From Idea to Finding My Target Customer. Meet Paul Heffner
Paul Heffner has always had a knack for numbers. So when Finance Pals took off — the side hustle he launched to keep himself afloat while working on four other ideas — he made a smart calculation and turned it into his main focus.
We sat down with Paul to talk about playing to your talents, the importance of networkingand how he learned to negotiate onpricing.
When I graduated from Duke University, I went into management consulting at Accenture. I liked figuring out which parts of businesses worked — or didn’t —and why.
I’ve always loved numbers, even back in middle and high school, so after six years I moved on to Cricket Wireless, a small cell phone company, where I eventually became the Director of Finance. AT&T bought Cricket, and when the merger went through I was given a severance package that I used to launch four different startups.
The initial idea forFinance Palscame after a brainstorming session where I looked at what I enjoyed and what I was good at, then at what filled a need in the market. At first I thought I could create business plans and financial projections for brand new companies, but at that stage they’re not ready to pay for consulting.
At a Denver Startup Week networking event I met the owner of Great Dental Websites, who needed financial forecasting and bookkeeping help. That’s when I realized I could provide these services for companies that are not quite startups, but are too small to hire full-time finance staff.
I updated my LinkedIn profile to show I was up for freelancing, and within a couple of weeks a colleague from my Accenture days reached out to me and became my second client. Originally, Finance Pals was a side business to make some extra cash while I was working on my other business ideas, but when I got my third customer — a referral from one of the other two — I formally launched the company a month later.
When did you know your business was going to work?
When I had three clients after only a few months without investing in marketing, I knew I was on to something.
In contrast, I spent a lot of money promoting some of my other business ideas, with a lot less return. It made sense to focus my efforts on the business that I didn't have to work hard and spend money to market.
How do you price your services?
It’s a little tricky because people who offer similar services don’t just list prices on their websites.
At the beginning, I called some friends in the industry and asked them what would be a fair fee per hour, then I quoted the lower end of the average for my initial clients so that anyone comparing prices would pick me.
I learned early on that everyone wants tonegotiateand feel like they’re getting a good deal. On the flip side, once I had a good track record, it was okay to charge the market norm.
One client asked what my price was, so I quoted $70 per hour. They thought about it and called me back the next day. That's when I knew they were interested.
Because of this experience, I decided to negotiate harder when they asked for a lower price and I discounted my fee just a little instead of getting nervous and reducing it a lot. If they’d been my first client, I probably would have just accepted whatever number they countered with.
What is your most effective means of getting new customers?
Right now, I’m working on finding partnerships. I have a few friends who are Certified Public Accountants, and they have lots of clients asking for financial modeling and bookkeeping help. I’m positive that this is a big way to get new customers, because CPAs can’t provide certain services to companies they audit, as it would be a conflict of interest. Now that I’ve officially launched and amnetworkingmore, I’ll be able to get more clients from building these types of connections with CPAs.
I know my target customer, so I’ve put some thought into what types of events they go to and how to meet more people.
To help grow my network, I’ve asked my current clients which events they attend. One of them said he launched his business through a startup incubator like Galvanize or the Innovation Pavilion, so I went to a similar event here in Denver, but found that the companies there were too young and weren’t ready for financial modeling and bookkeeping support.
Now I’m trying to find businesses that are leaving startup incubators because they’re past the first hurdle, which is when they need my services.
What has been the biggest surprise so far after starting your own business?
Initially, it surprised me how hard it was to find my target audience and market my business! I understand now that it’s all about networking, making the right connections and forming partnerships.
If you could go back in time, what’s the one thing you would do differently?
This is a tough question. There are a lot of things I still need to figure out, and I’m sure I’ll change my mind again a year from now.
But looking back, I wish I’d launched much sooner instead of starting Finance Pals off as a side business. I got caught up in wanting to create some exciting, crazy startup instead of focusing on what my background and strengths are, and what I’m interested in. I should’ve paid more attention and stuck to what I know and enjoy.
What would you like to learn today from a network of other small business owners and self-employed professionals?
I want to figure out how I can expand Finance Pals as fast as I can. What’s the most important thing I should do to grow my business?
What are some mistakes other people here have made by trying to develop too quickly? How can I avoid making those same mistakes?
Have *you* been where Paul is?
If you made the leap from turning a side hustle into your main focus, how did you grow your business? What tricks or ideas do you have for Paul as he starts to think about expanding his business and going after new customers?
From Idea to Finding My Target Customer. Meet Paul Heffner
When I was side hustling, it was a lot of hours and a lot of stress and it was really easy to want to force it to pick up faster than it was. But, it was amazing to see how everything happened at the right time when it was supposed to. I guess just enjoying the ride is my thought for anyone starting a business (easier said than done though, I know). I'd love to know where Finance Pals is today!