We have all heard it before, if you run your own business, finding new clients and projects needs to be top of mind. When we slack off on our networking or business development then we risk not having work when we need it.
What is the best way to find more work? Well that all depends on you. Not what you wanted to hear? We all want a formula that we can easily apply. For many of us, the formula already exists, we just over look it.
A few weeks back I pitched a project - it was a cold pitch, I had a reference but no actual “in” at the organization. From the start I had mixed feelings about the pitch - part of me felt I should pitch a team the other part of me sensed that this client was looking for the magic everything marketer who could do it all and then some. This pitch was the hardest thing I have done out on my own. I was anxious, stressed and feeling very alone. I second guessed myself every step along the way. No big surprised that I produced a lame proposal, a crappy “interview” and in the end I didn’t get the project.
It was however, a big lesson for me. The cold reality was that I wasn’t prepared for this kind of pitch. I didn’t have a templated proposal that I could quickly pull out and adapt. I didn’t know how to reach out to my network to co-pitch and I didn’t have structure or game plan for when they gave me a face-to-face meeting. Although I knew that I could be a great partner for this company, I worried that the project was too big for me and would make it hard for me to support multiple clients which is my ultimate goal. Walking into the face-to-face I wasn’t even convinced I was right for the “job”, not the attitude or state of mind required to “make a sale”.
I need to do some prep work to do these kinds of pitches in the future, lesson learnt, but there is another lesson that surfaced during all of this. Really it was more of a reminder and it came in the form of an email from the “Get Clients Now” team. The email asked, “where do you get your best customers?” For me the answer is referrals from people I have worked with in the past. As a result I don’t do a lot of “pitching”, I usually get a phone call or an email where we discuss timing and rates, I present a plan and then I get to work.
So what does this all mean? For me, if referrals from people I work with is where I get my best work, that is where I need to focus my business development energy. I need to constantly stay in touch and keep myself top of mind with my contacts. Most importantly, I need to do this all the time and not just when I need something. Okay I am going to say this again, we need to do this all the time, not just when we need something!
The phrase, “paying it forward” comes to mind when I think about my networking/business development strategy. I have a list of people I would like to work with that I always keep in the back of my mind. If I come across an article or conference that I think they might like, I will forward the info with a quick note. If I can make a connection or introduction to someone I think they may like or could work with, then I do that too. I also reach out and book time for coffee or lunch on a fairly regular basis. These meetings also get me out and help fight off the isolation that can come from working from home.
This past year I also stepped out of my comfort zone and went to a few conferences with the hope of adding to my network, and at the Ungeeked conference I was successful. Because it was a multi day conference and a smallish group, I was able to make a few “real” connections. I am really positive that these connections will help me grow and will eventually be partners that help me bring in more projects.
I am also slowly but surely starting to make some real contacts via Twitter. True story. No work to date, but it is moving in the right direction and when it comes to be, I can join the ranks of ,who knows how many, that have found work via social media.
I am always thinking about how much time I invest into activities like marketing, networking and business development vs. how much these activities actually return or convert into real business. My measurement is a mix between what is rewarding spiritually and financially. By spiritually I mean how an activity energizes me or depletes me. Cold pitches may eventually land me some big jobs, but I also know they take a toll on my energy and spirt. Blogging on the other hand will have slower long term impacts, but in the short term it energies and fulfills me, beyond what I could ever imagine. Very often my network does the same thing. A lunch, coffee or a phone/skype call doesn’t alway produce an immediate project, but it often stimulates and energize me and my spirit.
How do you find clients? What lessons have you learnt?