're "thinking too small", although you might be thinking of this from the wrong direction. The best way to convince people to do business with you is to sound like them. Use their language. Put a lot of effort in to understanding them (their role, their challenges, etc). Resist the urge to jump right in to technology. A deep understanding of clients' problems will save you, even when/if you make a bad technology decision. If you do these things, you'll never have to justify your price. That doesn't mean that everyone will want to do business with you, but it acts as a natural selector for the types of clients you want to do business with.
You are selling a way for them to invoice their clients without Susie printing out 4 different Excel workbooks and walking them over to Accounting. You are selling a way for them to find customers that's more reliable than placing an ad in the yellow pages. You are selling a way for them to find which customers to upsell without Jeff the intern going into the basement and sorting through 5000 file folders.
And so on. Solve business problems, preferably ones that are pain points, and that have dollar signs attached. These are the key.
True, feelings sell best, business goals second to that. I guess it all comes down to having the leeway to 'fire' the wrong clients.
Sidenote: I noticed your blog mentions Vero Beach, FL. I'll be in the Palm Beach area in February, it'd be great to meet someone else in the SoFL startup scene!
Essentially, you identify the types of clients you work best with, create a process for finding them online, finding the right contact people at the company, finding their contact information, then reach out to them via email. It's scalable because you can hire someone on oDesk to follow the process you create. All you have to do then is set up a call with the incoming leads. Happy to answer any questions you have.