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Need to drum up business to keep my laboratory afloat, have no idea how to start

joshofalltradesjoshofalltrades 地獄のようにかわいいあなたは嫉妬深いかRegistered User regular
edited June 2015 in Help / Advice Forum
Thanks to the slump of oil and gas prices, my company's biggest clients are no longer exploring, which means they aren't sending us samples for testing, and that means we aren't getting paid, which means if I don't find a way to generate income I will need to start applying elsewhere, which is sort of a huge problem because my kids and court orders are legally keeping me in the Abilene, TX area.

Some background: I work for a very small laboratory in west Texas. Right now our two biggest potential money-making tools are a Rigaku Nex CG XRF spectrometer and an AGI Supersting Earth Resistivity meter.

We would very much like to find a way of reaching out to people who need analytical work done cheaply, accurately and quickly. Back in February I was sent to a convention in Denver, but there was little to no real interest. I mean, I had mostly students come up and talk to me but they don't have a budget. I also had a couple of other good leads from this but they did not end up panning out. So, that ended up being a huge waste of time and money.

Another idea I had was to get involved with the EPA Superfund Contract Laboratory Program but I don't know the ins or outs of government contracting work.

I know that it's possible to make a living by providing these services, but our location in shitty west Texas means it's impossible to just drive around and shake hands with people until you find who you need. I have a chemistry degree, not a business degree, and I'm having a whole lot of trouble doing cold calls to random companies, being an introvert.

If someone has experience in this field or can help point me in the right direction to start, I would greatly appreciate it!

BTW, I am not advertising for my business here, I just need help figuring out where to go to do that. Please don't take this post as an advertisement!

ジェイムズ・ブラウンの好きな色は何ですか?
青!
joshofalltrades on

Posts

  • MagicToasterMagicToaster JapanRegistered User regular
    Your type of business is totally unknown to me, help me fill in some gaps.

    Walk me through it, I'm a new client:
    1. What kind of business do I have?
    2. What am I hiring you to do?
    3. What else do you do?
    4. How did I find out about you?

  • joshofalltradesjoshofalltrades 地獄のようにかわいい あなたは嫉妬深いかRegistered User regular
    edited June 2015
    1. You have a laboratory or a manufacturing company and you need to know the atomic composition of one or more of your materials/samples.
    2. You are hiring me to run a quantitative or semi-quantitative analysis of samples that you send us, and to provide you with the results of that analysis along with (potentially) an interpretation.
    3. I also use resistivity equipment to make an electrical picture of the near subsurface environment, I can do simple laboratory tests like magnetic susceptibility, pH/conductivity, loss on ignition, etc.
    4. I'm honestly not sure how you found out about me. That's the point of this thread; I don't have a budget for a website and after wasting a lot of money at a convention that didn't attract any attention, because it was largely populated by students and lab professionals with their own equipment, I can't see us going to another one.

    I hope that answers your questions satisfactorily!

    joshofalltrades on
    ジェイムズ・ブラウンの好きな色は何ですか?
    青!
  • MayabirdMayabird Pecking at the keyboardRegistered User regular
    How specialized is your lab? Could you do testing for police labs or soil samples for, say, agricultural purposes?

  • IrukaIruka Registered User, Moderator mod
    Wait, do you not have a website at all? Like nothing online?

    Enczagdrob
  • joshofalltradesjoshofalltrades 地獄のようにかわいい あなたは嫉妬深いかRegistered User regular
    Mayabird wrote: »
    How specialized is your lab? Could you do testing for police labs or soil samples for, say, agricultural purposes?

    We could absolutely do those things. If I had any idea how to approach the police about that.
    Iruka wrote: »
    Wait, do you not have a website at all? Like nothing online?

    We used to have a website but it was an expense that gained us virtually zero attention. But perhaps that needs to be reevaluated?

    ジェイムズ・ブラウンの好きな色は何ですか?
    青!
  • FoomyFoomy Registered User regular
    I would start by making a list of the general types of people/businesses/organizations/etc. that could use one the lab processes that you can do.

