Diversity Your Client Base
Having a variety of clients who need more than one service will definitely help with the longevity of any business.
By Jeff Huguet
In business, entrepreneurs are often taught to find their “ideal customer” and target them to start building a client base. There’s no question that identifying your primary target market and turning them into clients is the first step of building a successful business, but identifying secondary target markets and vertical markets are equally important for long-term success.
Since purchasing our Nurse Next Door franchise in 2014, this was the No. 1 lesson we learned in month seven of our operations. Although home care is considered one of the fastest growing industries to be in, with proven year over year growth, we realized early on that we would face the same challenges other franchisees would face in year one of their businesses: building a customer base.
What we didn’t realize was how quickly that would come to fruition. We spent weeks building relationships with professional referral sources, deciding to focus on one sector of health care instead of meeting with a variety of referral sources. Our hard work paid off — we managed to land our first client within eight weeks.
Over several months, we grew our business into a strong, successful brand in our community of Green Bay, Wis. We were providing care, making lives better, doing all the right things … or so we thought. Gradually, as in the business of home care, our clients began to pass away. The next thing we knew, our burgeoning business dropped in revenue by 85 percent seemingly overnight. It was a huge shock for us.
Over the next month, we worked closely with our business coaches who taught us how valuable it was to spread our customer nets a tad wider. Here are the top three lessons we learned.
1. Diversify Your Client Base
It’s easy to stay comfortable with one or two referral sources for clients and for us, we were enjoying the fruits of two relationships we cultivated with a couple hospices. We learned, however, while we were taking in high-value clients, they were relatively short term and could not easily contribute to the longevity of our business.
It’s tempting to rely on one source for clients as your bread and butter. The danger of relying on one source, however, is when they close their doors or decide to take their business elsewhere. Suddenly, your business can fold if you just rely on that one source. Having a variety of clients who need more than one service will definitely help with the longevity of any business.
For us, this meant building up a network of different referral sources. Once we started identifying and calling other vertical markets and started reaching out to different types of consumers with different service offerings, we saw that directly affect our bottom line.
2. Create Different Services and Offerings
There is nothing wrong with specializing in a certain service or offering. After all, who doesn’t want to hire the expert? However, if a business can only do one thing well, it becomes incredibly hard to expand and grow. Having a maximum of four or five different service offerings allows for flexibility and growth in a young company.
We suggest looking through what your franchisor offers and create service packages that work for your specific market. For us, we bundled our services together in one comprehensive, affordable and attractive package for new customers. For instance, by creating a “Fun Day Out” package for seniors, which included an excursion, transportation and a caregiver for four hours, and marketing it specifically to nursing homes, we were able to take a new offering to our referral sources and market themselves differently from their competitors — without reinventing the wheel.
3. Work on Your Business, Not in Your Business
Tempting as it is for small-business owners to work in the business as opposed to on the business, it doesn’t put the business in a place to succeed. In our case, my wife, Nancy, was providing care to our clients as opposed to building out our network of professional referral sources. This was a very valuable lesson for us both.
After working with our business coaches, we were able to determine other weak points in our business, such as our administrative staff. Armed with a robust and comprehensive hiring plan, we were able to hire the right people for the right roles. Now, Nancy is making sales and marketing calls, meeting referral sources and facilitating the initial client meeting, leaving the caregivers to do what they do best — making lives better.
We now recognize this trap, at the cost of our franchise’s bottom line. Entrepreneurs could very easily get caught up in the day-to-day operations of their business. After all, we purchased the business because we were passionate about wanting to work for ourselves and we wanted to “do good” in our community. But if we’re working in the business as opposed to bringing in new business, we were actively setting ourselves up for failure. If there’s no new revenue coming in, the business is going to be very short lived.
Jeff Huguet is an owner of Nurse Next Door Green Bay, Wis. Nurse Next Door is a franchisor of home care services that includes nearly 100 locations in North America and is based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Find him at fransocial.franchise.org.