Start Building Your Practice with People You Already Know

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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…

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