    Then find anything that matches those categories working out in distance from where you are and just start calling/emailing/faxing/sending letters telling them what you can do for them and that you offer competitive pricing.

    Most of them are going to ignore you, but if you can get a few interested they might love your services and start to tell friends.

    If waiting for people to find you doesn't seem to be working then get out and find the people who need you instead.

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  • IrukaIruka Registered User, Moderator mod
    I would at the very least have somewhere that people could read about your services. A super simple page that is from a template (squarespace? Wordpress?) I feel like a 10-12 dollar informational page is going to better to have than not. I would have a lot of good terms that would turn up with simple googling "We are a lab, we can handle your agricultural soil samples, and so on" in a list. It may not generate much but it's better than being unsearchable.

    I would combine that with Foomy's advice and send people to your page, which should have something to give them a good inclination of the services you provide.

    joshofalltradestapeslingertynicbowenEncGaslight
  • knitdanknitdan Registered User regular
    My first thought was maybe environmental groups might be interested in someone like this? I imagine they have a need for sample testing on a budget.

    Although that might jeopardize your business with the extractive industries.

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  • joshofalltradesjoshofalltrades 地獄のようにかわいい あなたは嫉妬深いかRegistered User regular
    knitdan wrote: »
    My first thought was maybe environmental groups might be interested in someone like this? I imagine they have a need for sample testing on a budget.

    Although that might jeopardize your business with the extractive industries.

    Honestly? I don't think they care what other work we get up to as long as we tell them what is in the soil they send us.

    Thanks for the suggestions, everybody. More are welcome.

    ジェイムズ・ブラウンの好きな色は何ですか?
    青!
  • WiseManTobesWiseManTobes Registered User regular
    edited June 2015
    Try Colorado and Washington maybe? If they are doing it properly, they will definitely care about their soil qualities.

    edit: like in a they can send to you/you results back, not in a move there way

    WiseManTobes on
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  • SanderJKSanderJK Crocodylus Pontifex Sinterklasicus Madrid, 3000 ADRegistered User regular
    My initial feeling would be:
    Government contracts are longer term; They probably have fairly strict guidelines, may require things you can't test for, have bid processes etcet. Your best bet is probably getting attached to a project of some sort.

    When I think of atomic soil samples I immediately think of soil pollution. I know my own government did extensive research into lead in soil around places where gas stations, refineries, and leather tanneries used to be, to see if there are any problems rezoning the land.

    You could perhaps even market to individuals, in an 'Are you concerned about the land you're buying / living on' kind of way, but that does rely on a bit of distrust in the government/EPA etcet.

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    joshofalltrades
  • Rhesus PositiveRhesus Positive GNU Terry Pratchett Registered User regular
    SanderJK wrote: »
    You could perhaps even market to individuals, in an 'Are you concerned about the land you're buying / living on' kind of way, but that does rely on a bit of distrust in the government/EPA etcet.

    He's in Texas - shouldn't be a problem to find that demographic :rotate:

    On a more serious note: if you can easily buy a list of companies that fit your target market, email blitzes (combined with an informative website) and telemarketing can be a good source of lead generation. I can understand the distaste for cold calling, but I do it every day, and if you go into it with the right attitude it doesn't have to be a terrible chore. You'd probably need to do some calls to check the data is up to date regarding emails and correct contacts in any case.

    It could even be worth paying a telemarketing firm to try a pilot scheme for you for a couple of days, to give you an idea of whether there would be any return on investment.

    If students were interested, would it be worth reaching out to educational establishments who might be interested in hiring your expertise to demonstrate techniques or provide resources for student projects? I guess the issue there is educational establishments having their own kit.

    Julius
  • MagicToasterMagicToaster JapanRegistered User regular
    4. I'm honestly not sure how you found out about me.

    This is a problem. If you don't know (and you work there), how do you expect customers to find you? I'd say, first and foremost, a website is absolutely critical. It doesn't need to drive traffic to your doorstep 24/7, but people looking for your specific business type will likely search online, you only need one client a year to cover the cost of the web hosting.

