At SXSW, Britt Raybould and I met, introduced by Chris Brogan (who else?). We had some excellent conversations about working in a high tech field, without being from a major metro area. We both got lots of surprised comments from the big city folks. Of course, I wanted to introduce her to you, too.
Before I answer your official questions, a little background might help put things in context. In 2006, I was working full-time for an in-house marketing group. Miserable, and convinced I wanted a PhD, I started applying and got rejected. One of my graduate professors recommended I join a mentoring program offered by my college that started in the fall of 2006. The program matched me up with an experienced communications consultant who met with me monthly and provided career advice. Through that program, I figured out I didn’t want to do a PhD (yet), which was good because I got rejected yet again, but I also knew I didn’t want to stay at my current job. So, knowing that I had a significant chunk of money saved, originally for school, I quit my job (my last day was today a year ago).
I started looking for another job, and even interviewed for several prospects. I wasn’t particularly excited about any of them and they never reached the point of an offer. By this time, is was the end of April, and my mentor wanted to know if I had time to do some work for her. After that, she recommended me to a client she didn’t have time for that needed some project management, and the rest as they say, is history. Now, I’ll go into your official questions.
How did you find your first clients?
I found my first clients through two channels: 1) My mentor recommended me to two clients, both of which have evolved into a long-term clients with monthly retainers; 2) within my community, both of my parents are well known and they’ve mentioned what I do to acquaintances. These individuals often own small businesses, which in turn makes them curious about what I can do for them. Sometimes I make a connection. Once in awhile, I also get project work from people I used to work with in previous jobs.
You told me you have managed to tap into a network of business people for ongoing word of mouth. Have you done anything to encourage that (other that exceptional performance)?
As far as encouragement goes, the only thing I actively do is consistently deliver, as you say, exceptional service. For some unknown reason, my current clients seem to talk about what I have to offer with little prodding from me.
How do you track and manage your activity? Or how do you motivate yourself?
I track and manage activity in two ways: 1) I keep a time sheet next to me at all times, with space for a client name, project, and times; 2) as the sheet fills up, I enter the time into Quickbooks, which lets me create my invoices at the end of the month.
Motivation is trickier. For example, I’m not a morning person, so I absolutely loathe the times when I have to do conference calls or go to meetings before 10. To make it manageable, I make small deals with myself like I’ll get to read for pleasure in the afternoon for a couple of hours if my mornings are packed.
Bigger picture, my main motivation comes from the fact I refuse to fail. I’m my own worse critic, and I have impossibly high standards. It drives me crazy if I know I’m not meeting my expectations, let alone a client’s, so I keep pushing, reaching for that next level.
How about overcoming rural isolation? Any good tips?
For me, isolation isn’t a big deal because it’s what I usually prefer. However, I’m realistic. So, once a month, I plan a trip to Salt Lake (where I used to live) and schedule lunches, dinners, etc. with all my friends that still live there. I have clients in Salt Lake, so I usually schedule clients meetings, too, allowing me to expense many parts of the trip and enjoy myself at the same time.
I also make it a point to reach out and stay in touch with the people I’ve met at conferences. Realistically, 98% of the people around me have little knowledge of what I actually do, let alone how I do it. I’d go crazy if I couldn’t connect with people who are into the same things I am, so I rely on Twitter, email, phone calls, etc.
Thanks for the chance to share.
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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.