January Speaker Night Recap

Group of happy business people clapping their hands

Three views of the business of marketing

Our January meeting was a full night: three speakers with three different takes on finding and landing clients.

Osamu Wakabayashi is a freelance web designer and speaker. Osamu began his presentation by listing some common problems that freelancers face. One problem is not charging what you are worth. Osamu is an at-home Dad, and because his work hours are not full time, he wants to make sure he finds clients that will pay him the higher rates that he believes he is worth. Another problem is that freelancers often waste time on proposals that go nowhere.

Osamu then gave us a quick and interesting look at his marketing strategy, which deals with those issues. He feels that interaction is key: the more you interact with the potential client, the more likely you are to get the contract. He uses what he calls the “interaction model” to sell his services, and he walked through his nine-step process.

Beginning with a simple 10- or 15-minute phone call, in which you try to ascertain if the potential client is right for you (and vice versa), you eventually reach the stage of pitching a proposal that is tailored to the client’s needs, and closing the deal. Each step involves longer, more intense contact with the client, and enables you to learn incrementally more about the organization and its needs. The result of this incremental process is that you don’t end up investing needless time on potential clients who may not become actual ones.

Osamu used the metaphor of approaching a client’s needs like a doctor, not like a pharmacist; in other words, find out the root problem that the client faces, and target the solution toward that. This requires a lot of interaction, hence the nine-step strategy. He also advised that, when it’s time to present the proposal, it should be done in person. It’s you, not the proposal, that is doing the selling.

Marion Soublière then addressed how to target the government market. It was very reassuring to learn that the government spends a lot of money obtaining services from small businesses. Public Works and Government Services Canada shops on behalf of more than 100 government departments and agencies. Marion led us through the process of getting that work.

She began by defining common procurement terms—like “standing offer” and “source list”—and often referred back to these. She outlined strategies for winning contracts, dividing them into short-, medium- and long-term approaches. Finally, she gave us a detailed outline of how to get started: where to register, where to check for jobs, and who to contact. She made the whole process sound much less daunting.

Throughout her talk, Marion offered lots of practical advice. We learned about the value of getting on to departmental source lists and government-wide supplier databases. She suggested that we approach managers in our field, and contact departmental materiel managers (who do the shopping), and told us how to do it. She advised us to search the awards and tenders notices of websites like merx.com and buyandsell .gc.ca, and to find contacts using the Government Electronic Directory Services (GEDS.) Marion discussed the practicalities of insurance and payment, and left us with a useful resource page of websites.

Marion offers more detail in her book, Getting Work with the Federal Government: A guide to figuring out the procurement puzzle, available in paperback and e-book format.

Christine LeBlanc then spoke about an alternative market to government: the non-profit sector. Ottawa has plenty of non-profit organizations: local, national, and international. They receive grants to pay for their suppliers. Some have tiny budgets, but others can afford to pay reasonably well. She encouraged us to market ourselves according to what we’re worth, remembering that, as consultants, we can help them. She pointed out that contractors cost less to an organization than full-time employees.

Christine outlined her method of getting work with non-profits: make connections, get referrals, and then send out emails to try to set up meetings with the potential clients. When work with one non-profit comes to an end, contact a similar one, preferably with a name to use as a reference. Volunteering for a non-profit is a good way to gain experience, but Christine warned us that, once you’ve been volunteering with an organization, it’s very hard to get paid to do the same work you did as a volunteer. She suggested that we take that experience and seek work with similar organizations, and always keep examples of our work in order to build a portfolio. Christine concluded by discussing the practicalities of payment.

Christine delivered the Starting a Freelance Career and Social Media 101 seminars for NCR Branch in the fall.

The January Speaker Night, with its back-to-back presenters, was a rich and informative evening. Between Osamu’s marketing advice, Marion’s practical look at the government market, and Christine’s pointers about freelancing and non-profits, we were given a good look at the scope of doing business in Ottawa.

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