Over a decade of Sandy’s weekly written articles on strategies and motivation for your business and your life.
This week’s article was written by my friend and colleague Elise Holtzman in her lawyer newsletter Tuesday Morning Counsel, but it will benefit anyone who thinks he or she has too much to do:
How do I get past my run of bad luck and get my practice back on track?
It seems that every time I get close to landing a big client, something bad happens to kill the deal: My alarm clock doesn’t work and I oversleep; I forget an important document I needed for the meeting; I even have a “fender bender” and miss the meeting altogether. Is there anything I can do to change my luck?
-BL in Phoenix
There may be such a thing as bad luck, but there’s also something called self-sabotage–which might arise from a fear of success. I devote part of a chapter to this problem in The High Diving Board. Maybe, some things go wrong because you’re afraid of newer, bigger clients. You don’t consciously oversleep, omit a document, or smash up your car, but your fear may have you doing–or not doing–something that causes those things to happen. Could these big accounts be too important to you?
What if your client base, as it stands, were so strong that a “big” account would be something great to have, but just not that important? Do what you need to do with your practice to make the big accounts you’re having “bad luck” with less important, and the likelihood is, your luck will improve dramatically.
Keep things in perspective, and keep REACHING…
“I talk to my clients occasionally about introducing me to someone they know who might need my help,” expressed Art, a matrimonial attorney I work with. “But they always tell me that they can’t think of anyone.”
“Maybe that’s true,” I suggested. “Do you have a value discussion before you get on the subject of recommending you?”
“A value discussion?” Art asked. “You mean, like, asking them what they think of my services?”
“Exactly,” I replied.
“No way, man!” Art protested vehemently. “Most divorce clients are angry at everyone. They hate being in the situation they’re in, they hate paying me, they hate the whole process. If I ask them what they think of me or my services, I can’t imagine what would come out of their mouths.”
“Try it,” I suggested. “On all of your appointments this week, ask your clients how they feel about the service they’ve been getting, and see what happens.”
Art was skeptical, but he agreed to do what I asked.
When we spoke again the next week, I could hear Art trying to hold back his excitement.
“Every one of them said very positive, very flattering things,” he blurted. “The only negative comment had to do with me not checking in when nothing was going on with her case, so I promised to fix that and she was happy.”
“But here’s the real kicker,” he continued. “After we talked about how she felt, without my even bringing the subject up, one of them started to tell me about a friend who might need my help.”
One of the best ways to grow a practice of any kind is through referrals. Most professionals make the mistake of asking for referrals—or for the retainer, for that matter—before they have made sure not only that they’ve given value, but that the client has recognized it.
Discussions about your relationship with clients should come up often. Check in with them. Get them to tell you what is working and what isn’t. Don’t be afraid to hear the bad news. Studies tell us that only one in twenty-seven unhappy clients tell us they are unhappy. They just don’t use us anymore and they don’t recommend us.
Think about that figure. It means that if just one person does complain, twenty-six others were unhappy and didn’t tell you. If you don’t believe the statistic, think about the last time you went to a restaurant, were dissatisfied with the food or the service, and vowed never to come back, but didn’t tell the manager about it.
Most importantly, though, before you talk with your client about other people or companies he might know about who could use the same kind of help you are providing to him, make sure he tells you just how great your services are.
Start with a general question, like:
“Peter, I just want to make sure you’re getting the best service we can possibly give you, so I wanted to ask you how we’re doing.”
The answer to a question like this is likely to be positive, but without any detail. So next, get specific:
“What’s something that we’ve done that you’ve found to be particularly helpful?”
When he mentions one thing, ask him, “What else?” Keep asking this question until he’s out of answers.
Then, continue the value discussion by asking directed questions:
“Did you like how we jumped on that mistake and got it out in the open?”
Finally, ask “Is there anything more I can do for you now, or in the future?”
If the client assures you that she’s really happy, ask her if she knows someone like her (or her company) that could use the same kind of service. If she’s not happy, fix your service.
Asking clients about your value can have some great results. Start doing it immediately.
In the meantime, keep REACHING…
Quick Note: I’ve made a new resource available for you. This recording of my one-hour webinar, 11 Tips to Help You Stay Focused on Your Goals, will clear the path to success in your business by showing you how to minimize distractions and delegate side-tracking tasks. (There’s absolutely no charge.) So, enjoy!
