business as unusual

Episode 213: Business as Unusual: Let’s Talk About Finding Clients and Making Money

Do you feel stuck as you’re not sure what the future of your business looks like?

In this episode, we’re talking about finding clients and making money in a period where business is anything but usual.

The last few months have been seriously strange. I don’t know about you, but in some ways, the last two to three months, I’ve felt like I’m in this weird limbo between the past and future of my business.

My grade four teacher used to shout out “SA” when she’d want us to freeze so she could get our attention. SA stood for suspended animation, which feels pretty apt right now as we’re in this in between.

That in between has been a combination of comforting as I have space to slow down and think, and unsettling as I really don’t know what’s to come. (Well, I have some thoughts, but I’m saving those for a future episode.)

I know in my case, progress is happening, but it’s at such a slower pace than I’m used to so it feels like it’s not even happening.

All of that to say, if you’re unsettled, you’re not alone. No one has a crystal ball, despite what those ads in my IG account pushing summits may claim. I definitely don’t have all the answers, but there are a few things that are worth exploring when it comes to finding clients and making money.

Before we dive in, I want to point out that if you’re looking for perfect plans to help you find clients and make money right now, this isn’t it. What I’m going to share is imperfect, as always.

It’s based on my experiences and what I’m seeing happening in the market right now. Let it spark new ideas or be a jumping off point, because we can’t stay in a state of SA forever. Clients are the lifeblood of businesses and we need to make money, the future relies on us doing things today so that can happen.

New Client Engagements are Still Happening 

I know I’ve said this before but business is still happening. People are still signing clients. There’s work to be done. Maybe your industry is stalled, but I want you to know there are things happening.

It’s easy to look at the state of the economy and decide nothing is happening. That there aren’t any opportunities out there.

That would be wrong. My take is that business is still happening. Many clients are still spending money. But it’s hard to see right now as a lot of people are holding back. They feel weird or guilty about the fact that they’re not struggling, so they’re not being as forthcoming.

Business is still in progress. The difference being that some of those engagements look different than they did in the past. Bosses are getting creative about how they work with clients, how they offer services to new ones.

Fractional or Virtual Roles

A great example of this is an engagement that’s a virtual or fractional role. This is nothing new, but I know multiple business owners who are engaging with their clients in this way right now. They’re filling an ongoing role in the client’s business that feels much more stable than a project or retainer.

Early on in my business, I was the “virtual” marketing manager for one of my clients for over three years. They positioned me as part of their team and got my expertise without having to fill that role on a full-time basis. I had a steady, predictable, high value client. Win-win for everyone.

This type of engagement doesn’t mean you’re not still running your own business. The distinction is that you seamlessly fit into your client’s team in a way that’s imperceptible to everyone else. For one of our current clients, we have a corporate email address, and it’s faster to get the things we need to do done with that email as people see as part of the marketing team.

The fractional or virtual role may not be right for you, but there may be another creative approach you can take to serving potential clients. I’m not advocating throwing out your processes out the window, but a little creativity can go a long way to landing the type of client engagements you want right now. 

In short, if you need clients now is not the time to be romantic about how you run your business. Be open to new ideas.

Contract Expansion

Here’s a surprising trend I’ve been noticing with both our clients, and some of the members of the agency mastermind. The trend of contract expansion where existing clients need more support, or they’re looking to simplify the number of contractors or agencies they have.

Sure, many of us have lost clients in the last eight weeks, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any opportunities with our existing clients.

The key to this is ensuring you’re not making assumptions. Don’t assume your client doesn’t have any more budget or that they don’t need any additional support. Unless you’re managing that budget or know the ins and outs of their business, don’t decide that for them. Trust me, if they don’t have the budget they will tell you.

So, how do you expand your engagements right now? Start by noticing what’s happening with your clients on an ongoing basis. Are they consistently over their hours? Are they asking for different items that are out of scope?

I know right now, many of us have been dealing with this and have been overservicing our clients. I get it. I’ve definitely did that right out of the gate when things got weird with this pandemic.

But there needs to be a line in the sand where we establish a healthy boundary and a fair scope of work, and that needs to happen quickly or you’ll find yourself overworked and resentful in the coming months.

Now is the time to reset and have thoughtful, intentional discussions about what the go-forward plan will be, including the associated budget. The client can choose not to expand their budget, but then they’re going to have to work with us to prioritize the work to be done. 

Yes, this is delicate, but it’s necessary. 

On the flip side, for your clients that are relatively resilient to what’s going on (if you have clients like this) be on the lookout for new opportunities. Where do they need help? What can you do for them that they may not realize?

We have a client that mentioned multiple times that they were struggling with their internal comms. Finally, the lightbulb went on and I told them we could help. They handed that program to us and our budget increased. Again, a win for everyone.

Pay attention to what your clients tell you, especially their trouble spots. It’s easy to assume that they don’t need help, but if they’re talking to you about it, they likely are.

Other times, they won’t always mention it to you but you’ll see it clear as day. And it’s okay to ask them what’s happening with a specific program. Open up the door to further discussion and don’t hesitate because you don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. I can’t even tell you how many times this has worked for me by just asking the question.

Follow-Up on All Leads

Before you dismiss this saying you have no leads, stick with me for a second. How many conversations have you had that stalled out over the last couple months? Proposals that are in purgatory?

I bet there are a few of them. And you’re telling yourself a story about not wanting to be pushy in the middle of a pandemic.

I may have written this story, and it stalled me out for a few weeks. But I’m actively following up on open opportunities now with a focus on being helpful. It’s okay to ask the question and pick up the conversation right now, especially when this may go on for many, many more months. The period for the initial “wait and see” is over, and if people decide to move ahead, it will be with the people who aren’t sitting back and waiting.

Make a list today of any open opportunities and commit to following through with them. Ask how they are. Ask how you can help. Be human, and trust the result.

Finally, don’t fear the no. A no is better than something fizzling out because you didn’t follow-up.

Invest in Relationships 

Let’s say you don’t have any open leads right now, and feel like you’ve tapped out your existing clients, what do you then?

Invest in relationships. Now more than ever relationships matter. With many of us still stuck at home with limited contact with the outside world, relationships are a lifeline.

I believe that what we do here, today, will have an impact months down the road. Spend time investing in relationships today. It’s the perfect time to tell a business contact you’ve been thinking of them and checking in. Or to reach out to a past collaborator to get on a Zoom call.

Create a list of people you’ve not talked to a while. See how they are. No agenda, just connection and kindness. (But don’t hesitate to talk about what you’re doing in your business either!)

Just know, I’m taking my own advice to heart, and I have a big list of people to reach out to by email, and a list of past clients and collaborators to send a snail mail card to. (Because aside from sarcasm, snail mail is my love language. Unless it’s payment, then, definitely not.) 

Now, if you were looking for a magic wand to fix everything, I’m not sure what you’re doing listening to this podcast? I joke, but if there’s anything I’ve learned from what 2020 has served up so far, it’s that the real magic is what we do day in, day out, and being incredibly human. We’re all in this together, so ask questions, be creative, reach out, be human in all of it. 

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