Starting a business and making it sustainable takes years of all-consuming work with no guarantee of success. Entrepreneurs must not only love what they do, but who they are doing it for.

By Dustin Pearce

If you are thinking about starting a business, try volunteering on top of your 9-to-5. This experience can not only help you see if you are cut out for being a business owner, but also give you valuable insight into the market and references.

While volunteering you may discover that currently the people you are serving can only access your services by either doing-it-themselves (with terrible results), or hiring a “professional” (which they cannot afford). One way you could differentiate yourself and serve more people is by offering a subscription model instead.

Before quitting your job, and investing a lot of money into a logo, website, and other things that don’t matter at first, it is a good idea to see if your business is viable by getting a handful of customers. The following is a proven strategy for finding leads, reaching out, and closing deals.

Step 1. Finding Leads

Google Maps and LinkedIn are great free tools for finding leads if you sell B2B. If you sell to small businesses, go to Google Maps and type in the industry and location to get a list of companies (example “landscapers Columbus, Ohio”). Then you can go to each of their websites for Facebook pages to find the best email address to reach them.

If you sell to larger companies, you can use LinkedIn in the same way. Make sure to search their employees for the right person, then Google their name, the word “email”, plus their companies domain (example “Dustin Pearce email Odds are there is a document in the web with either their email address, or the email address of someone at their company.

Once you have a list of companies and email addresses, use a tool like Mail Merge for Gmail ($29 a year) to send out bulk emails—make sure to include links to past work (even if it was volunteer). Wait a day, then run a report to see who clicked on your emails. This will help you narrow down who to follow up with by “cold” call.

Step 2. Reaching Out

The idea of cold calling to most people sounds horrible. However, if you only call people who click on your emails, it not only reduces the amount of cold calls you have to make, but also should reduce anxiety by knowing that the person is at least interested in learning more. Your “cold” call script can be as simple as the following:

“Hi is this ___? [pause] Hi ___, this is ___ from ___. We are a ___ company here in ___. I’m just calling to follow up with the email I sent you yesterday on ___. Would you be the right person at ___ to talk with about that?” That’s it! No need to over talk, just let the conversation flow naturally from there, and don’t be afraid of awkward pauses. Your goal is to schedule an in person meeting.

A great way to streamline cold calls is by using HubSpot’s free CRM (upgraded version $50/mo) that lets you connect your phone number and call over the Internet—make sure to use a business phone number, which is also free with Google Voice.

Step 3. Closing Deals

Once someone is ready to buy, make sure they sign an agreement to minimize confusion in the future. It will probably be enough for now to use a modified template you find online and have them sign a printed version. You will need an LLC (which you can do yourself for $125) and business bank account setup in order to invoice through your business name. QuickBooks Self-Employed ($5/mo) is a great accounting software for sending invoices, tracking miles, and manage self-employment taxes. If you also want to be able to automatically charge credit cards every month for subscription services, Braintree is a great option.

Final Considerations

There are a lot of unknowns when starting a business, and sometimes you might make promises that are more challenging to deliver than you expected. In those situations, it is important to communicate with your client immediately. Also, having a support network is vital.

It’s also important to keep overhead low. You might not need a fancy brochure right away, but you should probably invest in a business email ($5/mo), website ($20/mo), and mailing address ($60/mo). Finally, add your business to Google Maps to get found locally and collect reviews.

Dustin Pearce is a website designer at Makeshark in Columbus, Ohio. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his family, church, and rock climbing or kayaking outdoors.

Finding customers stock photo by Minerva Studio/Shutterstock