Part of the benefit of being an entrepreneur, besides having complete control over your schedule (which, depending on whether or not you have 50 Shades of Grey on your iPad, could be a good or bad thing), is that you can choose who you want to work with.
But, as they say, with great privilege comes great responsibility, and to maintain your happiness (and your sanity) as a new entrepreneur, it’s important to choose your clients wisely. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.
Identify What You Want
Take a moment to make a list of characteristics or qualities you’re looking for in your “ideal” or “great” clients. Are they people who have similar core values or personalities to you? Do they understand what you’re trying to accomplish? Are you excited by what they’re trying to accomplish? Are they easy to work with and action-oriented? Are they what I refer to as “the three R’s:” recurring, responsive, and reasonable?
This is a great place to start. Once you know what you’re looking for, you’ll know if a client falls into your “great” category very quickly, if not immediately.
So, now, where do you find these gems? One of the best things you can do is to be proactive about finding your clients, rather than only working with those who come or are sent your way. A few strategies I’ve found successful:
1. Ask Your Existing Client List
If you’re currently working with great clients, chances are, they know of other great people or organizations. Don’t be afraid to tell them you’re looking for new clients and ask if they know of others who could benefit from your services.
This summer, I sat down with one of our great clients to chat about a program that had just ended. At the end of that conversation, I said, “I really enjoy working with you, and I hope we work together for a long time to come. Also, if there is someone you can think of who would also benefit from what we do, I’d love for you to pass our name along.” She agreed and—as great clients often do—she introduced me to three potential new clients over email the following week.
2. Approach Friends and Colleagues
In addition to your current clients, reach out to friends and colleagues who either reflect the same type of characteristics you’re looking for or have clients with whom you’d be interested in working. Ask them to keep you in mind if they know of anyone who needs your service (as well as to share any avenues and strategies they find useful when looking for new clients).
3. Target Specific Clients With Whom You Want to Work
This strategy is more of a roll of the dice, but it’s never a bad idea to pick up the phone, introduce yourself, and ask for 15 minutes of someone’s time. It’s a great way to make sure you’re talking to the clients you really want to be working with, and for me, it’s proven successful a few times.
Most recently, a few weeks ago, I waited until 6 PM (note: the best time to try and reach your prospect is before 9 AM or after 5 PM when the “gatekeepers” aren’t there) and called the HR Director of a company I’d like to work with. I introduced myself, gave one or two sentences on our services, and asked for 10 minutes of her time. Given the go-ahead, I shared how my company could benefit hers. She asked me to email her information and we set a date for a follow-up call.
Your call may not always lead to business, but you’ve definitely opened the door.
Be OK With Saying “No”
Now, besides knowing who you want to work with, it’s vital to know the types of people or organizations you want to avoid. Yes, as an entrepreneur, it’s instinctual to want to work with everyone who shows interest in working with you, especially in the early days. But let me tell you—if you’re staying up all night worried about your next interaction with a client or dreading every upcoming conference call, the money doesn’t matter. The negativity starts to erode your morale, work ethic, happiness, creativity, and autonomy—all the reasons you became an entrepreneur in the first place!
Pay attention to your initial contact and conversations with a prospective client—they will tell you a lot about her. Did she keep rescheduling the appointment? Was she continuously distracted by her Blackberry? Did she show sincere interest in your service or product? Is she nickel and diming you down to the last penny? Does she ask you to “hurry up and wait?” Is she elusive—emailing you when she wants something but not responding to you when you reach out? Is she demanding or condescending?
All of these are red flags, and you should take them seriously. Over the course of my business, I’ve had to make a few difficult decisions between making money and working in a situation that just didn’t feel right. Most recently, a new client emailed me the details of a program she wanted me to facilitate and told me how much she would pay. Although tone can be misconstrued in an email, she clearly had a condescending “I’m doing you a favor,” “take it or leave it” tone. So I left it. If a person makes me feel lesser in any way, I know it’s not going to be a great fit for my business.
It’s important to be honest and think about whether or not you really want to pursue working with someone like that. Ask yourself, “Is there a cost to working with this organization or individual?” and if so, “Is it worth the sacrifice?” Entrepreneurs often leave the decision of whether to work together up to the prospective client, but in many cases, saying “no” to a relationship you’re not sure about reaps more of a reward.
As an entrepreneur, it is definitely difficult to think about finding new clients, figuring out how to keep your current client list from dwindling, and being picky about which clients to work with. But by being proactive, strategic, and selecting your clients based on more than just who has the money to pay, you’ll create a strong core of great clients and accomplish all three!