Recently I had the opportunity to meet a one-person business owner who “commanded” high fees, was held in great regard by his colleagues and peers, but wasn’t making the money his skills and reputation would have warranted.
The clues were evident: too quick to come way down on his fees, taking work outside his primary skill area, being cranky with his low fee clients who didn’t understand or appreciate his skills and contributions, not going to his professional association because the meeting costs were too high, not following through with former clients because he hadn’t done anything worth sharing with them, his minimal web site hadn’t been updated in ages and didn’t have much copy that would sell anyone anything, the list could go on and on.
In short, he was selling himself short, just to get work, and then getting resentful of the work he had, and the clients he was working with.
Of course this doesn’t have much to do with you, right? (It did with me for much too long!)
Just in case, let’s use him, I’ll call him Mike, as an example of what he could do to turn around his business and quickly start making real money.
I suggested Mike could do three simple things to turn his business around: be better known and connected with potential clients and colleagues, build a web site that helped sell him and his services, and develop a system for keeping in touch with former clients, or prospects that hadn’t used him, but were interested in his work.
Get Better Known By Clients and Colleagues:
The classic marketing methods most one-person professional services business owners use to get better known are speaking to service groups or associations, writing articles or position papers, and networking.
As you might guess, Mike had quick objections to all of these. He compared networking with trying to break into the dating scene in high school.
Many of us feel the same way. It’s hard to meet a group of strangers, say your spiel, listen to theirs, and then find another group of strangers and repeat the process.
Instead of traditional networking, I suggested Mike focus on getting better known by two groups of people: potential clients and colleagues.
He needed to join an organization where his potential, full fee clients would hang out. Then, he needed to not only to show up at the meetings, but get involved.
Mike, like many professionals, was really a pretty shy guy. Meeting lots of strangers and making small talk wasn’t his primary skill area. To give him a “commanded” space in the organization, he needed a defined role, a reason for being there. So, he joined a committee and volunteered to contribute to the annual fund raising campaign by donating some of his professional services.
He was quickly chairing the committee as his new associates saw his level of expertise and the quality of his contributions. It soon became a wonderful showcase for what he does in his business and what a difference he could make in their businesses.
At the same time, Mike started attending his professional association meetings. He was seen as a senior member of his profession, his colleagues just hadn’t seen him in a while. He was nonplussed when one long-time associate remarked that he didn’t realize Mike was still around.
Mike offered to help mentor newer members, and those just entering the profession. He’s been asked to present at a meeting later this year, and work on the committee to develop a formal mentoring program.
The side benefit from these simple steps, two meetings a month, less than $100 for both, has been renewed energy in his work, and a realization that colleagues and clients do value what he does.
Finding the Right Groups to Join:
The first step Mike had to do, and you do too, is to find the right group to join. Check out the following resources for groups where potential clients would be.
Attend a few different meetings to find the group that will work for you.
=> Scan the meetings section of your local Business Journal. It’s available in many larger metro areas, at newsstands, by subscription, in the library, and online.
=> Look for the calendar in the business section of your local or metro-area newspaper. There is almost always a phone number for more details. Check out the organization online before you go.
=> In smaller towns, the Chamber of Commerce may be the happening organization to join.
=> Look for a leads group. BNI, or The Executive Association, are two that are found in different parts of the country.
=> For local professional associations, check out the national association on the Web. Most will have a listing of local chapters, with contact information of the president, membership chair, or executive. Again, attend a few meetings before committing to the one that will work for you.
Volunteer to Help After You Join:
=> One of the best committees to join is the Membership Committee. It gets you in front of lots of other new members, gives you a good reason to talk with anyone, and you can initiate a meet and greet at the door for regular meetings so you can meet all the attendees, members or not.
=> Speakers and event planners find the program committee a great place to serve. They have lots of resources for future programs, can be seen as a hero if a last minute replacement is needed, and gets them meeting other meeting planner types.
=> The marketing or newsletter committee is often a good target for marketing consultants, graphic designers, or web designers. Even if you don’t join this committee, you can offer an article, write up an event, or be featured for your expertise, or hobby.
=> Take responsibility for a specific activity or part of the committee you’ve joined. Download some responsibilities from the chair, and be seen as a hero.
Any and all of the volunteering you do can serve as a way of showcasing what you can do for potential clients. They’ll get to know you, see how you work, and what you do that makes a difference. The more people who get to know, the more likely you’ll be considered when work in your area becomes available.
People want to work with professionals they know, like, and trust their work.
The final step? Keep going. Don’t flit from one organization to another, one group to the next. It takes about six months of steady showing up for other members and guests to see you as a resource that will be there when they need you.