Over a decade of Sandy’s weekly written articles on strategies and motivation for your business and your life.
Anita, an advisor in her mid-thirties, was terrified about talking with her clients about introducing her to friends and family members who might need her help.
“What are you afraid might happen if you talk to them about introducing you to the people they care about?” I asked her.
“Well, I don’t know…,” she began. “Maybe they’re going to think I’m needy and have to beg for clients. And they’re going to get all awkward and tell me they can’t think of anyone, because they’re not going to want to bother their friends. It’s happened to me before.”
“If you make it about you–about your need for clients–you’re probably right,” I explained, “Your need is about the ugliest thing you can show a client.”
“But if you make it about the people they care about–family, friends, people they work with,” I continued, “you’ll be less awkward, and they’ll be more receptive.”
Referrals are an excellent way to grow virtually any professional practice or service business. In a practice like Anita’s, where the service is very personal, referrals are often the best way. Surveys in several industries show that most people would prefer to be introduced to a provider, rather than to respond to an ad or an internet search, and talking with your clients about introducing you to someone who might need your help gives them an opportunity to be a hero–to make a difference in the life of someone they care about.
So while referrals will definitely benefit you, they also benefit your clients and the people they refer you to. The solution is to stop asking for referrals–an act that may be awkward because it’s all about you–and start asking your clients to help the people they care about by introducing you to them. Ask yourself these questions:
1. Do I provide excellent service to my clients?
2. Do my clients have people in their lives who might need that service?
3. Do I deserve to be the one to help those people?
If the answer to all three of these questions is “yes”, start talking to your clients constantly about introducing you to the people in their lives who might need your help.
If you need a plumber, would you prefer to hire someone you found in the local phone book, or someone your neighbor used for a similar problem and recommends highly? If you need surgery, would you prefer finding your surgeon through your research on surgeons.com or seeing a surgeon who performed successful surgery on a family member or is recognized as the top specialist in his field by your trusted internist.
I’d be surprised if your answer was not the second choice in both cases. People want to meet their professionals through introductions.
This means that one of the easiest and most effective ways to build your practice, in this or any economy, is through your existing clients, former clients and other people who already know you. Of course, they have to be willing to recommend you to others. There are two things you can do immediately to facilitate this:
(1) Be referable; and
(2) Be on their minds
“Being referable” is about developing relationships with your clients and others that go beyond the particular services you provide to them. It’s about knowing them as people, and treating them in a way that gets them to want to tell stories—good stories—about you.
Providing great service isn’t enough. The largest of corporate clients hires you based on your relationship with individuals. Competence and great service are important, but what these individuals want is a sense that you really care about them. Find out your clients’ birthdays and anniversaries. Know what flavor ice cream their children like.
My friend, Stu, is a master at this. In the first few months of our business relationship, he called me to ask for important dates in my life. “I already know your birthday,” he said, “but when’s your anniversary? When is your wife’s birthday? What are your kids’ birthdays?”
I knew exactly what Stu was doing, and I was thinking to myself, I could never just call up a client and blatantly ask about birthdays. He or she would know I was just putting them into my database.
Then, Stu called me on my wife’s birthday and told me to wish her a happy one. He made a similar call for each of my children’s birthdays. He called to sing Happy Birthday to me on my birthday. He called to wish us a happy anniversary. And he kept on calling year after year.
It no longer matters to me that his call about those dates was so transparent. I smile every time he “remembers” one of these occasions.
Stu also knows that “being on their minds” means having as much contact with them as possible. He has found five reasons to call each year that have nothing directly to do with the work we do together. He has assured himself that if I run into someone who needs his services, he’s the one I’ll recommend. He has made me a “referral partner.”
I learned early in my law practice many years ago that my clients were meeting dozens of lawyers each year, and tended to refer a friend or business associate to the last lawyer they ran into, rather than to me. It wasn’t that they didn’t think I gave them great service or did good work for them; it was a matter of convenience. They had the card of the lawyer they met last week right there, and it was just easier than trying to find my number after not hearing from me for months–or years.
