Years ago when I was working for another firm, a client that we had picked up (by pure luck) said, “You guys do a really good job. You should really let people know that you are out there.” That client was less than a mile from our office. At that moment, I realized the quality of survey work we performed didn’t matter if no one knew about it. The funny thing is that situation didn’t motivate me until many years later. It was only after I started my own firm that those words started to ring true in my head.

If a surveying and mapping business is going to be successful in today’s market, that firm must let potential clients know it exists. Only then will the firm be able to sell clients on what sets it apart from the competition. Here are four steps to expanding your market and improving your business.

1. Perform quality work. I know I previously said that quality work does not matter if no one knows about you, but the opposite is also true. Try selling something you don’t believe in. To be successful in selling, you need to be passionate about the product or service you’re selling and truly believe you have a winning solution for your client. People in general (and especially clients) will see through any act you put on and most, if not all, untrue statements. So this first step bears repeating: Perform quality work and deliver great service. 

2. Create a business development and marketing plan. This should include setting goals and a budget. You will have to spend time, money and resources to perform marketing and business development. That is just a fact of business. Maybe some people can be successful by accident, but most successful business owners become successful because they developed and followed a plan. Focusing on target markets rather than target companies can give you a broader perspective and help you spot new opportunities.

If your firm struggles with profit margins, you’ll need to fix that problem first. You may need to run a tighter ship (increase efficiency and cut costs), increase fees, or perhaps even sacrifice some of your profit or wages for the future of the company. (The latter option is a last resort that should only be implemented as part of a longer-term strategy. Don’t fall into the trap of perpetual sacrifice without return on your time and talents.)

As soon as possible, make room in your budget for business development, and set measureable goals that you’ll be able to evaluate later to determine their effectiveness.

3. Implement your plan. Once you have a budget and marketing goals, get out there! Start performing business development and marketing. Don’t worry about making the wrong choice and wasting time and money. Instead, get started and you will quickly learn from your mistakes. Set goals every month, and try to meet those goals. Try anything once (within reason), review it, measure it and judge whether you received value from it.

4. Meet new people. For your business development plan to succeed, you’ll need to expand your network. You might not be very good at this at first, but if you work at it, that will change.

When I started in surveying, I was fresh out of college with a surveying engineering degree, but I was dreadful at drawing in a field book. I can remember being teased for the poor quality of my sketches. I resolved to improve my drawing ability. The solution I came up with was simple: Volunteer to draw every project I worked on, no exceptions. I would grab the book and insist on drawing the site, no matter how large or how difficult. After a very short time, I became one of the best in the company at drawing in a field book.

I have used this same approach in other areas of my life and business. When it came to business development, I forced myself to get out of my comfort zone and attend every meeting and event I could find. At first, I may have wasted a lot of my time. However, I quickly started to learn which events and groups I should focus on. The payoff in new opportunities has been tremendous.

Be prepared to feel out of place at first. You might feel guilty that you’re not back at the office working. Perhaps the event will seem like a waste of time and money. But remember—you’re in business for the long term. Don’t focus on the short term, but instead focus on building relationships and making new friends. Don’t think about what people can do for you; think about what you can do for them. Seek to build trust. Also, be careful of rushing to judgment about people you meet. Some of my best wins in the business development world have come from individuals that I never thought would be helpful to my business. Be straightforward and honest. Don’t offer your company as a solution for a problem unless you believe your firm to be the solution. Instead offer them the real solution, even if it’s a competitor. Your relationships and potential clients will respect that about you.

Create your plan today. Then get out of your comfort zone and work your plan daily. You will be amazed at your results.