Today’s Biz Ladies post comes from regular contributor Andrea Baxter of Bratface Marketing and Smart Cookies. In this post, Andrea teaches us what we need to know about growing our businesses outside of our cities. From researching the competition in various cities to casting a large networking net, Andrea covers the basics for expanding your business beyond your city walls. Thanks, Andrea, for yet another informative and helpful post! — Stephanie
Read the full post after the jump!
It’s no secret that I’ve wanted to move to New York City. My. Whole. Life.
Call me crazy, but it’s always been the city of dreamy possibilities, opportunities and livelihood, as far as I was concerned. That and I was obsessed with 80s “power women” movies and basically anything and everything that took place in the Big Apple (When Harry Met Sally, Working Girl and Baby Boom, to name a few). As I got older, the drive to get there grew more intense, and I’d do everything in my power to get there before I’m 40, please God!
So it’s no wonder that when I started my own company, Bratface Marketing, my goal was to take it to NYC and operate directly from there. This was not as easy as I had hoped, especially when I’m (a) self-employed and (b) Canadian. The paranoid side of me didn’t want to jump through hoops or do anything NOT on the up-and-up, so I was in for a challenge, but I was definitely up for it. I wanted to share with you guys (one of my favorite audiences) some tips I’ve learned and used along the way about what to do if you want to grow (or move) your business outside of your city (or country) and into another.
Do Your Research
If you are looking to work or obtain clients in another country, you have to investigate the numerous visa options available. This was my number one priority because I was a Canadian looking to move and/or obtain work in the USA. You have to make sure you have all the proper legal documents intact before you move forward. If you’re lucky enough to have someone consult for you at no charge, then take him or her up on the offer (oh so Smart Cookie approved). Paying for an immigration lawyer isn’t cheap, but it’s worth the money if you are serious about taking that leap to grow your business.
Make sure you tap into your network to see who can refer you to a good immigration lawyer, and don’t be afraid to say you are looking for someone affordable because you’re on budget. As a Smart Cookie, I didn’t want to spend more than $400 max for a consult, but I also knew that, realistically, I had to spend between $200 and $400, depending on who I met with.
List all the questions you need answered to ensure that paid hour of time is worth your money. Even if you feel they are “dumb” or “obvious” questions, ask them because often there are many details and various visas available based on everyone’s situation. Find out what type of (a) visas are available that you can apply for based on your current situation and future plans, (b) what is required of you and the lawyers in order to process the visa, (c) how long it will take to complete the process to obtain a visa and (d) how much the visa will cost (they can range from a few hundred dollars to $3000 and more).
If you want to grow your business in another city in your own country, the process is fairly easy, but you still need to do your research so you are fully aware of what steps to take. Look into the types of companies you want to work with as clients, be sure you do your research on who the company is and what their initiatives, goals and objectives are and get up to speed on any current press they have recently received (always good to be current on anything newsworthy they have). Obtaining clients in Toronto or NYC requires a different approach than trying to win new clients in a city like Vancouver. Check out any current, local business magazines that would be a good reference to check out what’s going on in the city you’ve chosen. It could be an article covering anything, but it’s wise to be up to speed on that city’s current work and business.
I’ve also found it helpful to write down how your company can provide consulting services to a business and why you feel they need such a service, focusing on the areas you specialize in. Having any case studies of the work you’ve done and results you’ve received for past clients is an added bonus, and I highly recommend it. The more ammunition you have to pitch your company, the better chance you have at winning their attention and business.
Connect with People in the Places You Want to Be
This is one of the best things I’ve done. No word of a lie, I thrive on this tip! I have proactively sought out companies and business people I’ve read about in the press who I would love to bring on as clients and have connected with them through email or social media. You would be amazed at how open, willing and responsive people are to requests if you just ask.
To start, make a list of people, influencers and companies you would like to connect with. It helps to take initial notes on any info you have on them or their company, what line of business or industry they’re in, etc. With the amount of online search tools, you can find out a lot about a person or company fairly easily. Draft an email (or tweet) on what you want to send to them and keep it in your draft folder. I often find that I want to read through a pitch email and add or delete things throughout the week so that once I’m ready to send, I’m 100% happy with it. Think of this email as a pitch — keep it short and simple but concise. You have to assume this person is busy and doesn’t have all the time in the world to read a long-winded email from a complete stranger.
Once you’ve made initial contact, start planning how you’re going to meet in person if you can (always the best). Make sure you’re clear on what you are looking for and what your goals and objectives are for this meeting. It’s important to go into meetings with a clear idea of what you hope to get out of them.
Make the Trip Out
In this day and age when people use email way too much, it’s refreshing for companies to know that you are making the effort and spending the extra time to come to them. Scheduling a face-to-face meeting is worth its weight in gold (trust me, it works) because it shows that person/company that you mean business and that you’re willing to spend the money and make the trip out. When I make these trips, I only do so when I have enough people to meet with, so my time (and money) is well spent. I pack as many meetings into a day as I reasonably can but with enough time in between to allow for meetings that don’t start on time.
Don’t feel like you have to spend an entire week away. Time is money, and you can often get what you need done in approximately three days. I have found that being efficient is key, and as I mentioned above, you want to make wise use of your time and money. Find ways to save money on the more expensive items, which leads me to my next tip . . .
Spend Your Money Wisely
Being a Smart Cookie definitely has its advantages when it comes to being aware of how and where I spend my money. You better believe that I’m extremely conscious of the cost of such a trip and watch my spending like a hawk. The bonus is that the trip can be a tax write-off, since it is technically a business expense. Hotel and airfare tend to be the most costly, so when I take my business meetings in a city like New York, I tap into every single resource I have to save the most money. Air-mile points, staying with friends to avoid costly hotel charges; you name it, I’ve done it! If you cannot use points or book far enough in advance (I typically book one month ahead), you can still find deals out there. If you fly a particular airline, make sure you not only check their website but also see if they are on social media (Twitter in particular). They will often have specific days and times when they post their latest airfare deals (for example, in Canada, Westjet Airlines tweets their latest flight deals every Thursday at 1pm PST).
When it comes to accommodations, I have been pretty lucky because I have friends in the cities where I travel. When that isn’t the case, I have still saved money on accommodations. During a recent business trip to NYC, I specifically tweeted using “travel” and the city I was flying to, and I was able to get an amazing rate at a great hotel (hint hint, the DoubleTree by Hilton in NYC). Be sure to use hashtags (#) for the city you are inquiring about (e.g., #NYC) and hashtags for keywords such as #travel, #visiting and #LP (for Lonely Planet). A great website I found is #TNI, which stands for Travelers Night In. It’s an online platform where you can get tons of tips, ideas and deals on all things travel from other likeminded travelers and experts.
Food for thought: It’s important to stay in touch with the people you do connect with or meet. Based on my experience, maintaining regular (but not overly pushy) contact is worth your time and effort. It shows that you appreciated their time, that their relationship is valuable to you and that you are motivated to keep the doors open. Because you’ve had the chance to meet with them in person, they’ve gotten a feel for who you are and how you present yourself. Sending a thank you email or communication is key because acknowledging that they took time out of their busy schedules to meet you is always appreciated and a nice touch.
I’ve had the opportunity to foster some amazing business relationships in the cities I’ve traveled to, and I’ve built them up by maintaining regular contact, whether it’s letting them know what I’ve been up to or if I’m coming to town. Going the extra mile is always worth it.