Now, one of the first places I look when a client consults me to help her grow her business is what contact she has been having with her current and former clients, and other people she knows. “If it has been years since you spoke with old clients,” I tell them, “reach out to them now, just to say hello.”
Reach out to the people you already know, especially current and former clients who were satisfied with your work. Have a conversation with them:
- Tell them you were thinking of them.
- Ask them how they are doing in this economy.
- Ask them if you provided lasting value to them and in what way.
- Tell them your time with them was (or still is) meaningful to you.
- Ask them not to keep you a secret if they run across someone who might need your help.
- Ask them if you can help them in any way now—not for a fee—but because you care.
Then watch what happens to the growth of your practice.
In the meantime, keep REACHING…
“I’VE JUST LOST MY BIGGEST CLIENT!“ Edwin, a management consultant I coached many years ago, blurted out on the phone one day. “What am I going to do now?”
Edwin’s one client provided him with half of his six-figure income. The loss was, he told me, through no fault of his own and at the “worst possible time”. He spent the next few minutes moaning about how he wouldn’t be able to pay the bills and how difficult it would be in this economy to replace a client like that one. Finally, he asked me for coaching.
I could relate to Ed’s situation personally. Throughout that decade, most of my own work time was being devoted to training and coaching for one financial services company with more than fifty offices and hundreds of associates throughout the country. Most of my income was coming from this work and my time for anyone else was extremely limited.
Edwin viewed the loss of his largest client as a cause for panic. It showed foresight that he had retained me as his coach to help him grow the other half of his business just a month before this, telling me that he had a sense he had become “too comfortable”. It may have been simply that he’d had a sense that his relationship with that one large client was coming to an end. But now that it had actually happened, he was moaning woefully about being without that income and having no way to immediately replace it.
“It may be true that you have no way to immediately replace it,” I agreed, “But do you believe you will eventually replace it?”
“Well…yes, eventually,” was his reply.“What has to happen for that income to be replaced?” I asked.
“Obviously, I have to get out and get more clients,” he responded, and he began to talk about all of the things we had put in place already, and about new ideas to get his practice growing. By the end of that year, he had come very close to matching his income from the previous year.
Events in the story of your life often turn out differently than you hoped they will. When they do, you have a choice: You can either take on the role of Victim and rant against the cruel powers that brought you to this terrible place, or you can choose to be an Action Hero, creating ways to solve the puzzle with which fate has presented you.
Edwin started out that phone call playing the Victim, but ended our conversation as an Action Hero.
A few years after that, I parted ways with the investment company that had provided the bulk of my income and to which I had given so much of my time for so many years. I instantly thought of that conversation with Edwin. I never liked the Victim role–even though I’ve occasionally played it extremely well–so, in my story, I chose to play the Action Hero right then and there. All I had to do was focus on what I had and what I wanted, and keep REACHING…
I thought I’d share an e-mail I received recently from an attorney who attended one of my programs…
I am a corporate attorney. At a recent event for alumni of my college, I met an alumnus, George, who had started a company with a partner and was looking for an attorney to help him with several matters on a retainer basis. We had a great conversation. George told me he was impressed with my enthusiasm, and set up a call to have me meet his partner on the phone. While after speaking with them both, I had some reservations about working with the partner, they signed a retainer agreement and gave me credit card information, which I processed.
Under our agreement, either party could cancel at any time, but if the client cancelled without good cause, a certain minimum amount would be due. As we were in the process of choosing an appointment for our first discussion of one of the issues I was going to be handling for them, George called me to say they wanted to cancel, telling me that they had money issues and had been able to resolve some of the issues we were going to work on by themselves. He asked for the full fee back.
My problem is that I’m reluctant to simply let him and his partner out without at least keeping the minimum fee, as agreed. I incurred merchant fees and I put time into talking with them both and preparing to deal with our first issue. Then, there’s the precedent. And, frankly, I’ve already spent the money and now it will be coming out of my own pocket.
