How to connect with future clients

One of the privileges I have in pioneering a business incubator within an educational space is that of introducing budding entrepreneurs to possible market links.

I have recently sat with three of our beneficiaries as they interacted with businesses to whom they could be potential suppliers.

They are all different, with different businesses and at different stages of business.

Yet they all managed to connect with the business owners in a real way. This has resulted in support for one; and promising indications of future business for the other two. So let me share what Yandisa Langa, Terine Lott-Cupido and Akhona Tekana applied in their presentations as we look at five ways they connected with their clients.

Passion

All of the beneficiaries portrayed an enthusiasm and passion about their business which was infectious.

Steve Jobs is famously credited with this quote on passion and work, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”

Akhona spoke of his coming alive when he creates his wood products and furniture. His passion was clear to see as he wove his story into his presentation.

Do you genuinely love what you do? My son, Jon, is a travel photographer who says he would pay someone to do what he does. Let people see your love and passion for your work.

Authenticity

This aspect is about being clear in your communication; connecting with people; yet remaining the best version of you.

I loved how Yandisa remained the likable, humble young man he is, even while talking about a project that required considerable confidence.

I also noted how he responds to feedback, appropriating the advice into his pitch and offering. Yet this is never at the cost of being authentic.

How can you build and weave your story into your offering in a way which allows you to be a first rate version of yourself?

Determine to learn and grow, yet be authentically you.

Value-add

There is a principle called the WIIFM principle. It applies in most situations, and it is not a bad thing to bear in mind. It stands for “What’s in it for me?”

Business people are asking themselves how this project, person or product could possibly add value to them. It is neither right nor wrong, it is just a reality.

I appreciate how Terine spoke at the meeting, echoing at least three times, how her service offering would add value to the two companies represented in the meeting.

Higher prices and more product/ service sales may be negotiated when you consistently add value in your offering.

Active listening

I rate this as a skill that should be right up there on your must have skills: the ability to really listen to the cues and clues that your prospective client gives. After all, the meeting is not just about your presentation, but also for the client to see whether you can give a bespoke solution to their “pain”.

All three of our beneficiaries did this, but I want to highlight how Terine used confirming questions (from a place of understanding and experience) which showed the business owners that she “got” what they were saying.

I recall participating in an exercise in active listening during a coaching intervention at Frontier Hospital in Queenstown. The simple instruction was for one person to talk about anything for two minutes while the other person just listened, not speaking.

The only thing they could do was encourage the speaker by appropriate nods; and asking for clarity. I thought it to be a good exercise but wasn’t prepared for the feedback from my new colleague. She was quite tearful as she related how honoured and good she felt; all because she felt truly listened too.

In Afrikaans, there is a nice saying, “Hoor jy my?” That means more than have you heard my words, but also means “have you listened until you understood”? Do you show active listening skills when engaging with your clients so that they feel understood?

Showing resilience

The average journey of the entrepreneur is neither average nor a direct line between A and B.

One of the key competencies that entrepreneurs should mindfully build over time is that of adjusting quickly to the changing landscape and responding to the demands in an agile way.

Yandisa is in the process of expanding his tomato business to two sites. The future opportunities appear bright with some invaluable support from a variety of partners.

Yet this expansion comes with growing pains. Delays in process; challenges with budgeting and unexpected costs and seasonal crops can all appear to collude to discourage even the most determined of entrepreneur.

I have noted with admiration how Yandisa has shown fortitude and resilience in taking responsibility for his business and looking for great solutions.

Successful entrepreneurs were asked what they attribute their success to.

They came up with expected answers like seeing opportunities and taking massive action: managing the risk associated with the opportunity; having confidence in their ability to muster the resources to take advantage of the opportunity, etc.

They also agreed that they valued a strong supportive environment.

How may you identify places and people who will help you to be more resilient?

Where may you find someone who believes in you, long after the initial excitement has died down?

I believe incubators, accelerators and business coaches play an invaluable role in providing real support.

Young people could receive great support by entering competitions like #YouthstartCT.

Visit www.capetown.gov.za/youthstart for more information.

Steve Reid is the manager of the Centre for Entrepreneurship at False Bay College. His column appears once a month.

Email comments or questions to Steve.Reid@falsebay.org.za or visit www.falsebayincubate.co.za for more about the CFE.