Do You Need to Keep Networking for New Clients?
The COVID-19 pandemic has made in-person interactions like networking events impossible to hold safely. But are referrals the only way to go when it comes to finding new clients? Here's why one professional has scaled back the amount of time she spends networking, and how it's enhanced her success.
How much time are we spending networking? Ever done an ROI calculation on that time? To do that, one needs to know how much their time is worth. Can you really say an hour of your time is worth $150 or $500? I can’t, not honestly. I think my time is priceless. Trading time for money feels like running on a hamster wheel. I hate running nowhere.
My first two years in business, I relied solely on networking for referrals. I spent so much time networking that I would get behind on my work, lose sleep, and wake up in a panic, resulting in a networking diet. Then, I would go back to networking and forget to invoice, and my bank balance would go negative. I would rush to invoice and then wait. Waiting and praying that clients would understand that they needed to pay right away. They usually did not. It was stress breeding stress. The worst kind of hamster wheel.
At that point, I stopped charging hourly and switched to fixed-fee pricing. I do not have receivables. Everything is paid up front. I do not chase money. Once I got out of my own way, it was not hard to implement, and clients do not argue. I used to think, “They will think I am greedy or that I am taking advantage of them if I charge up front.” All the fear I felt about doing business this way is laughable now. I still, however, did not have a steady stream of new clients coming in. I was still relying on networking for referrals.
I do get value out of networking. Meeting people in my community and other like-minded entrepreneurs helps me to not feel alone when I spend a lot of time working alone. I made new friends. I learned that effective networking is an entire business in and of itself. I learned from networking that I need to know my “why” for being in business. It pushed me to evaluate my why and to learn how to effectively communicate it. Before networking, I was not aware that “effective” was a thing to strive for in communication.
Networking requires frequent public speaking, pushing me out of my comfort zone. Comfort zones are dangerous places to be. I applaud people who enjoy networking and are great at it. I know many. But I don’t like doing it, and, because of that, I am not great at it. It feels awkward, and, most of the time, I don’t see an adequate ROI. I get referrals, but they are mostly not ideal and are usually sporadic.
Sporadic referrals are not a great cash flow tool for a new business. I became frustrated and realized that networking for referrals for me was simply a hope strategy, much like my prior method of invoicing after the fact and late. After I had already solved their problems, clients felt little urgency to pay me. In truth, referral partners’ priorities are to run their business, get their bread and butter; opportunities to refer should be exclusively based on a real client need, not a referral quota we have to meet from our networking group.
When I was new in business and to networking groups, I felt pressure to refer my other members to my clients. I bought into the fraternizing or sororitizing (notice that is not yet a word) exclusivity. But, sometimes, I felt dishonest referring someone I had just met, feigning trust in them based on the trust displayed by the other members of the group. I have always researched diligently and objectively to find the truth. This "running with the pack" thing did not suit me. After doing it, though, I have several referral partners that I have collaborated with and who I am delighted to refer based fully on my experience with their work ethic and their excellent treatment of our clients.
To solve my marketing problem, I took a leap of faith and hired an outside sales team that had been pitching me for the entire two years I had been in business. Before, I saw their fee as too much of a commitment. How did I know if it was going to be an investment or the equivalent of throwing cash in the trash? I had totally ignored them up to that point, but they persisted. I figured it might be a sign.
After several months of coaching and at least fifteen self-help books I became aware that I had what is called lack consciousness. I had been raised to believe that money was scarce, I had to work for it, and I had to work hard, even when what I do comes easily to me. I would actually create this negative dialogue in my mind between me and my client when I did not have to work hard at providing them services. If something wasn’t difficult, I felt guilty and had to invent something about it that made it difficult. I was creating a stressful, lack environment for my life and business in my own mind. I learned that reality is individual. For each person, reality is what they choose to see. So, if you want to be broke and miserable, you are welcome to. Just focus on scarcity, and that is what you will experience.
Dr. John DeMartini talks about prioritizing activities that align with your highest values. When I finally decided to invest in my business by hiring someone to do what I did not want to do, everything changed. I began focusing on doing things I want to do and delegating the rest. I stopped struggling and trying to motivate myself to do things I didn’t want to do. Once I stopped fighting my natural tendencies, I had time and energy to spend on things I want to do. Now, my sales team does the marketing. I have a steady stream of potential prequalified clients who are hand selected to match my ideal client profile. I no longer dread our conversations.
This knowledge puts me in a positive frame of mind before we begin our consultation. When I am not focused on “I know they can’t afford this, what am I going to lower my fee to?” I am calm and confident. My pricing is what it is, based on their perception of their needs. Knowing that there are more calls scheduled makes me less worried about the outcome and allows me to focus on my potential client, ask the right questions, and actively listen to their answers. When the conversation goes this way, the client and I know whether we are the right fit before we begin working together.
Having an outside sales team that prequalifies leads and books them directly into my calendar means that I am not dealing with feelings of self-pity. They pitch unemotionally, and neither of us feels shame, embarrassment or rejection if a prospect says they do not need my services. I do not spend time messaging back and forth to find the right time, and the process for me is much shorter and smoother.
The new challenge as a result of choosing an outside sales team over networking? I must delegate the frequent new work I am bringing in. Having enough staff, outsourced or internal, who are well trained and have the capacity to take on more work is essential for growth. The outside sales team has more than covered their fee on an ongoing basis within two months. I wish I had done this two years ago.
I was born and raised in beautiful South Lake Tahoe and I am the youngest of six siblings. I was raised in a religion that undermined women. I watched people I love suffer as a result and decided I would not allow that life for myself or my kids. I saw education as the way out.
Schools in Tahoe, “The Gem of the Sierras”, teach students to...