Give them back their money, in full. While minimum fee/cancellation fee agreements are not uncommon, the loss of good will from insisting on the minimum fee–or even holding back the credit card processing charges–will eventually impact your business negatively.
Maybe their emotional intelligence told them that you wouldn’t be happy working with George’s partner. Or maybe what George told you was the truth. Either way, this is a classic case of “Buyer’s Remorse.” It happens to everyone who sells anything, including legal services. The sale moves quickly, the buyer is caught up in the seller’s enthusiasm (but may not have established a sufficient amount of his own enthusiasm), there’s an agreement, and then, when the buyer is alone, the doubts creep in and he wants to back out.
Give them back the money and tell them that when they are ready, you’d like to talk again. Ask them if they know someone who could use your help right now, given that you set aside time to work on their matters.
To minimize the occurrence of Buyer’s Remorse in the future, consider these ideas:
- Focus your “sales” conversation on questions that foster a prospective client’s independent enthusiasm for working with you–and on determining, authentically, whether this is really a good fit. Get so deep into their situation with your questions that they feel compelled to retain you to get help with their issues.
- Take the credit card information and set up the first appointment on the spot for as soon as possible. If it can be done, set up a complete schedule.
- Give them homework. Get the giving of value started immediately.
- Finally, hold the credit card for a few days before processing the payment. That way, if despite doing everything I’ve suggested, the client does back out, you don’t incur any costs.
Take your need out of your client relationships from the very beginning, and those relationships will grow stronger. Then, keep REACHING…
Most of us let our fears get in the way of doing what we love.
Seventeen years ago, I was so afraid to let go of my law practice and pursue something I loved, that I honestly believed I simply didn’t know what I loved. This is the reality with which many of my clients first come to me.
“What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?” I asked Frank, an engineer who was recently laid off for the fifth time and who has become very unhappy with his profession.
“I honestly don’t know,” Frank responded.
“Is it possible that you have ideas about what you want to do, and that you’re just afraid to take a good look at those ideas?” I queried.
Frank responded all too quickly that he simply didn’t know.
“It’s not about being afraid of anything,” he insisted.
But the likelihood is that, long ago, Frank banished his ideas about what would make a great career and a great life–as he saw these things–to the place of the “Unspeakables”. He hid them away and “forgot” them, so he wouldn’t speak them, think them, or even see them anymore.
But what is so dreadful about just having a dream career or a dream life–not even necessarily acting on those dreams–just having them?
After years of studying my own fears and those of the many clients who have consulted me for help with theirs, I’ve learned that the simple act of acknowledging a dream gives rise to tremendous fear: A fear that acknowledging it in any way might lure you away from your “Safe Neighborhood”.
The Safe Neighborhood is the life you’ve created for yourself, including the people you associate with, the places you go, and the security of your daily routines. These could all be altered in some way if we were to pursue our dreams–so it’s best not to have them, we think. I discuss the concept of the Safe Neighborhood (and why I don’t see it as a “comfort zone”) in my book, The High Diving Board.
Leaving our Safe Neighborhoods might put us in unfamiliar territory. We might fail, and become the laughing stock of those very people we are depending upon to hold us close where we are. So, yes–simply thinking our Unspeakables induces incredible fear.
The dilemma, though, is that if we’re unhappy (or uncomfortable) with our current situations, we ought to be looking in our secret corners, or outside the walls of our Safe Neighborhoods. Instead, people usually stay stuck in the middle, frustrated and unfulfilled:
They stay where they are in their jobs, rather than even think of changing careers or starting to work on their own;
They reach a plateau in the growth of their businesses and can’t bring themselves to think about what’s needed to take these further;
They lose their jobs–jobs they hated, anyway–and apply again for the same jobs at new companies, because they can’t bear to think of careers that would make them happier.