    If I were in your position, I would start by identifying a successful competitor and making a note of what kind of advertising they use and who it's targeted at. I'd call them and ask for a quote/time frame/and try to figure out who their client base is (this is called 'mystery shopping'). If you don't have a successful local competitor, look nationwide and note what successful labs are doing.

    joshofalltradestynic
  • EncEnc A Fool with Compassion The Land of Flowers (and Dragons)Registered User regular
    Have you contacted your local universities? This seems like something a professor with some federal grant money might be willing to use.

  • joshofalltradesjoshofalltrades 地獄のようにかわいい あなたは嫉妬深いかRegistered User regular
    Enc wrote: »
    Have you contacted your local universities? This seems like something a professor with some federal grant money might be willing to use.

    I'm an alumnus of one of the local universities, and I've done some work for them, but it was back when I was a research assistant and we didn't get paid for it.

    This is definitely one area I can push, though.

    ジェイムズ・ブラウンの好きな色は何ですか?
    青!
  • bowenbowen How you doin'? Registered User regular
    Josh a quick question man, do you run this business yourself as the owner and the main lab guy or are you just the main lab guy looking to find more work for the company?

    It sounds to me like you need someone working on these cold calls and drumming up sales for your company, but if it's just you that may not be an expense you can front.

    Ladies.
  • joshofalltradesjoshofalltrades 地獄のようにかわいい あなたは嫉妬深いかRegistered User regular
    Right now I'm just the main lab guy. And yeah, we're such a small company there's no way we're going to hire somebody just to do sales for us. I'm expected to wear a lot of hats, even when sales and business savvy does not come naturally to me.

    ジェイムズ・ブラウンの好きな色は何ですか?
    青!
  • EncEnc A Fool with Compassion The Land of Flowers (and Dragons)Registered User regular
    Who are your chief competitors in your area? Have you looked into their marketing strategies and targets?

    Have you looked into their employment situation?

    If they are thriving and your company is dropping, you may want to look into what about their strategy is working and, if you can't emulate it, try to merge or jump over to them.

  • bowenbowen How you doin'? Registered User regular
    That's a rough gig, it also explains why the business is struggling because you're being put in roles you're not comfortable with or skilled in.

    Can your lab branch out? Law enforcement might be a good field to link up with if you can do any of that sort of work. Maybe not directly for the feds, but maybe you can piggy back off budgets and do work for forestry or the EPA? I'm not really sure how that all works.

    To me it seems like you need to get a sales person in, pay like $10-15 an hour and give a commission on job prospects. If it doesn't work out after a month or two, then drop them.

    Ladies.
    JuliusRhesus Positive
  • Lord PalingtonLord Palington Registered User regular
    Have you guys ever done work for the TCEQ before (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality)? I know they do a lot of field work, but I don't know if they do their sample testing in house or contract it out.

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    joshofalltrades
  • RobonunRobonun It's all fun and games until someone pisses off China Registered User regular
    Does your company do anything in the way of research and development?

  • NijaNija Registered User regular
    You might want to contact some of the larger law firms in your region. Especially if someone in your lab can be qualified as an expert. Toxic Tort, Environmental, Real Estate, Land Use, Water & Waste are some practice groups that might have use of your lab and expertise.

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  • joshofalltradesjoshofalltrades 地獄のようにかわいい あなたは嫉妬深いかRegistered User regular
    Robonun wrote: »
    Does your company do anything in the way of research and development?

    I had a paper published this year that's basically materials science R&D for polymers. We used XRF as a tool to support our conclusions. But again, I was personally involved with this research and it didn't make us any money because of that.

    ジェイムズ・ブラウンの好きな色は何ですか?
    青!
  • CaedwyrCaedwyr Registered User regular
    It might be worth finding out what Geotechnical and Environmental Engineering companies are in your area and to contact them to see if there was any interest.

  • MayabirdMayabird Pecking at the keyboardRegistered User regular
    Coal and coal ash also need to be tested for...something...though I'm not sure how to get in on that.

