This article will introduce you to the nine-part model for getting all the clients that you can handle. Before doing that, it is important to get inside the head of the average prospect for professional services. Most candidates for professional services don’t want to call an outsider for help. They feel the same way most people feel when we go to the doctor: We’ll only go if we are in pain, and sometimes we’ll wait until the pain gets really bad before we make the appointment. Who wants to go through the indignity of getting undressed, being probed, and discussing all sorts of private matters with a stranger? For most people, calling in a lawyer, doctor, real estate agent, or other professional is not so different than calling the doctor. The undressing, probing, and discussing private matters takes place in a different setting, but still causes plenty of anxiety. As David Maister notes in his book Managing the Professional Service Firm, here is what most candidates for professional services are thinking: 1. I don’t want help. I’m used to figuring things out on my own. 2. I feel ignorant and vulnerable because I need help, and this makes me uncomfortable. 3. I am letting an outsider learn about problems in my business or my life, and this makes me wary. 4. This will be expensive, and I’m not sure it is worth the price. 5. I have little or no confidence that an outsider will understand my unique situation, or deliver the result I want. 6. I am skeptical and have to be careful about getting burned. 7. Why can’t these people talk in my language? 8. For so-called “service professionals,” these people are not exactly known for their service or professionalism. They are often arrogant and unresponsive. Given this context, it is no wonder that traditional marketing and sales practices don’t work for business professionals. If you were thinking the above thoughts, and a salesperson called you up to pitch their services to you, wouldn’t you avoid that person at all costs? Therefore, if you are trying to sell professional services in the traditional way, you probably face the following issues: * Prospects don’t return calls. * Prospects don’t give you a straight answer about moving forward. * You feel the indignity, awkwardness, and embarrassment of selling and pitching what you know to be an excellent service offering. * You face a potential downward spiral where you get sick and tired of promoting your business. In fact, I know some independent professionals who have given up their dreams of remaining independent, and taken lower-paying jobs to avoid the hassles of developing business. The good news is that there is another way. By understanding the root cause underlying your prospect’s concerns and issues, you have the key to attracting more clients than you can handle. The root cause is TRUST and VALUE. Prospects become clients only after they trust you and perceive value in the following ways: * They know you well enough to be familiar with you and what you do. * They perceive you to be an expert and authority in your field. * They believe that you have a solid understanding of their needs and can help them get the specific result they want better than anybody else. * They like you enough to want to work with you. If developing trust and demonstrating value is the secret to attracting more clients than you can handle, how do you develop trust and demonstrate value? It takes nine steps, and each step develops credibility and a solid business relationship with prospects using a series of unique, proven strategies. For instance, one key part of this strategy is to provide valuable information and education to your target market up front. As a result, you position yourself as the expert and authority in your field, and generate a steady flow of referral business -- without any selling. If you can market your services based on developing trust and demonstrating value with clients, suddenly everything will change: * You never sell, and so never have to go through the indignity of using fake sales techniques and gimmicks. * You feel good about building your practice because people appreciate your valuable advice and support. * You establish yourself as the expert in your marketplace. * You can often charge higher fees, because you are not competing on price but on your expertise and the trust you create with prospects. * New prospects call you, accept your calls, and want to meet with you. You can stop chasing them! * You win more projects “sole source,” without competitive bidding. That’s because you reach your prospects early, and work with them to develop a solution before they call your competitors. * You can measure and track your marketing, and continuously improve your results compared to your competitors. * You get referrals from prospects – even if they haven’t hired you -- because they feel loyal to you and know your expertise. * You gain a competitive advantage because few, if any, of your competitors are using these innovative strategies -- and because these strategies truly differentiate you in the marketplace. * These marketing strategies executive themselves automatically, so you can spend your time with clients. You save time and money, while word spreads about your practice! * Your marketing costs decrease because you focus your marketing dollars on targeted, qualified prospects. Following is an overview of the nine steps required to build trust, establish value, and attract all the projects and clients that you can handle. A Model for Attracting All the Clients You Can Handle Two Fundamental Principles: Build Trust and Demonstrate Value Goal: Incorporate an understanding of trust and value in everything you do to develop your practice, from marketing to delivering your services. Persuading people to trust and value your expertise does not happen overnight. The average consulting prospect needs at least five effective interactions with you before they will discuss their problem and invite you to develop a solution. You need to give your client time, and reasons, to trust you and value