If this sounds like you, there are some great exercises on pages 43-48 in The High Diving Board that can help you, but you can start today by simply taking some kind of action to do something you love. Sign up for that course in Italian, or that course in photography, or that ballroom dancing class, and watch what happens as you expand the borders of your Safe Neighborhood.
Let those Unspeakables out of the dark, and keep REACHING…
“You want me to call up my previous clients, just to see how they’re doing?” my client Alicia asked me two weeks ago. She was astonished that I would suggest something so forward.
“Isn’t that unprofessional–or unethical?” she continued.
“Do you care how they’re doing?” I asked her.
“Well, of course I do,” came her reply.
“Why, then, would it be wrong to check up on them periodically?” I asked.
Alicia has been a coach for four years, helping young professionals with career transitions. She had consulted me because she wanted to grow her business. Her belief system was that she needed to maintain her professional distance, and her interpretation of what that meant included the idea that once a client had benefited from her services, she no longer had a reason to communicate with him or her on a personal level.
Alicia agreed to call four of her clients before our next session. She even agreed to ask them to tell her the value she brought to their careers and to their lives.
As soon as we connected on the phone again, Alicia couldn’t wait to tell me about her experience.
“First of all, they were grateful that I cared enough to follow up,” she began. “None of them thought, as I did last week, that my call was inappropriate.”
“That got me comfortable enough to ask them about the value they received from me,” she continued proudly, “And that’s what I’m really excited about.”
Alicia found out that she had given all of her clients confidence, focus, and someone to hold them accountable until they were on their feet again.
It reinforced for her all of her beliefs in what she was doing and got her excited about finding more clients. She was so excited, in fact, that she was now able to agree to the one thing she had been unable to bring herself to do the week before.
“I said to each of them, ‘Don’t keep me a secret,’ as you had suggested,” Alicia announced to me, “And right there on the phone, one of them told me about a friend she was going to talk to who she thought could use my help.”
Here’s what Alicia learned:
1) If you have former clients whose experiences with you were positive, stay in touch with them. An email or phone call at the right time could actually mean a lot to them.
2) Ask them about why they chose you and your firm, and what value they received from working with you.
3) Don’t be afraid to mention that you’re open to introductions to other people who may need your help. Simple statements like “Don’t keep me a secret,” or “I’m never too busy to help someone you care about,” can open the door to new clients.
Talk with current and past clients, ask how they’re doing, and keep REACHING…
Too many of us are afraid that if we try something new or different, we will fail. But some of the most successful people failed their way to their success. Take this example from American history: In the wake of a very American holiday weekend dedicated to rewarding us all for our hard work, I am reminded of a lesson that can be gleaned from the life of one of our most celebrated Presidents that failure is always temporary, unless you choose to make it permanent.
For 28 years, Abraham Lincoln experienced one failure after another. In 1833, he had a nervous breakdown. When he ran for speaker of the state legislature in 1838, he was defeated. In 1848, he lost renomination to Congress. In 1849, his bid to be appointed Land Officer was rejected.
But these failures didn’t stop Lincoln. In 1854, he was defeated for the Senate. Two years later, he lost the nomination for Vice President, and two years after that, he was again defeated for the Senate. Then, in 1860, he was elected President of the United States.
Just as courage isn’t the absence of fear, “SUCCESS” isn’t the absence of failure. Failure is the way we learn along the road. Success comes from refusing to quit the journey. If you reach for a very high branch, you may fall hard on more than one or two occasions. But if you keep trying, you’ll have the chance to climb higher than those who allow their fears to halt them.
Like any good coach or trainer, as you’re building your strength to the max, I can give you a boost if you contact me. Then, even if your legs get bruised or your arms get sore, you can keep your head up, and keep REACHING…
The same professionals who tell me they are “struggling” or “overwhelmed” will often talk about the great time they had playing some recreational sport.
