This can be a scary time, and it will probably happen to you at some point. It can lead to feeling flustered and pulled in many directions, scrambling to keep up and to sign new work, regardless of the type of work.
Take a deep breath, and keep calm. Nothing can hurt you worse than desperation, which can lead you to accept terms you normally wouldn’t, lower your pay scale, or even cause you to panic which might turn off potential new customers.
So what can you do to keep clients around, to keep them coming back, and to help bring in new business, without having a dry spell? Here are some tips:
Retention: Keep existing clients happy and coming back. It’s an old adage but it’s true, your best customer is an existing customer. A client who knows your work and is happy with your results is a client you can turn back to in lean times. Keeping up with the client and reaching out with new ideas or projects is much more likely to be successful than cold-calling strangers. Having continuing small projects for a client, can make the dry spells a little bit wetter. The Harvard Business School says that increasing customer retention by just 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%. Do your homework and keep doing it, sometimes you can see an opportunity for a past client before they do.
Stay involved with them: In business, it is very easy to fall into an employer-employee dynamic, where you are being paid to perform a service. Involving a client in the process turns them from employer to teammate. They know the needs of the work better than you, even at your most researched. Giving them tasks, asking them for advice, running drafts past them makes clients feel part of what you do and part of the solution, which gives them a sense of pride in the work that you do with them. This alone can seal the deal for future work.
Only as good as your last job: Do good work, always. Starting your business and becoming a consultant is a rewarding job, but it isn’t an easy one. Put in the hard work, always. Go above and beyond. Drop the jargon and really connect with your clients. A lot of consultants like to obfuscate the work, to make it seem like an esoteric or mystical formula for success. Instead, make it accessible, and teach them. Word of mouth is key to bringing in new business, so for each client, show them that they are paying you for a job that you know how to do and that you will work hard to get it done. If you do it right, you’ll get more work just out of the word of mouth that helps build your reputation. Don’t sell yourself short in money, quotes, or time just to get the work in the door. That will only come back to bite you in the end.
Stand for something: An emotional bond is the easiest way to make a potential client into a lifelong customer. Shared values, creating a fun work environment around you, and being a simple, straightforward and honest consultant can make you a brand that your clients believe it.
Find pain points: Somewhere out there is a business who is struggling with the exact thing you can help them with. Somewhere out there is someone who is craving exactly what you are selling. Figuring out who that is and finding them is no mean feat, but it is a key to constantly sourcing new business. This article from Forbes is about writing a “pain letter” rather than a cover letter to get hired. But read this from the perspective of a consultant, and think about how it can apply to potential clients:
“If the organization is growing fast, they’ve got growing pains. It’s hard to keep on top of everything that needs to be done. Sales may be booming, but infrastructure undoubtedly lags behind. That makes customers unhappy. Systems are breaking at the seams.
If the organization is large, it may be slow to react to market changes – most large organizations are. They may be having trouble responding to their clients’ needs. They may have so much red-tape bureaucracy that important projects get stalled.
Universities are short of cash. They’re competing with private educational options and community colleges for dollars. Most universities have done a horrible job staying connected to alums, students’ families and their own communities, because they didn’t need to do those things before. Now they do.
Not-for-profits are learning that they’re competing against one another for mindshare and funding, and competing with for-profit companies too.”
Google alerts should become your best friend. Narrow down the pain points that you are best equipped to soothe. Can you help step in as management in the merger of two companies? Have Google alerts set for companies being acquired and mergers. Reach out before they even realize there might be a stumbling block in the road, and you can quickly become a savior.
These are just a few tips. There are so many ways to keep clients coming back and to bring in new work, you just have to be consistent, keep calm, and work hard.