  • tynictynic PICNIC BADASS Registered User, ClubPA regular
    It sounds like you (or rather, you and the director and anyone else involved in decision making) need to sit down and hammer out a solid business plan, including potential diversification areas, ways to solicit customers effectively, ways to advertise your abilities, and what makes you stand out in the field, for starters. There are dozens of templates online to help small businesses figure out their core capabilities and where to direct their energies. It sounds like you guys are sort of flapping around without a solid direction and that just isn't gonna work for very long.

    IrukaJuliusbowen
  • JuliusJulius Registered User regular
    bowen wrote: »
    That's a rough gig, it also explains why the business is struggling because you're being put in roles you're not comfortable with or skilled in.

    Can your lab branch out? Law enforcement might be a good field to link up with if you can do any of that sort of work. Maybe not directly for the feds, but maybe you can piggy back off budgets and do work for forestry or the EPA? I'm not really sure how that all works.

    To me it seems like you need to get a sales person in, pay like $10-15 an hour and give a commission on job prospects. If it doesn't work out after a month or two, then drop them.

    Yeah you need someone to do sales. If you're bad at it you need to hire someone.

    You can also contract sales out. Get a call centre to get appointments for you.

    Rhesus Positivebowen
  • Jebus314Jebus314 Registered User regular
    edited June 2015
    Just an anecdotal observation, but I'd say that smaller universities are more likely to use these kinds of services. If they are sending students to conferences then chances are they are large enough to have someone on campus who can provide access to similar measurement devices, at reduced rates. But a lot of 2nd and 3rd tier universities will have limited research projects without the extensive on campus facilities.

    You could look up rankings to try and get a feel for which colleges/universities are 2nd and 3rd tier, or you could probably look at things like the number of graduating masters and phd students for any given department.

    No idea how you would reach out to them though.

    Jebus314 on
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  • Natas_XnoybisNatas_Xnoybis Registered User regular
    What kind of analysis can you run?

    What EPA schedules? Take a look at one of the big boys like Test America or Montgomery Watson and what analysis do they do that you can do cheaper? I realize you are a very small lab, but you should have at least one person who has some background/experience in marketing. Is this "your" lab, or a lab you happen to work for?

    NM reread the OP: "which means if I don't find a way to generate income I will need to start applying elsewhere, which is sort of a huge problem because my kids and court orders are legally keeping me in the Abilene, TX area." Without knowing anything about the "court orders" is there a possibility for an exemption if your (new) job requires you to relocate?

    It sounds like you are working for a lab that is doing a craptastic job at marketing themselves and was able to get away with a "the work will come to us" attitude for awhile. If at all possible I would look at other labs.

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  • MulysaSemproniusMulysaSempronius but also susie nyRegistered User regular
    edited June 2015
    It looks like Texas is a part of TNI, which is the accrediting agency for doing environmental testing. Not sure what accreditations your lab may have, but it can help. I have some experience in TNI, if you want more information. It's usually very cookie-cutter- there isn't a lot of research that goes into it as much as a lot of routine testing of known pollutants. I personally have not seen an earth resistivity meter or an xrf used in an environmental lab, but it could be for applications I am unfamiliar with.
    The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has their approved methods here.
    And you will almost never beat Test America, etc. on price. They do a lot of bulk testing 24/7. Like a lot of samples, to keep the price of individual tests down. A smaller company will generally win out on expertise- explaining things to the customers and suggesting tests that can help pinpoint issues.
    And government contracting work is hard. You could do it, but it requires very fast turn-around-times. And a lot of paperwork. And high throughput. I used to do data review of contract labs, and some of the labs were small business/ women/ minority/ and/or veteran owned. You almost have to know somebody on the inside so you can navigate the maze.
    I would look more at partnerships with large engineering firms first, though.

