Where the Clients Are

Article by C.J. HaydenA good friend of mine is an information technology consultant. He’s been an independent contractor for the twenty-plus years I have known him, and gets all his consulting contracts through agencies. Even when he works a year or two for the same client, the agency takes 20-25% of what the client is paying for his services. I once asked him why he didn’t find his own clients, and he said he just didn’t know where to look.

I was puzzled by this answer. After more than twenty years in the business, you would think he knew who his clients were. But then I listened more closely. He wasn’t telling me he didn’t know who they were; he was saying he didn’t know where they were.

Since then, I’ve heard this same query stated over and over. Whenever an independent professional meets a successful person in his or her field, the newer professional inevitably asks, “Where do you find your clients?” It seems that where the clients are is a bit of a mystery.

But in fact, your prospective clients are just people like you and me. They do all the things that people normally do and can be found wherever people are. Let’s suppose for a moment that your clients are managers or executives who work for a corporation. Where are they at any given moment?

1. Working alone in their office
2. Attending a meeting
3. Talking to someone else in the office
4. Talking to someone on the phone
5. Corresponding with others by email or postal mail
6. Visiting a website
7. On the commuter bus or train
8. At the gym
9. Eating a restaurant meal or getting coffee
10. Attending a business function
11. Taking a class
12. Participating in a sports or leisure activity
13. Going to church
14. Attending an entertainment or cultural event
15. At home with their family
16. At the home of a friend or relative
17. Driving somewhere

Look at how many possibilities this gives you to find them! Your prospective clients spend a significant percentage of their time either talking to other people, corresponding with them, or gathering in public places. When they are not doing one of those things, they are usually at their office or home – also places they can be “found” with a little detective work.

When you look at it this way, finding clients really boils down to three likely activities:

1. Talking to people who can put you in touch with clients.
2. Going to places where clients gather so you can meet them in person.
3. Getting names, phone numbers, and email addresses of clients you can call, write, or ask to be introduced to.

Start the process with a simple description of who your ideal clients are. The more specific you can get, the better. For example:

  • Human resource managers in growing midsize companies
  • Marketing directors for health care providers
  • South Houston buyers of income property
  • Small business owners in the Boston metro area

Then use your description to ask everyone you know these three client-finding questions:

  1. Do you know any _____ you can introduce me to?
  2. Do you know someone who knows lots of _____?
  3. Do you know any places where many _____ go?

For many independent professionals, these two steps alone will provide you with enough names and places to keep you busy for quite some time. Just keep talking to people and going to places where clients gather. As long as you keep asking the same three questions of every person you meet, your prospect list will continue to grow.

To expand your list even further, and sometimes faster, you can also look your clients up. Business clients are listed in hundreds of locations, in print and on the web. For example:

  • Online business and industry directories (e.g., Hoover’s, Thomas Register)
  • Company directories (e.g., Dun and Bradstreet, Standard and Poor’s)
  • Yellow Pages and other advertising directories
  • Trade directories (e.g., Chamber of Commerce, Better Business Bureau)
  • Association membership rosters (online and in print)

You don’t even have to do the list-building work yourself. If you want to reach your clients by mail and phone, you can purchase names of prospects from list brokers like AccuLeads or Zapdata.

Keep in mind that prospects you personally meet or are referred or introduced to are always more likely to turn into clients, so even if you begin finding prospective clients by using lists and directories, don’t forget to keep asking the three client-finding questions of all your new contacts.

Finding clients is really a bit of a paradox. They are everywhere, but you have to look in order to see them. Don’t be so overwhelmed by the forest that you forget to notice the trees.

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