Software developers often think about starting a business of their own. There are freelance and remote working opportunities, the job requires understanding business models, and the pay is great.
Of course, the tricky question is – how to land repetitive customers?
4 Strategies For Bootstrapping Without A Sales Background
Sales skills are paramount for founders. Founders are the best salespeople in a business over the first years. They are passionate enough to work crazy hours for minimal pay for years, living and breathing their own business.
Not everyone is born a salesman though — nor should everyone be.
Sure, running a business means you need to engage in sales, regardless of whether you’re a freelancer or an agency owner.
Took me years to realize it while doing “sales” without understanding the gist of it, the best practices, common approaches, key terms and anything in-between.
Here are 4 straightforward options you can pick as alternative go-to choices in this case.
1. Get Back To a Full-Time Job
There’s nothing wrong with working a full-time job — especially in software engineering. Plenty of opportunities out there. Startups, small teams, mid-sized companies, enterprises, different corporations, NPOs.
It’s literally the best time to be software developers nowadays. Pick a company that resonates with your culture (and vice versa) and enjoy your craft.
2. Find A Co-Founder
If you can’t get stand the idea of doing sales, consider finding a co-founder who is comfortable prospecting and closing deals.
You can remain the CTO of your organization, build technical teams and infrastructure, handle product planning and architecture, and avoid all things sales in the first place.
3. Switch To Marketing
Marketing is the fallback of many introverts who are still passionate about business.
Market analysis, defining a buyer persona, crafting your marketing strategy, designing a marketing funnel and executing best practices works just as well for tons of organizations. You can completely work around the sales problem or only deal with warm leads who are already halfway through a sale.
4. Just Study Sales
If nothing else works for you, accept the fact that sales is your nemesis and you need to get over it. Go to sales workshops or meetups, invest more into networking, read books, watch motivational YouTube videos if needed.
There are tons of techniques in sales. As long as you find the one in line with your personality, you won’t even realize you are selling.
For some, it’s education. Others firmly believe in the purpose of their team. Or a separate cause.
Any option would work – pick one and execute.
But, can you really build a successful business as software developers if you are not a salesperson?
In this video, I’ve outlined several different techniques for introducing salesforce to your business, as a technical expert. Of course, stepping in as a CTO is just as viable. Let alone the endless flow of business problems you need to deal with otherwise – which is never the case as an employee.
How To Attract Enterprise Clients?
First off, there’s a general misconception that enterprises pay well.
Oftentimes, they don’t. You will often get a better deal with a midsized company, especially one that isn’t investing a lot in PR. Enterprises have established and complex processes and vet dozens, if not over a hundred vendors at a time.
As an added drawback, you may get competing offers at negligible costs purely designed for portfolio and bragging reasons. That’s how we lost a Volkswagen deal working with Audi for a product that almost completely resembled what we’ve got, a proven app in production for 2 years, but a couple bidders were willing to work for a year for something like $5 per hour only to land the brand.
I gave a talk at WordCamp Bucharest discussing enterprise processes and sales for WordPress agencies working with popular brands:
Either way, enterprises could be attracted through different channels:
- Industry events
- Business groups and meetups
- Sales outreach
- Effective inbound marketing for your agency
- PR and brand building
- Referrals and other peers in your network
- Indirect connections through the credentials of your management team, including speaking engagements, books, research studies
- Solid technical accomplishments (on GitHub) noticed by some of their tech teams
- Partnerships you can get an intro from
Tips For Both Technical And Non-Technical Managers
At first, your main thought is: “How do I find clients?”
It soon evolves into “How can I manage multiple projects at a time?”, if you’re lucky, until you fail to find talent quickly enough as you keep growing.
If you’re non-technical, finding the right team is a gamble. Even if you are technical and can start solo, managing scope creep, delayed payments (or assets), juggling with different ideas and opinions across multiple stakeholders are common issues you will face.
Starting a software development company puts you in direct competition with tens of thousands of similar agencies and millions of freelancers and contractors. You need a good reason to plan for that in the first place.
The Freelance Transition
For technical people, my suggestion is always to start with full-time freelancing and scale it from there. There’s a lot to unpack in terms of running a business, and freelancing is relatively the same but on a smaller scale.
If you can sustain for 9–12 months with the regular workload and enough fresh leads, hiring your first peer is a good next step. Or partner up with several freelancers, avoiding fixed expenses during slow seasons.
Keep in mind that clients aren’t waiting at your door. There are really TONS of vendors out there and competition is fierce. You either have to be dirt cheap, specialize in a specific industry (or a certain unique technical stack), or invest a small fortune in marketing and sales.
Marketing Strategies For Software Developers
The most important factor for you is to define your target group. Creating websites is a tough niche, millions of freelancers and small agencies offer various services, and the freelance networks are overly populated with people offering similar services for a small fee.
People tend to focus on inbound vs. outbound marketing first. Here’s my take on this while chatting with Colin Carlsen:
Defining your right target group would help you to improve your messaging, focus on the right networking channels, target the right clients, go to the conferences where your customers hang out and build the right type of content. Examples of target groups:
- small businesses from Boston in the manufacturing industry, 5-20 people companies
- law firms with existing websites that need redesign from Chicago, 15-40 people strong
- technical companies in Orlando specializing in mobile applications that don’t do web development and have outdated websites
- marketing consultants in Florida that we could partner up with and build/sell marketing products together
There are different opportunities out there – working with small or large clients, B2B or B2C companies, partnering with marketing/SEO/sales/event management people/agencies, being an outsourced agency for another company, etc.
Action Points For Building A Brand
Once you establish your group, you can focus on the marketing side.
- Ask your existing companies for testimonials and referrals. Use the testimonials for your website, and build case studies if possible – what did they have online before, and how did you help their business. Then try to sign up more clients through referrals.
- Create a partnership/referral/affiliate structure for your business. For instance, offer your friends a percentage of a deal if they bring a new client. Give the same offer to your existing customers, or propose a maintenance contract with new features and extra goodies for their solutions (this could be a better deal with serious clients).
- Focus on content marketing. Build a solid blog that answers the questions that your target industry has. Take a look at your competitors, or larger products and popular companies that blog all the time.
- Draft a plan for building freebies for your clients. Ebooks, infographics, case studies, email courses and so on are a good way to generate traffic and build a mailing list that you can monetize – through your affiliate campaign, upselling your services or sharing your content to a larger audience (which would lead to them resharing and commenting, and generate ideas for more content, too).
- Try to partner with other agencies around you by offering a package including your product and theirs. You can do cross-promotional webinars and email blasts that help both businesses at the same time.
- Find out where your customers are online, and join these groups. Answer their questions (related to your field) and share your content (in a non-spammy way). Build your social media accounts and use them for authority and sharing your content while gaining more followers.
Hiring a marketing guy doesn’t hurt. You can subcontract freelancers for content writing and social media marketing, and spend some time improving your own marketing funnels. Join some inbound marketing communities such as The #1 Inbound Marketing community | inbound.org and try out some of their ideas.