On the field, they can be intense and aggressive. They might be elated when they win or angry when they lose, but they go home and eventually let it go. After all, it’s just a game.
“How about making your business a big game?” I asked Eric a few weeks ago. Eric is a service business owner in LA. “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose,” I continued,”but you play intensely and aggressively.”
“But I don’t depend on softball to pay my bills,” Eric objected. “That’s a game. My work is real life. And when I lose, I worry that I won’t be able to pay my bills.”
What kind of softball player are you?” I asked him. He was confused by the question for a moment, but then he replied:
“When I’m at bat, I swing hard, aiming for the fence. I strike out more than some other players, so I don’t have a great batting average, but I have the most home runs in our league. I run hard and am always looking to steal a base. When I’m in center field, I’m good at anticipating where the ball will land, so that it just falls right into my glove. Also, I work on my long throw so I can get the ball to home plate quickly from anywhere. And, I keep track of my numbers–my batting average, RBIs–all of the important stats. I’m always looking for ways to improve them.”
“Suppose you ran your business the same way you played softball?” I asked. “You would aim for the fence and swing hard. You might strike out a lot, but you’d also have some Home Runs that you don’t seem to have now. You would look for opportunities as if they were bases to steal, and leverage and work on your strengths. And you would keep track of anything you can turn into a statistic for the game.”
“But I’d be taking a risk with my family’s income,” Eric protested again.
“Aren’t you taking a risk right now by being in your own business and not growing it aggressively?” I asked him.
Eric thought about my question and after a few seconds, his eyes lit up. He suddenly understood that the business problems he consulted me about arose out of “playing” his business “game” differently than he played softball–too safely. He had been playing not to lose instead of playing to win.
We spent the rest of our session coming up with rules for his Business “Game”:
1. Get up to bat often, keep your eye on the ball and swing hard. For Eric this meant contacting more people and looking for larger clients, and being more committed to asking for the sale and obtaining commitments from them.
2. Watch closely for business opportunities and anticipate the moves of your market. This was like Eric’s stolen bases and his commitment to anticipate where the ball will land when he is fielding.
3. Work on and leverage your strengths. In his softball games, Eric’s strengths included a powerful throw to Home when needed. In his business, his strengths included how he nurtured his relationships with clients. Eric developed a system to ensure that his best clients felt like his only clients.
4. Create a scorecard to keep track of your stats. Work at improving them. It was easy for Eric to improve his number of “at bats”–his times in front of clients–and to keep track of his home runs and strikeouts.
In the few weeks since implementing these changes, Eric is seeing more and bigger sales. Interestingly, his rate of strikeouts has not increased significantly.
Keep swinging that bat, and keep REACHING…
There’s an old joke about a young musician from the Midwest who, while roaming around mid-Manhattan, stops a local to ask, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?”
Without hesitation, the New Yorker replies: “Practice, practice, practice!”
Early in the Beijing Olympics, the American men’s beach volleyball team, seeded second in a bracket of 24 teams, was beaten by the Latvians in the first of three qualifying matches. The Latvians had been ranked 23 of 24, and the Americans had won their previous 21 international matches.
The Americans, particularly Phil Dalhausser, did make some uncharacteristic mistakes, but the Latvians outplayed them significantly. In a previous match in 1997, the Americans had trounced them.
While the Americans practiced hard, the Latvians practiced ferociously. To simulate the beating they might get from the Americans in this match, they had six of the best players from Latvia take the court against them, forcing them to field hundreds of returns that would have been impossible for any two-man team to deliver.
Most people have heard stories about Tiger Woods and his ferocious practicing. Michael Jordan was known to practice the basics for long hours before and after regular team practice.
The skills for success are not simply qualities you either have, or you don’t.
Even charisma can be developed–built–like a muscle at the gym.
Watching TV as Barak Obama delivered his SOTU speech last week, the word “charisma” came to mind. I’m not making a political statement here–many politicians have it: that ability to “light up” a room when they walk into it. Webster defines charisma as “a personal magnetism”. It was originally a religious term, meaning “of the spirit” or “inspired”–the idea that a divine light was shining through someone.
