When you’re just starting a new training business, one of your big concerns is naturally where you’re going to find work. How can you let people know that you’re available? How can you begin to attract referrals or find other trainers to collaborate with? Is your immediate future destined to be a blur of networking events?

It’s true that effective networking is crucial to the success of any business, even more so in the start-up phase when you are keen to develop new contacts. And with so many online and in-person networking events around these days, there’s no shortage of opportunities to meet people and build business relationships. However, the key is to pick the networking events that will work for your business and especially put you in front of your ideal clients. My advice would always be to do your homework and find out as much as you can about a networking event before you commit – many cost time and money and, without careful planning, can drain your energy and cash.

Given that you have so much to think about when you’re starting out, including how to build a contact list from scratch, why not keep it simple and start with people you know?

My top tips for building a contact list from scratch

Below, I’ve put together tips that will help you to build a contact list for your new training business:

  1. If you’ve just come out of corporate life, make a list of the all the people you had regular contact with – friends and colleagues in your own organisation as well as outside suppliers.
  2. Next, think about past employers- who do you still have links with? Write their names down!
  3. Do you belong to any professional groups such as your local CIPD? Who do you know there? Again, make a note.
  4. Have you been on any courses recently? If so, did you get to know anyone in particular? Do you have their business card?
  5. Do any of your friends or family work with people who could use your training services? Jot them down.

After doing this exercise, I can guarantee you will be amazed at how many business contacts you already have and it hasn’t cost you a penny!

The next step is to gather their contact information and get it on your database. If you’re asking, ‘What database?’ then I’ve got some more tips for you below.

How to build a free contact management database

As your business grows, you may decide to invest in a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) database. This will help you keep track of your contacts, leads, conversations, sales, level of client engagement and much more.

When you’re starting out though, you may feel that you don’t have the budget or number of contacts to warrant a monthly subscription to a CRM database. Don’t worry, a simple Excel spreadsheet can be a great starting point for managing your contact list.

In a new Excel document you will want to create columns for the following information about each contact:

  • First and last name
  • Street address
  • Town/city, country and postcode
  • Phone number
  • Email address
  • Type of contact (how you know them)
  • Length of relationship (when did you meet?)
  • Company they belong to
  • Professional title
  • Social media profiles
  • Web address
  • Notes

The Notes section of your contact management list is the ideal place to store information that your contact has shared with you about themselves. Maybe they’ve mentioned that they’re working towards a promotion or changing jobs soon or that their oldest child is due to leave for university. These tidbits of information can all help you to strike up a conversation with your contact or build a lasting relationship.

I’d also include some columns in your Excel contact sheet to record:

  • When you last spoke
  • How you last made contact (e.g. phone, social media, email)
  • The outcome of your last conversation

Fill in absolutely everything you know about all of the contacts you noted down when you did the exercise above (give each client a new row in your spreadsheet). Now it’s time to reach out to them.

Reach out to your contact list

With your initial contact list to hand, the next step is to reach out to everyone you’ve included. Where possible I think it’s best to give your contacts a call but you could use email or social media if you’re more comfortable saying hello in writing. Whatever approach you take, be sure to personalise your message. If, for example, you’re reaching out to someone you worked with 10 years ago, you might need to remind them of how you know each other.

At this point, all you need to do is tell each contact about your new business and how they can contact you. Just that. You’re not asking for any business and it may be that they are not in a position to provide it anyway. All you are doing is making contact and sowing the seeds for the future. You could always ask if they’re happy for you to keep in touch with them as your training business grows.

Data protection

One of the benefits of reaching out to people who know you in person is that you can begin to build your contact list in an ethical way. Your contact list will fall under the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) for business-to-business marketing because you have your contacts’ details on file, making them identifiable if the list were to fall into the wrong hands. Although you shouldn’t be cold-calling people or adding people to your mailing list without their permission under GDPR, my understanding is that you can reach out to professional contacts you already know, not least because you have a pre-existing professional relationship with them. This would also be seen as a ‘legitimate interest’ where you are just making them aware of your new business and contact details. Of course, I’m not a GDPR expert so I recommend reading up on data protection laws via the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

When you reach out to your contact, you should tell them that you would like to stay in touch and check that they’re happy with this. If someone indicates that they don’t want to be contacted again, you should remove them from your contact list.

Commit to action

Depending on the length of your initial list and how you plan to make contact, you may need to spread reaching out to your contact list over a few weeks. The important thing is that you commit to action and get in touch with everyone you can about your new training business. It’s such a simple but effective way to start putting your name out there – after all, one of your contacts may know someone who knows someone else who needs your training services.

For more expert advice about setting up and growing a training business and a whole community of trainers by your side, why not join me as a Trainer Talk member? Find out more now.

Note: This article was originally published in 2008 and has been updated in October 2020.

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