When your business model is all about providing a service, it’s easy to fantasize that all you have to do is deliver a good job for your clients, so that they’ll recommend you to new prospects. Then when your current job is over, you can start the next one that got lined up through the referral. And so on, forever and ever, until you retire.
Unfortunately, the reality isn’t quite like that. Sure, some jobs can get initiated by spontaneous referrals, but the reality is that virtually all sales get landed through work.
There’s a problem with this. When you’re already busy working for a client, it can be hard to find the time or the inclination to sell. You’re focused on delivering the job at hand to the best of your ability. And the last thing on your mind is the idea of taking the time to try to land more work.
As a result, your business follows the whims of the world: It rises when the economy booms, and it falls when the economy stagnates. You bounce back and forth between feast and famine, completely outside of your control. It can be an exhausting and miserable experience.
So you need to design a process, and implement that process regularly across time. In order to generate a consistent pipeline, you need to operate consistently.
That process should begin with a CRM, a client relationship management software system that can organize all of the information you have about every prospect and client you interact with. Use your CRM to track your leads and qualify them. This way, you’ll always know who needs to be contacted at any given moment.
Once you’ve done that, commit to a specific number of contacts to make every week. If you have a boss, tell them what that number is. If you’re independent, tell a trusted associate what the number is. Agree on a regular day and time that you’re going to be reporting on the number of contacts that you achieved in that week. This simple mechanism will give you an external accountability to support you in your commitment.
Then, fulfill on that commitment. Believe me, I understand how difficult this can be when your schedule is full, but it is the number one most important part of maintaining a consistent business. It takes conversations to create sales, and it takes action to make those conversations happen. Do what you have to do with your schedule to make the time to make the calls. Every. Single. Week.
This kind of rigor can sometimes have the effect of reducing your ability to be relaxed and personable in favor of being efficient and focused. Before each calling period, remind yourself why you’re doing this: You’re looking to help this person. Once you’re in the conversation, make sure you check in with them as a human being and see how they’re doing. Strike a healthy balance by communicating that you want to be respectful of their time. Then move into the meat of the conversation.
On top of all this, remember that the clients you are currently working with is a great resource for additional work. Every time you interact with them, listen for clues about what might be coming up for them. And recognize that there are plenty of circumstances where you can go ahead and ask. Be excited and curious about what they’re cooking up. Future projects might be golden opportunities for you to provide more service to them. Plant the seeds in these early conversations that you would love to help. And remember to think creatively. If they’re working on something that you personally can’t help with but someone else can, step up and make a connection. Every time you make a move like this, you prove yourself as a source of value to your client.
And this will naturally lead to one of the most productive things you can do to find new prospects, and that’s to ask your clients who you should talk to. Remember, when your client is happy and likes you, they would be happy to share you around. This conversation most typically happens at the end of engagement, but it doesn’t need to. Feel free to ask whenever you’re confident your client is happy with your performance.
Finally, remember to put information about every conversation you have into your CRM. This will keep you reminded of everything you’ve done, and clear on next steps. Because many of the conversations we’re describing here will be out in the field, it might be a particularly good idea to use a CRM that can be added to your smartphone, to ease your ability to update.
I can’t encourage you enough to put these practices into place, and just keep doing them. You will create a level of business for yourself that’s workable and healthy for you. In the process, you’ll turn yourself into a year-round business developer with continually sharpening communication skills. And whether you’re an independent or a contributor inside a firm, that will make you an absolutely indispensable resource.
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