It seems like everywhere you turn, everyone is talking about balance. Work and life, carbs and protein, blah blah blah. And if you’re like me, when it comes to your independent business, you’re balancing the clients you have with the clients you want, work time and free time, busy periods and slow streaks. So when anyone asks about growing your business, it’s enough to bring on an instantaneous headache. Grow what? Grow how? Do any of these sound like you?
“I want more clients for security’s sake. But I don’t know how to fit any more into my workload.”
“I don’t know. Is it time to expand, or should I just stick with what I’ve got?”
“I want to grow my business, but I’m not quite sure what my growth goals are, much less where to start.”
“I’ve exhausted my network, and all my clients came from it. How do I get to the next level?”
I’ll tell you right now, you won’t find any silver bullets to have you swimming in clients the way Scrooge McDuck swims in gold coins in the advice below. But I do have advice on growing your business based on nearly a decade on my own. And unlike me, you won’t have to learn these things the hard way.
You may not have a time problem. You may have a productivity problem. So get organized. Take a look at your day, week, or month. Start logging how you spend your time. You may find that you’ve got more time (for both work and play) than you thought. For example, give yourself a solid 30 minutes to an hour of e-mail and social media time, then shut that stuff down until later in the day. They’re both distractions and time-sucks, and you don’t need either.
Once you’re organized and more efficient, you’ll have a truer sense of how much bandwidth you have for growth. Then you can really give some thought to timing.
Next up: where and how to grow your business. Go back to your original business plan to refresh your goals and get your head straight. Then, start with the business you already have. Take on bigger projects with the clients that already know you. Bring in a partner to fill the gaps in your skill set. Offer expertise that your clients may not be aware you have. On a whim I once offered to write an ongoing blog for a client, and well… you’re literally reading how that worked out.
Then, your network. If you can’t grow your business organically (fancy talk for “from the clients you already have”), ask your clients for recommendations. Use LinkedIn not just to connect to the people you know, but the people they know. Follow up with contacts who have moved on to new organizations, but already know you well. And develop a strategy before you just jump into randomly pinging people. Roll it out over time. Get to know your leads and have them get to know you before you just start asking for work.
If you’ve worked your network, and you’re already doing everything for your existing clients except picking their kids up at school, it may be time for some good, old-fashioned outbound marketing. But don’t jump right into mailers and e-mail campaigns and full-page ads in a trade magazine. Work smarter than that.
Figure out the clients you want. Do some LinkedIn research to find out who you should contact at those clients. But don’t just send them a resume, or a “hey, have you got any projects” e-mail. Show what you know about their business by offering a solution to an issue you recognize. For example, “Hey, I noticed that there’s a lag on your site when using Chrome. I just solved a problem like that for a client of mine, and I’d love to help.”
Another approach is the passion play – go after the products and services you’re passionate about. Engage, and if your services match up with their needs, amazing things can happen.
When you do reach out, use contemporary tools and reach out via social media, not just e-mail. And play up every positive about why they should consider working with you – your skills, your geographic location, your experience. It may not lead to a gig right away, but it is the beginning of a conversation. And conversations lead to relationships.
Lastly, keep hustlin’. Be present on social media. Keep your blog, web page, LinkedIn and Twitter up-to-date. (Out of my last dozen client engagements, five were from people who found me on LinkedIn or through a forwarded blog post.) Keep your eyes and ears open for every opportunity. And let your colleagues, clients, and friends know not only what you’re capable of, but when you’re available.
Just because you’re a small business doesn’t mean you can’t grow big. And MBO Partners can help you grow your business the smart way.
News and notes for independent workers and their clients. This is the September 26, 2016 edition.
As an independent consultant it's important to know what exactly soft skills are, why they matter, and how you can improve yours.