You met someone at a party who is in a position to use your services. You had the “What do YOU do?” conversation, and you exchanged business cards.
If she’s interested in learning more about how you might help her, you can just assume she’ll call you, right? I mean, if you contact her to try and learn more about her situation and tell her more about your work, she’ll think you’re needy or pushy, or that you have some ulterior motive, won’t she?
So, you don’t try to approach her and, although you’d hoped she was impressed and interested, she doesn’t call.
We give ourselves many reasons for not following up with the people we meet. We tell ourselves:
~If they’re interested, they’ll contact me
~If I contact them, I’ll be seen as pushy
~If I contact them, they’ll think I’m desperate for business
~I have more immediate and more important things to do
But all of these “reasons” are the work of the “But” Monster–they’re simply excuses you make because you’re afraid of being rejected.
Let’s look at these excuses more closely:
If they’re interested, they’ll contact me. On occasion, this does happen…but maybe they’ve misplaced your card and forgotten your last name, or maybe they just got too busy with their own work–especially if they could use the help! If they really seemed interested when you met, shouldn’t you contact them now before you’re sure that they aren’t?
If I contact them, I’ll be seen as pushy. If you’re pushy, you’ll be seen as pushy. Contacting them is just a way of asking if they’d like to continue the dialogue you started with them.
If I contact them, they’ll think I’m desperate for business. Most people view a follow-up contact as an expected business practice. They may or may not be receptive to it, but they will not see it as needy unless you make it appear that way.
I have more immediate and more important things to do. How many of the things you’re doing are more important than bringing in new clients?
Follow-up contact works best when you do it right away; then, it’s easy. You can choose to make a phone call, which is the most effective way; to send a hand-written note, which is viewed as special and personal, but involves a precious investment of time, including waiting for delivery; or to send an email, which is not as personal, but can be done instantaneously, either the next day, or over the weekend.
Here’s an example of an email or hand-written note:
It was a pleasure meeting you at Pete’s party last Friday night.
You mentioned your son was sick. I hope he’s feeling better!
I had the sense from what you told me about your situation that I might be able to help. If you’d like to get together soon and talk more about it, let me know.
Either way, I hope our paths cross again.
A call might sound something like this:
Hi, Tom. This is Sandy Schussel. We met at Pete’s party last Friday…I had the sense from what you told me about your situation that I might be able to help you. We could talk more about it now if this is a good time, or if you’d prefer, we could pick a time to get together in person. What do you think?
Follow-up contacts, especially phone calls, open opportunities you might never have expected to come through. Create a mindset that following up is one of your most important jobs and that it can truly help you grow your business.
In the meantime, keep REACHING…
I received this letter recently from a real estate broker:
Perhaps you can do an article on finding time to make appointments with yourself and your loved ones; that is, the ones who aren’t too busy?
When and why did this happen? We have more “time savers” than ever before, but there is no need to look for storage for this ‘saved’ time. On the contrary, we could use one more day added to our present 7-day week. Perhaps that could be our personal day. I am feeling very stressed and my patience is stretched to the limit, which I know is affecting my work.
I know I’m not the only one who feels this way…
Here’s how I answered her:
While my focus is on helping salespeople and professionalsmake more money, the time issue is one that comes up often in my work.
But it’s largely a ‘made-up’ issue. I’m hoping this never happens, but what if you needed to take one day off each week for some medical treatment like dialysis or to spend it with someone you really cared about that was seriously ill? Would you be able to do all your work the rest of the week and still take that day off?
Most people say they’d find a way, and that yes, if forced to, they could do it. So, it’s not impossibility that keeps us from taking a day off to recharge our batteries; it’s a choice we’re making. And most of us make the wrong choice.
Our best ideas come from slowing down and taking time to think. Our greatest bursts of energy and productivity come after we’ve taken some time away from what we end up calling the daily ‘grind’. (It shouldn’t be a grind; it should be a joy—and one of the reasons it’s not is that we don’t step away from it enough.)
Start with scheduling a half-day a week to do whatever you like: get that massage, have lunch and dinner with friends. Don’t answer your calls; make some alternate arrangement.
Tell me how that feels after a month. I know it’s counter-intuitive, but you’ll eventually start making more money by taking structured time off than you do now by working around the clock…
If you run your own schedule, you don’t need an extra day–you need to make the decision to take time for yourself. Try it as soon as possible, and tell me what you think afterwards. In the meantime, keep REACHING…
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…