So, charismatic people have the ability to let their light shine. But if this glow is something you can develop…how? Here are a few ways the experts say you can boost your “Charisma Factor”:
living your mission every day, your charismatic light simply won’t grow bright. When you have a consistent, authentic message that you live by, you will shine in a way that people can see.
2. Project confidence–bold, but humble. An assured, assertive manner is something you can sense in a person when you first meet him or her, and it is attractive. Your clients will respond best to these qualities. Practice projecting a calm confidence. Charismatic people know how to balance talking about their accomplishments with being grateful for–and humbled by–the feedback they receive.
3. Derive joy from those you work with. A sincere interest in and concern for other people is a charismatic quality. Dale Carnegie taught us to listen intently to others and to “be impressed, not impressive”. Likewise, happy-seeming professionals tend to have more clients and happier clients. If you’re unhappy with yourself or others, get some help to change your situation. It will improve your charisma.
4. Embrace your style, and your work. Mark Twain quipped that “naked people have little or no influence on society”. If your professional uniform is a blue, button-down, pin-striped suit, but that’s not who you are, go ahead and wear that big Mickey Mouse watch proudly. Professionals with charisma are innovators and leaders. They are able to gently take charge of a room in which something in their field is being discussed, and they end up being recognized for their work. All of that starts with embracing your individualism.
Whether you want to be great at your profession, great at bringing in new clients, or great at being a partner or parent, you need to practice ferociously. Charisma comes more easily to some than to others, but anyone who develops the above skills can become more charismatic. Decide what you want to be great at, and start practicing what you need to do to get there.
As a coach, I do everything I can to ensure that my clients practice the right things, and keep practicing, so that they can develop their “Charisma Factor” and attain their goals. Whether yours is a desire to have more or less to do in your career, you must–ferociously–keep REACHING…
If you’re just starting out in a professional or sales career, you’re probably struggling to get things going.
If so, take heart. If you’re doing the right things, it will get much easier as you continue. You just need to get some momentum going, and momentum is always easier to perpetuate than it is to initiate.
My friend Marv used to tell a story at his sales workshops about being taken, as a small boy, to see the steam locomotives as they pulled in and out of Grand Central Station in New York.
“Not those sissy diesel engines we have today,” he would say, “These were powerful steam engines.” Then he would imitate the sound of them and pound on a table to give his audience a sense of the power of these massive machines—particularly through the eyes of a five-year old.
Marv’s story ended with a lesson:
“You could put a one-inch thick steel bar across the tracks where the train was starting, and as big and powerful as the locomotive was, it would not be able to move,” he told his spellbound listeners. “But let that train get started and put the same steel bar on the tracks a mile out, and that locomotive would slice right through it as if it were made of butter.”
Professional and sales careers work the same way. In the beginning, no matter how powerful you are, it’s a struggle to get over that steel bar. Some of us don’t make it—and end up in jobs where someone else does the prospecting for clients. Those who do make it learn to attract clients—first one or two, here and there—and then more and more, from all over, as the train begins moving along the tracks.
If you’re still struggling to get over that steel bar, try remembering these four rules:
1. Always see the opportunities in any situation. Setbacks are chances to learn. Failures teach you what doesn’t work.
2. Put 100% of yourself into what you’re trying to accomplish. When you’re working, be 100% at work. When you’re playing, be 100% at play. When you’re with a client, be with that client 100%.
4. Be a light in the lives of the people you serve. You’ll get much more steam from a genuine desire to serve your clients than from a focus on your own needs.
As a coach, I help my clients to both initiate and perpetuate their momentum, so that their engines can go pounding down the rails. I know that once you get going, with a little push, you can be unstoppable. So even if you’re starting with huffs and puffs, don’t resign to just chugging along—get the steam you need to give, and keep REACHING…