    MulysaSempronius on
    If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing
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  • joshofalltradesjoshofalltrades 地獄のようにかわいい あなたは嫉妬深いかRegistered User regular
    It looks like Texas is a part of TNI, which is the accrediting agency for doing environmental testing. Not sure what accreditations your lab may have, but it can help. I have some experience in TNI, if you want more information. It's usually very cookie-cutter- there isn't a lot of research that goes into it as much as a lot of routine testing of known pollutants. I personally have not seen an earth resistivity meter or an xrf used in an environmental lab, but it could be for applications I am unfamiliar with.
    The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has their approved methods here.
    And you will almost never beat Test America, etc. on price. They do a lot of bulk testing 24/7. Like a lot of samples, to keep the price of individual tests down. A smaller company will generally win out on expertise- explaining things to the customers and suggesting tests that can help pinpoint issues.
    And government contracting work is hard. You could do it, but it requires very fast turn-around-times. And a lot of paperwork. And high throughput. I used to do data review of contract labs, and some of the labs were small business/ women/ minority/ and/or veteran owned. You almost have to know somebody on the inside so you can navigate the maze.
    I would look more at partnerships with large engineering firms first, though.

    Thanks for this post!

    When you say they won't be beaten on price, do you mean they will undercut, say, $30/sample? XRF is very, very inexpensive for us to do and we are willing to eat a lot of the profit to get a foot in the door.

    ジェイムズ・ブラウンの好きな色は何ですか?
    青!
  • MulysaSemproniusMulysaSempronius but also susie nyRegistered User regular
    The easiest way to find their prices is just to call and ask. Just act like you might want to subcontract something, and are shopping around. Their bigger customers get discounts, but it will give you a good idea. The margins in larger labs are actually pretty thin. If you play the price game, just know that you will not be able to raise your prices later. So if you offer price X for test y, you might want to have service z or test w with a better price that you could later up sell them.

    If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing
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  • ArdorArdor Registered User regular
    I would probably find out what some of your competitors charge for the services you render. As suggested above, I would also make a list of companies that would probably use your services. It can help you with the following.

    I've done plenty of submissions with CROs (Contract Research Organizations) and third party laboratories in regards to the testing of chemical compounds and the standard information we would want from a potential lab or CRO would be:

    1) Price estimate on the services
    2) Timing estimate from receipt of shipment to draft report
    3) When the invoice needs to be paid (30/60/90 days?)

    We have a list of labs and CROs we use for pricing, some for timing and some for expertise. As mentioned above, we also get some bulk discounts for what we do and those folks usually also provide good timing. There are times they get backed up and if timing is a concern, we'll move on to someone who can do something faster for us, even if it results in an elevated cost.

    This may be a personal preference, but I'm much more open to receiving an email than I am to a phone call in regards to someone wanting to do business with me in this capacity. Not having a website would not really make me an interested party, either.

    If you're also considering drumming up business from another workshop or meeting, you might consider regional meetings where you can talk to those in the industry. For example, I'm a toxicologist. If I was the target audience for your services, you would probably want to find me in a local capacity. Regional Society of Toxicology (SOT) meetings represent a chance for some local businesses to meet clients on the spot and discuss or even present on their capabilities. We will see toxicology testing labs and other similar businesses show up. This is much cheaper than the National SOT meeting and also only represents the area around you. Maybe American Chemical Society (ACS) meetings for you?

    I hope this helps.

    joshofalltrades
  • joshofalltradesjoshofalltrades 地獄のようにかわいい あなたは嫉妬深いかRegistered User regular
    I went to the American Chemical Society meeting in Denver and we are so small we couldn't really afford to do much other than rent the booth space and hand out brochures/talk to people. I had some nibbles but it didn't result in any actual business for us because we didn't have any big flashy displays or equipment on hand to show off; just some paper banners and brochures, and me standing on my feet for 12 hours alone trying to draw people in with my winning smile and personality.

    That's all good advice though, I'll look and see about local meetings!

    ジェイムズ・ブラウンの好きな色は何ですか?
    青!
  • MayabirdMayabird Pecking at the keyboardRegistered User regular
    There's also the possibility of subcontracting to one of the bigger companies. I doubt the pay will be great but it'd be better than nothing.

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