your services. Fortunately, there are ways to do this that don’t cost you much money, and won’t take much of your time. To build trust and demonstrate value, you need to provide a series of safe, effective interactions with each prospect that pulls them to you gradually. Each interaction builds more trust and credibility while demonstrating the unique value of what you offer. It is like taking a series of baby steps. If you skip a step (which many professionals do), you turn the prospect off. To attract more clients than you can handle, work hard to build trust and demonstrate with every client interaction. The 9-step approach explains how. Step One: Develop A Solid Strategic Foundation for Business Development Goal: Lay a strategic foundation to dominate your market. Before going after specific prospects, there are a few key questions every professional needs to answer: 1. Who is your target market? Some professionals will take any assignment they can win. They don’t realize that by marketing to almost everyone, they end up REDUCING the number of clients that they get. It is much more effective to choose a specific, reachable, desirable niche market. That will make it easier to be perceived as an expert, get referrals, target your marketing messages, and pay less in marketing expenses. 2. What problems does your market face, and what do those problems cost? Instead of starting with the services they offer, professionals need to start with the problems that their prospects face, and the cost of those problems. In fact, they should develop a detailed understanding of these problems BEFORE they even consider their services and skills. That way, they can craft a solution that matches prospects’ needs, instead of trying to push a solution that doesn’t quite fit. 3. What is your solution? Your solution explains how you solve your clients’ problems and deliver value. Prospects want to know that you offer a specific, clear path to results. It is essential to have a proven methodology and service model that shows prospects that you can deliver. 4. What are the benefits of your solution? Many professionals focus on their technology and its features, rather than on benefits to the client. Benefits include organizational, professional, personal, and emotional payoffs that your solution provides. 5. What is unique about your solution compared to your competitors’ solution? Professionals absolutely need to differentiate their services from the competition. That way, they will clearly stand apart in the prospect’s mind. 6. What is your message to that market? A final key to a solid foundation is to develop a marketing message that hits your target market’s hot buttons, and clearly differentiates your services from what the competition offers. Most professional marketing messages tell about how talented the professional is, but fail to address the prospect’s burning problems and the specific business and personal results that they want to achieve. You and your firm may be the best, but if you can’t communicate how you are the best in a way that matters to your prospects, you will not attract many clients. Professionals must find messages that differentiate their services and results clearly from competitors. Step Two: Get Visible -- Generate Awareness and Interest Goal: Attract interested prospects and collect their contact information so that you can follow up with them in ways that build trust. With a strategic foundation in place, the next step is to implement tactics and strategies that generate awareness and interest. The goal of this step is to reach the people in your niche market, and offer them something that entices them to respond to you. The best offer is a no-risk invitation to get valuable information or education. Once you have captured the prospect’s contact information, you can follow up with a series of additional offers that establish your credibility and continue to build trust and demonstrate value. There are a number of ways to generate awareness and interest, including: 1. An effective web site that provides enormous value to the prospect, at no risk or cost. 2. Referrals – not by the whims of word of mouth but through a proactive system. 3. Targeted mailings offering free education and information. 4. Educational brochures and easy-to-create Audio CD’s or videos. 5. Offers to participate in free research studies, in which results are shared with participants. 6. Free publicity about news that matters to your target audience. 7. Seminars offering useful information to prospects. 8. Public speaking to your target audience. The problem with these approaches is that most professionals use them the WRONG WAY (or not at all). They use them to pitch products and services, instead of to develop trust and capture prospect information. Step Three: Establish Trust Through Careful Follow Up Goal: Build trust through a series of carefully planned follow up messages and offers. With a database of prospects, the next step is NOT to contact them for a free consultation. That is exactly how to turn a prospect off. Instead, the better strategy is to continue to establish trust through a series of carefully orchestrated follow up messages and value-laden but free or low-cost offers. In this step, your job is to establish yourself as an authority and expert to your prospects, not to sell. The beauty of this approach is that it happens automatically. Auto-responders, contact managers, and other technologies offer excellent, low cost tools to stay in contact with prospects. Also, once you develop an educational product that prospects like, you can use it over and over again in different media. Step Four: Understand the Prospect’s Unique Situation and Assess Fit Goals: First, show the prospect that you understand their problem – without turning them off with pushy sales gimmicks. Second, assess whether it makes sense for you and the prospect to work together. At this point in the process, a good number of prospects will trust you enough to invite you to discuss their unique situation and problems. Your