I recently moved back into my home after a lengthy remodel and I am amazed that more of our family's possessions were not lost or destroyed during the process. Although most of our property was safe and accounted for afterwards, one of my important professional reference books had seemingly disappeared sometime during the whole process. In my younger years, I would have quickly ordered a replacement copy, but this time I was reluctant (tired of spending money perhaps). Just the other day I was moving some stuff from my garage to the attic (a little early spring cleaning catalyzed by the unseasonably warm weather). I spotted a box in the attic bearing the title "Books." Perhaps I had previously avoided this box because I didn't want to move a box full of "Books" down the stairs or maybe I had simply not remembered its location. Whatever the reason, I had subconsciously stopped looking for my missing reference book. It was right there all along, but I had stopped looking.
To anyone who owns a professional service business, we are all too familiar with the feast or famine business cycle. At any given time, our businesses represent efforts we have made in the past manifested in the present. At this moment, your business is the culmination of everything you have done leading up to this point. Have you been swamped on a large project and too busy to engage with existing or prospective clients for the past few weeks? The past few months? Have you been tirelessly attending networking and social events trying to find advocates and leads? Have you been balancing a steady work load while at the same time dedicating time to business development activities? Whatever you have been doing, and for whatever reason, your business is the product of these past efforts. If you want to change its trajectory you may not see the fruits of your labor for weeks or even months.
Let's be honest, many of us could always use more work, but good news: The clients are out there. When it comes to client prospecting, you should regularly ask yourself, "am I looking in the right places?" I sometimes struggle with this question and believe there are, at least, a few different strategies for client prospecting. Going back to my book example, the lost book could have been stolen, it could have been left at my old residence, it could have fallen off the moving truck, etc. Or it could have been resting in a box labeled "Books" in an extremely logical place (my attic). Occam's razor is a well-known problem solving principal stating, "among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected." While Occam's razor is not the end all authority in hypothesis validation, it offers valuable insight into client prospecting.
Start with your existing clients. Doesn’t being hired again by a past client involve fewer variables than being hired by a new client? Who are the most likely individuals/companies to hire your professional service business? Which referrals carry the most weight with prospective clients? What about those who have already hired you before, were pleased with your work and enjoyed interacting with you? Just like the book analogy, we sometimes unconsciously stop looking for clients in the most obvious places. The longer we allow such behavior to continue, the longer it takes to grow our businesses. If you find yourself in a slow period, start at home base. Reconnect with past clients via telephone or, even better, for coffee or lunch. These interactions will remind you of past successes you may have forgotten including exciting projects completed, difficult problems solved and funny things that happened along the way. In addition, you will be top of mind again with some of your best advocates. It’s also extremely important to ask for referrals. Don’t be shy, asking for referrals is part of doing business. A referral from an existing client allows you to hack the client prospecting process and ensures you are looking for clients in obvious places. Now, don't think that just by reconnecting with clients you will be immediately rewarded with new business. This scenario is unlikely. But remember, your future business health will be determined by your actions now and going forward.
Professional service businesses are constantly in a state of flux.
Your business today is the result of your past efforts and changes take time to materialize.
Existing clients are an obvious starting point for new business and referrals. Don’t stop looking in obvious places.
Referrals from existing clients are a great way to hack the prospecting process.
Interacting with existing clients reminds you (and them) of past successes and keeps you top of mind.