Ask any entrepreneur or consultant where they spend the majority of their time and they'll likely tell you prospecting. Ask them what they would like to spend less time doing and they'll likely tell you prospecting.
How do I deal with this dilemma? For me it's simple. I don't prospect. I just don't. Although active prospecting works for many people, I just can't bring myself to do it. I'd much rather work with people who want to work with me and vice versa than to work with somebody because they fall on the favorable side of a conversion rate. The process through which I generate business is a very organic one, leading to long-term relationships with people and organizations I love and respect. Below, I'll share some of the things I do that lead to these relationships. I understand the business I do allows me to do these types of activities and follow these philosophies and may not work for everybody. However, if they work for you, I hope you find your work and the company you keep much more fulfilling.
Only work with people and organizations that align with your values - I often hear "a good customer/client is a paying customer/client". It's true that when clients can't or don't pay you may find it difficult to keep on the lights, but there's much more to think about when considering a client. During the early stages, I interview the client just as much as they interview me. I want to get to know who they are and what they're about. After all, your client list is just as important to your brand as the work you produce. Also, it's much easier to produce creative and quality work when you have a passion for what you're doing and who you're working with.
Take a genuine interest in their lives. Become their friend. - I know not everybody is going to agree with me here, but this has worked for me. I don't spend countless hours entering follow-up dates and times with prospective clients into Salesforce or other CRM (customer relationship management) software. Instead, I keep them in mind when I find interesting information to share, invite them to events (not just the networking kind), support their businesses, provide assistance when they need it (both professional and personal), connect them with other people and organizations they can benefit from knowing, etc.
Treat every project like it's your top priority - Regardless of how much a particular client is paying, you made the conscious effort to accept the project. Be realistic with them and yourself when discussing how much time and resources you can dedicate to a project. The client always feels they are the top priority. Never let the feel the contrary.
Call them when you're not closing - We often call potential clients when we have something to sell them. Don't let them feel used. We all have that friend who only calls when they need something. Don't be that consultant. While we're on the topic, sending holiday cards is a nice gesture, but think of how special your customer will feel when they receive a card in the mail randomly just because you thought about them. No coupon. No business card. No please refer a friend. No we thought you'd be interested in this new produce/service. Just a simple, "I thought about you today and hope you are doing well."
Add value for free when you can - I'm always actively striving to become a better, more knowledgeable, and more capable person. As I find things that can bring immediate value my clients and potential clients, I share it with them for free in the form of a phone call, letter, email, blog post, etc. It doesn't take very long, it keeps communication open, and most importantly, it shows you care. Oh yeah, have you checked out my resources lately?
Don't nickel and dime your client to death - Don't put your client in a position where they are afraid to call you lest they be charged an arm and a leg for a basic question. You do need boundaries, and you can't spend all of your time on the phone, but when you can, try answering those quick questions. If you find you're being asked the same questions repeatedly from different people, be proactive and provide the answer to new clients ahead of time in early consultations, FAQ's, videos, blog posts, articles, reminders, etc.
Actively build trust - Set realistic and proper expectations, deliver a quality product, and deliver on time. Every time.
Be a friend and be professional - Believe it or not, the two are not mutually exclusive. Be a friend. Also, set your boundaries and stick to them. If you don't work on Sundays, let them know up front.
Keep communication open - Be open to give and receive positive and constructive feedback to encourage a better relationship. Whether something is working well or could be improved, let them know. If you are able to finish a project ahead of schedule or will need an extension, let them know. Don't let ill feelings fester until you have to terminate the relationship. Don't let positive feelings go unexpressed.
Take time for yourself - This has been the hardest lesson for me to learn, but if you can't be good to yourself you can't be good to anyone else. Take the time you need to take care of yourself. Maybe you need time to reflect, work out, meditate, cook, practice yoga, or spend time with family. Whatever it is, make time to be your fullest self so you can offer that person and your talents to the world.
At the end of the day, treat people like people—the whole person they are. Focus on the relationships as valueable in and of themselves and not just a sale. Allow the emotional component that allows you to feel a passion for yourself, what you do, and who you work with to enter your work. I think you'll find that when you bring this kind of energy to what you do, work will find you rather than you finding it.
What other suggestions do you have? Let me know what you think in the comments below.