1. Get in front of buyers every week.
Buyers are the people who can tell you “yes,” the people who can sign the check without getting anyone else’s approval. Identify these people through Linkedin, referrals, vendors, subcontractors, and anyone else who can help you figure out where the next job lies. Each year, make a list of those people you’d like to meet—people who can buy what you’re selling. Then, devise a plan to get in front of them.
2. Ask for referrals.
Asking for referrals seems to be the number-one cause of angina in the U.S. No other activity affects the central nervous, digestive, and cardiovascular systems quite as much as asking people who like you and admire your work if they would mind telling their friends about you. I’m surprised the Center for Disease Control hasn’t issued a warning about asking for referrals. Yet, referrals remain the coinage of my realm and that of other businesses that rely on them for growth. I personally recovered from the anxiety that others feel when I reframed the activity. Instead of thinking that I might be imposing on people, I decided that I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer to help their friends and colleagues as I had helped them. I also realized that three people win with a good referral: the person asking for it, the person doing it who does a friend a favor, and the person for whom the referral was made.
3. Follow up with happy clients.
Closing business with existing clients will always be easier than attracting new ones for three reasons. First, happy clients already appreciate what you do and are motivated to stick with you for future projects. They have had a good experience and don’t want to gamble with someone new. Second, they trust you. They have experienced your integrity, know of your expertise, and sense that you care about them. Third, you already have a relationship. They know what to expect and don’t expect surprises, which most clients abhor.
4. Follow up with unhappy clients.
The universe doesn’t tolerate too much negativity, but unhappy clients will disseminate it far and wide if you don’t take control. As unpleasant as it may be, meeting face-to-face with the unhappy person will mitigate the negativity faster and more effectively than anything else. Find out what went wrong and what you can do to make it right. If you didn’t win the proposal, ask people what it would have taken to get their business. The smaller pond you swim in, the more important this becomes. Leaders often invest in advertising and PR, but no amount of paid promotion will ever cancel out the negative impact of an unhappy client spreading discontent to your prospective clients.
5. Build your personal brand.
When leaders think of building a brand, they usually assume they should build the brand of their product. Companies like Coke spend millions of dollars creating a “look” for their soda cans, and by extension, their companies. Leaders need to do the same thing for themselves. They need to create magnetism that attracts both clients and top talent. I encourage my clients to write for industry publications (you can hire a ghost writer), speak at industry events, host community events (BBQ with the police force), play in charity golf tournaments, and sponsor charity events yourselves. Individuals define companies, so make sure people recognize you and other senior leaders at your company as the experts in your field—the thought leaders that others turn to for advice and direction.
Many companies hire a “BD” person who assumes the responsibility of selling products and services. But leaders can never truly delegate this duty. Instead, they must take control of business development themselves and guide it toward the company’s strategic goals.