I started my entrepreneurial journey in late 2017, leaving a job I was dissatisfied with, to help startups and SMEs in Southeast Asia to scale their growth. Fantastic mission, but terribly hard to actually execute in real life.
That was the genesis of SYNC in a nutshell. I started with an idea and an inkling that I had spotted a gap in the market. However, whenever you spot a gap in the market, oft times filling that gap is challenging as most customers won’t know it is a gap and your competitors would happily take your place.
One of the best ways, if not the only way, to establish your business in a new niche is to grab as much available market share as possible. This will help you generate revenue to keep the business going, while you can then focus on building your product or service with the knowledge that you now have some runway. The first step in this journey is building your pipeline and that is exactly what I did.
Here are the four main things I did to build a million-dollar pipeline for my brand new business.
Focus on pipeline rather than revenue
There is a real difference between pipeline and revenue, but I find quite a lot of new entrepreneurs get this wrong. Revenue is absolutely brilliant but also harder to secure on a consistent basis, but building a solid pipeline of potential revenue that you can maintain and convert over time allows you the relative flexibility to sustainably build your business.
Let me explain what I mean. When I first started my initial instinct was to get as many clients as I could, even if it meant lowering my standards or taking on more than I could manage. However, this can easily lead to burnout and even worse – burnt bridges with customers. Therefore, I focused on building as much potential business as I could, generating meetings and proposals for prospective clients with the aim to convert a reasonable amount every month.
This led to double-digit growth every month for the last 3-years (minus the start of the pandemic) constantly building and converting a high-value pipeline.
Focus on education and awareness
Too often I meet technical founders that have this notion in their head that if they build it, they will. ‘They’ refers to the mythical customers that we all strive for. I was focused on a specific untapped market in the public relations and content marketing industry – the startup and SME segment, which makes up close to 70% of the entire market in Southeast Asia.
I needed to convince people that what I was offering was an asset rather than an unnecessary cost to a very budget-sensitive segment of the overall industry. Therefore, I knew that education and awareness were paramount to the success of my business.
I am going to plug my industry a little bit here because I focused mostly on public relations or PR for my business rather than paid search or online ads. There was a reason for this – money.
The truth is that PR can be quite affordable or in some cases just requires sweat equity to get the job done. I’ve written about getting your business featured in the news many times before, so I won’t go into too much detail other than to stress that the more people who know about your business and understand what you offer, the easier it is to build pipeline.
Tap into your network the right way
I cannot stress the part ‘the right way’ strongly enough. Do not, I mean absolutely never, bombard your LinkedIn network with messages asking for new business or meetings, or email friends from high school asking to meet up for a ‘casual coffee’.
What I do mean is, use your network as a sounding board for new ideas or concepts that are relevant to them. Engage your network and educate them through the right channels – LinkedIn, online communities, newsletters and even free workshops. I run regular workshops and teaching sessions for entrepreneurs and startup marketers for free, as a way to add value to their business. We don’t upsell anything, because that’s not our focus, so they don’t have to purchase anything nor are they retargeted afterwards – we purely focus on adding value.
This really paid off during the start of the pandemic, which wiped out 90% of our sales pipeline and 60% of our existing clientele. We were able to recover and restart our double-digit growth after a month of a being in the red because our network came through for us. Through our usual network communications, a barrage of new business deals were referred to us as they came through for us during a time of need.
This is not a simple 3-step process to unlimited wealth nor am I glamourizing my industry. It is an honest look at how we built a million-dollar pipeline and continue to grow that even though the economy is recovering. Hopefully, you will be able to use what I say and apply what works to your business.