goal at this point is to show each one that you are uniquely positioned to understand and solve their problem(s) – without being pushy or inauthentic. By this step, your prospect already trusts you and values your solutions. They know you, and they perceive you as an expert. They have sought you out! So you can be yourself. No more selling! The keys to success at this stage are: * Asking questions that show that you understand the potential client’s situation and what it is costing them. * Speaking in the language of the potential client and the results that they want to achieve. * Showing the potential client that you are completely committed to their success. * Empathizing with the potential client. * Determining whether the opportunity is a good fit for you, and a win-win for both you and the prospective client. Step Five: Win the engagement! Goal: Win the engagement by showing the prospect that you can solve his or her problem better than anybody else – in a way that gets them the results they want to achieve. During this step, your goal is to convert your understanding of the prospect’s situation and problem into an agreement to move forward. You work collaboratively with the prospect to develop a win-win solution, and to demonstrate why you offer the best way for the prospect to get results. Also, it is important during this step to create a thorough, clear, open and honest proposal that details scope, risks, responsibilities (including the client’s), a communication plan, the definition of “done,” and guarantees to follow up with support. That way, you show the prospect that they really can trust you to get results for them. Step Six: Deliver and Delight Goal: Delight the client with service and results that go beyond what the client expects. In step six, you should develop a specific plan not just to deliver results, but also to delight the client. If you do, you will stand head and shoulders above most other professionals. There are a number of strategies to do this: 1. Develop a plan to understand the client and ways to go the extra mile to help them succeed. 2. Communicate progress in a way that works for the client. 3. Be responsive and professional with every client call, request, question, and complaint. 4. Keep a can-do attitude, no matter how difficult the client or project can be. 5. Go out of your way to add extra value by educating the client, providing free advice (without a sales pitch for follow-on work), and even doing some work at cost or for free. 6. Understand the client’s personal interests and, where it makes sense, support those. Step Seven: Follow Up and Develop the Relationship Goal: Continue to be the first person the client calls for help, and the first person they mention when talking about professionals to others in their network. One good client relationship can be worth ten or more additional clients. I can track fifteen clients of mine to one delighted client that hired me for a small engagement! After you have delighted the client, step eight is to develop a plan to nurture the relationship. Again, there are many ways to do this, but the best way is to provide valuable support and information to help the client succeed, and to remain on the top of their mind so that they call you first for advice. This will lead to follow-up work and, if you know how to ask, a stream of referral business. I can’t tell you how many professionals fall down on this step. Remember – out of sight, out of mind! Why lose a relationship that took this long to build by ignoring your client after an engagement ends? Step Eight: Plan and Take Action Goal: Develop a simple action plan to get more clients than you can handle, using the strategies discussed above. This step really happens up front and is ongoing, but it was important to introduce the other elements of the model first. The top professionals develop, and then implement, a comprehensive business development plan every quarter, and refer to it almost daily. The elements of the plan answer these questions: 1. How many clients and projects do you want, and how much revenue, by when? 2. How can you maintain the loyalty of existing clients? 3. What is the plan to attract new prospects? 4. What is the plan to follow up with prospects and build trust? 5. What new services should you offer? Step Nine: Build Your Firm Goal: Put systems in place so that you generate revenues independent of your time and build an enterprise with equity value. Most professionals make a living, but fail to achieve true financial freedom. To achieve your most ambitious financial goals, you have to develop systems. Put another way, you have to make yourself replaceable, so that other people bring in revenues and grow your firm’s value regardless of how you spend your time. Once you generate a steady stream of clients, your job is to remove yourself from the daily details of your organization while putting systems and personnel in place to help it flourish. Based on the above steps, you should create a marketing system to get you all the clients you can handle. Other systems to implement include: * Training others, especially other professionals, in your organization to become top marketing and sales professionals. That way, they market for you while also delivering service. * Implementing processes, methodologies, and standards to ensure that everyone in your firm is providing consistent, outstanding service to clients. * Building recruiting and retention strategies and systems to attract and retain top performers. * Creating a process to ensure that your firm constantly improves its capabilities. * Ensuring that administrative systems are in place. Conclusion Want all the high-paying clients and projects that you can handle? Want to build a valuable firm? Then remember that the unspoken reasons why clients do or don’t buy professional services are TRUST and VALUE. Your job – before you deliver professional services – is to build trust and demonstrate value within your target market. Do that, and you will have all the clients that you can handle.