How to best communicate a side business to potential clients?
January 19, 2017 12:08 PM   Subscribe

I recently started a side business. I already own another relatively successful business, and I want to operate this second one as kind of an occasional thing, just to explore for now and maybe grow down the road. Both businesses are consultancies. How do I communicate this dual-operation situation without scaring people off or sounding like a jack of all trades?

I will be discussing this situation with existing clients and colleagues, and I want to prepare for that. I'm hoping that my potential clients, existing clients, and colleagues will:

- Understand that I have multiple specialties and that's just a thing some people do
- Understand that I'm doing this seriously
- Not fear that I'll cease operating my main business (I like it and plan to continue), as it provides important online communications software and infrastructure for many organizations.

I'd appreciate any perspectives on this. My first business is a web communications consultancy, and the second business is an individual coaching thing where I specialize in helping people find themselves, connect with potential new interests, escape from anxiety, etc. I hold certifications relevant to both businesses, and have clients in both as well, though far fewer in the newer one.
posted by circular to Work & Money (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
(I'll also be setting up a website for the side business, and anticipate that potential clients will find out about both of my business websites, so tips on communicating the situation on the websites themselves would also be appreciated!)
posted by circular at 12:11 PM on January 19, 2017


Is there a reason you need to discuss this with your existing clients? If someone I had hired in a professional context started discussing this with me, I would probably assume they were trying to sell me something and be pretty annoyed. And, the fact that you brought it up would probably make me more worried about you ceasing to operate your main business much more so than if you just didn't mention it at all, even if I randomly came across it in some other context.
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:13 PM on January 19, 2017 [7 favorites]


> Is there a reason you need to discuss this with your existing clients?

Not usually, and I don't think I'd just bring it up out of nowhere. But I've already had a couple of situations come up where clients kept asking questions and led the conversation there. I lost quite a bit of weight and made some other changes, and some of my clients don't recognize me when I meet up with them in person, which leads to "what happened," and they keep asking questions. That's where I'm hoping to communicate for effect.

Edit: Also, some clients are friends of friends and hear about it that way; others will see it on the web, etc.
posted by circular at 12:21 PM on January 19, 2017


Is there a way you can tie the side business into your existing business? As a result of my work in X, I developed methods for Y (or whatever), and I'm now able to offer Z as a service, etc etc?
posted by schadenfrau at 12:25 PM on January 19, 2017 [2 favorites]


> As a result of my work in X, I developed methods for Y (or whatever), and I'm now able to offer Z as a service, etc etc?

Oh that's cool. How about: "As a result of my work with a wide variety of clients in consulting situations, I became a student of communications and psychology, and am now able to help people learn more about themselves and their potential to live happier, more fulfilled lives." Thoughts?
posted by circular at 12:34 PM on January 19, 2017 [1 favorite]


Gotcha -- in the scenarios you're talking about, I would just go for short and simple, and then if someone expresses interest or starts asking more questions, obviously you can go into details. Something along the lines of "Yeah, [current business] is still my main focus and will continue to be going forward, but I've taken on a few coaching clients on the side. So, which of these options were you liking for [current project you're working on for the person]?"
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:36 PM on January 19, 2017 [1 favorite]


If the second thing is "life coaching," I'd think you fell for a kind of MLM thing. Sorry but the people I've known in my sphere that have done this haven't been successful at it. They've been the types that try out candle sales, Pampered Chef, etc.. I wouldn't mention it until you have a year's worth of positive revenue stream. And, like you said, don't try to double dip your clients. If you feel like you *must* blend these on things like LinkedIn, just know that your main business may suffer. If I'm looking for a web consultant, I'm not looking for a life coach, and I'm looking for someone who is devoted to the business. Even though we all sort of know that people have different talents and interests, it's confusing and people may forgo you for someone who seems more "clear." I know in your mind it's all part of "what're you up to lately?" but I promise that people don't care all that much and even your close friends often won't be able to "gel" the multiple professional identities.
posted by amanda at 1:09 PM on January 19, 2017 [17 favorites]


I would find it weird if I hired someone as a web communication consultant and they brought up the fact that they also have a life coaching business, and possibly assume they were trying to sell me an unrelated and unwanted service. I think you're way overthinking the level of disclosure that you need or is wise to do.

Others may disagree, but having worked simultaneously in two very different fields, I intentionally kept clients from one side from also being clients from the other.
posted by Candleman at 1:22 PM on January 19, 2017 [6 favorites]


Unless you are trying to sell something, then there's no reason for you to bring it up or make a big deal about it.

If it does come up, treat as you would a hobby or anything like that. "I've got a side gig where I do a little life coaching" said in just the same way you might say "I play softball on the weekends with my college buddies" or "my band has a gig on Sunday night" is really all that's required, and makes it clear that it isn't any sort of conflict with the business at hand.

Once in awhile someone might take an interest and ask you more about it, and then you can have that conversation. You don't need to hide anything or shut down natural curiosity. There's nothing wrong with working two jobs, which is essentially all that you're doing. But most people will just say something like, "Oh, that's interesting" and that will be the end of it.

In your mind the two business are related, because they both involve you. But to a customer of Business 1, all they really care about is if you can give them what they want. Business 2 is not a relevant part of that equation. Treat it accordingly.
posted by spilon at 1:30 PM on January 19, 2017 [4 favorites]


If this is Beachbody or Shakeology or similar, I really don't want to hear it in my professional life. (And I love Beachbody workouts.) Same with life coach.

Seriously, I hire consultants. I was a consultant. If this is even a whiff of MLM, don't bring it into our professional life.

We don't need to reveal all of ourselves to clients. It would make me question your professional judgement if you suddenly went all Amway on me.
posted by 26.2 at 1:46 PM on January 19, 2017 [1 favorite]


A client wants to feel special, and to know all your energy is focused on them. Even though, logically, they know your focus is divided among many other things, they want to feel confident that when you are with them, they are your priority. Telling them that your focus is split will not benefit you.

I have two (sort of three) specialties. I keep them totally separate. This is not 100%, of course, things can come up naturally. But I definitely don't sell one to the other. It just diminishes things on both sides.
posted by Vaike at 1:50 PM on January 19, 2017


I may be a grouchy hater, but I'd be pretty put off by your second business if I were a customer of the first. It's probably not fair, but I perceive a lot of life coaching-type businesses to be either people trying to monetize their hobbies or neuroses, or covers for MLM schemes.

Ok, so on preview, I'm not the only one who feels this way. I'd keep them 100% separate unless a current customer asks you specifically for a life coach recommendation.
posted by snaw at 1:54 PM on January 19, 2017 [5 favorites]


"As a result of my work with a wide variety of clients in consulting situations, I became a student of communications and psychology, and am now able to help people learn more about themselves and their potential to live happier, more fulfilled lives."

Perhaps I'm not understanding the nature of company A and company B, but honestly, if someone said that to me I would end my business relationship with them. Besides being highly suspicious of products that are both a floor wax and a dessert topping, you sound like you're about to introduce me to a cult.
posted by danny the boy at 2:25 PM on January 19, 2017 [16 favorites]


Yeah this only works if they're really related. I would also not mention life coaching at all unless someone asks you about it specifically, because they are interested in those services from you.

It's a really bad idea to try to recruit web clients as coaching clients, and that's what it will seem like. You will lose business and credibility. I agree that you shouldn't talk to people about it until it's a proven, going concern.
posted by schadenfrau at 2:54 PM on January 19, 2017 [2 favorites]


I work with a person whose side business is a cosmetics and health food product line (and kind of a pyramid scheme although she would go on for half an hour about how it's not, while drawing a diagram of the organization that is shaped like... a pyramid).

She tried to sell me on her side business. I was polite but I was internally HORRIFIED and seriously considered ending my relationship with her because I felt I couldn't trust her not to try to up-sell inappropriately and hurt my reputation by doing so when she was meant to be advocating for me.

I would NOT mention Business B to your Business A clients AT ALL. If A clients need B, they will research and find a provider of B. If that provider is you, great. But it probably won't be, because nobody wants to get too many services from one provider. Much better to keep the streams separate! Do NOT consider A clients as leads for Business B. That goes for having separate email addresses and not including Business B in your email signature for Business A.
posted by spraypaint at 3:18 PM on January 19, 2017 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the feedback, everybody! So it sounds like pitching to current main-business clients is not advised, which is just fine with me. I agree, that would probably backfire and I'm not a pitchy guy anyway. So far, 95% of my clients are word of mouth referrals. My main concern here is: What if it just comes up, how do I cover the "yeah I run two businesses" thing.

P.S. Some have mentioned their MLM concerns; this is not an MLM. I'm already in the black and profitable without selling any particular approach or particular product/service line. My mentor is a respected member of the psychology & organizational development communities who has two MA degrees from top-ranked schools, is a GSA-registered contractor, and has lots of paid consulting experience with FDA, DOE, NNSA, and a bunch more acronyms. I'm really glad to know that my phrasing has triggered MLM fears, though; that helps me know that I need to work on how I explain what I'm doing. Anyway I'm off to wash up with some of this great new Life Coach(tm) soap I've been using, you guys should try it
posted by circular at 3:39 PM on January 19, 2017 [1 favorite]


Most people won't find the idea that you have a main job and a part time side job unusual - it's not really something that needs to be explained, IMO. If it happens to come up in conversation, just saying "yeah, I run two businesses" is totally fine! If you're concerned that people may think you're leaving the first business for the second, you can expand a little. Something like, "Yeah, I started a second personal consulting business and now I'm doing both. Web communications is going to continue to be my main focus, but I've really been enjoying being able to do some other stuff on the side, it helps me stay excited about my work."

I think the important thing will be to only share details about the second job with clients of the first if they specifically ask, and err on the side of being brief. If I am talking to say, my dentist and it naturally comes up in conversation that she makes and sells jewelry, that's totally fine. If she then offers to show me the jewelry or gives me a business card with that information or sends me a link to her Etsy (without any asking from me), that's weird and I'd be worried that she was going to pressure me. If I know she sells jewelry and I was interested in seeing it, I would ask.
posted by insectosaurus at 3:54 PM on January 19, 2017 [3 favorites]


tips on communicating the situation on the websites themselves would also be appreciated

The only place I'd say anything about it on your main business site might be if you have the sort of folksy bio that delves into how you have 2 children, 4 cats, and play the banjo for a folk-metal band or something. You can put it between the cats and the folk-metal band, figuratively speaking. (Whether it's a good idea to have that sort of bio is it's own issue)

On your "side business" site, you could say something about this wherever you talk about your credentials, along the lines about how you have a successful business in X, and you have chosen to help others who want to succeed. If there are schedule constraints because of your main business, saying something about them will help with any worries clients of your main business who find your page may have. It's probably a plus for many life coaching clients that you have experience in a business that isn't life coaching.

I've already had a couple of situations come up where clients kept asking questions and led the conversation there. I lost quite a bit of weight and made some other changes, and some of my clients don't recognize me when I meet up with them in person, which leads to "what happened," and they keep asking questions.

Unless your client is saying "I hear you have another business", they aren't leading the conversation there. I know it seems like they are leading it there by asking how you have lost the weight, but it isn't actually necessary for you to mention that you have started a new business in the course of explaining changes in your physical appearance. Lead the conversation somewhere else -- "but enough about me..."
posted by yohko at 3:07 PM on January 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


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