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Archive for November, 2009

The Case of the Missing ReferralsOne day, the phone just stopped ringing. At first, you may not have noticed it. You were busy serving your clients, keeping up in your field, and getting the bills paid, like all good professionals do. But then a project ended or a client quit, and you didn’t have a replacement waiting in the pipeline.

Suddenly you realized that it had been quite some time since any new prospects were referred to you. Yikes, what’s going on?

Whether you’ve been in business ten months or ten years, it can take you by surprise when referrals suddenly dry up. When business is thriving, referrals routinely arrive in one of two ways — either you hear from prospects who say they were referred by someone else, or people in your network pass along the name of prospects who need you. If neither of those things are happening, you have a problem. Without referrals, you’ll have to work much harder to get new business.

But where have your referrals gone? You may need to put on your detective hat and do some sleuthing to find out. Here are some of the most common reasons why referrals disappear, and what you can do to get them back.

1. You’ve dropped out of sight. When was the last time you attended a networking event? Volunteered on a committee? Wrote an article? Spoke in public? Sure, you’ve been busy, but if you stop being visible in your target market or professional community, people forget about you.

Clues: The only appointments in your calendar are client meetings. When you run into colleagues, they say, “I haven’t seen you in a long time.”

Solution: No matter how busy you are with client work, make it a practice to do at least one thing each month that keeps you visible.

2. Your network has stopped expanding. When your contacts are limited to people you already know, your referrals are limited to only the people that THEY know. Without anyone new in the circle, there’s nowhere for fresh referrals to come from.

Clues: You haven’t added any new names to your contact database in months. You can’t follow up with your network to stimulate more referrals, because you’ve already talked to everyone you know.

Solution: Ask the people you know to introduce you to any of their contacts who might be helpful. Spend some time getting to know these new folks. Then they will become your contacts, too, and your network will automatically expand.

3. You’re networking with the wrong people. Perhaps your clients are consumers, but your networking contacts mostly have a corporate market. Or all your networking is through your professional association where most of the members are direct competitors.

Clues: You’re in touch with many people on a regular basis, but no one is referring to you. When a referred prospect does contact you, their needs aren’t a fit for what you do.

Solution: Identify categories of people who have regular contact with your target market, and are likely to encounter needs you can fill. For example, a small business accountant will be more likely to get referrals from networking with attorneys, financial planners, and bookkeepers than by spending time with corporate consultants, health practitioners, or other accountants.

4. People think you’re too busy. When you give the impression you’re overwhelmed with work, your contacts will stop referring to you. But if you wait for your workload to lighten before putting out the word you’re ready for more, it will usually be too late.

Clues: You hear that one of your old referral sources sent business to a competitor. Someone tells you, “I thought you weren’t taking new clients.”

Solution: Return phone calls and emails from referred prospects promptly, even when you’re too busy to help them. Refer them on to someone else you trust, then thank the person who sent them to you. This will encourage your contacts to keep referring in the future, as they know their referrals will always be taken care of.

The secret to avoiding the “feast or famine” cycle that plagues many professional service businesses is to stay visible instead of hunkering down in your office, and nurture your network even when you don’t need it. In order to keep a constant flow of referrals coming, you need to give your referral-building activities the same high-quality, consistent attention you give your client work.

That way, you’ll be able to focus your detective skills on solving problems for your clients instead of having to worry about where your next client is coming from.

Copyright © 2009, C.J. Hayden

C.J. Hayden is the author of Get Clients Now!™ Thousands of business owners and independent professionals have used her simple sales and marketing system to double or triple their income. Get a free copy of “Five Secrets to Finding All the Clients You’ll Ever Need” at www.getclientsnow.com

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Which one are you? Let’s take each in order:

business

Do you have a business or a hobby?

Idealists:  Idealists are those who have great intentions of helping people.  They talk a lot about “giving,” “not doing it for the money,” and “want to make a difference.”  Those who run idealist practices often have an office, a phone, and business cards but few clients.  Their idealism is so bright and shiny they assume their good work and good intentions will bring business to their door.  Most of us start as Idealists, but become more sophisticated through experience.  Those who hang on to idealism too long are often working for another group or agency at some point in their career.

Hobbyists:  Hobbyists treat their practice as a hobby, not a career or a business.  They get beyond the idealism stage, have enough clients to pay the bills, but don’t want to grow the practice or challenge themselves to grow as a clinician or a business person.  Hobbyists resist change (because it requires extra work to get up to speed on anything new), and talk about being “bored” if someone suggests they specialize or develop a treatment niche. Ex: “I would get bored if I only worked with women with post-partum depression.”  Hobbyists run the risk of becoming complacent and less-than-effective treatment providers because they see their work as “interesting,” and something to do, rather than a serious business that exists to help people struggling with serious difficulties, while at the same time making a profit.

Traditionalists:  Traditionalists have successful practices that they run as a business.  However, they use business strategies that worked in 1999 (or earlier).  They don’t have a website, roll their eyes when someone suggests they check out Facebook or Twitter, and may even scoff at the idea that therapeutic relationships can be formed online. Traditionalists see successful therapy as existing in a 50 minute hour, in an office, often paid for by insurance.  This was a great model 5 years ago. It is a dying model now. When was the last time an insurance company increased your reimbursement rate?  When is that next raise coming? Yeah, that’s what I mean.

Innovators:  Innovators started as idealists, tried the traditionalist model (and may have been very successful), but realize that, in 2009, we have a cultural and technological revolution  happening before our very eyes. Innovators are ready to try new models of treatment and intervention.  They listen to their clients about their needs, their lives and stressors and try to provide support to meet those needs in real time.  Innovators understand change is a part of life and are ready to make informed shifts in their practice to keep up with the times.  Innovators do not abandon what works, rather they incorporate new paradigms and are willing to experiment with new approaches.  Innovators can initially look a little flighty to hobbyists and traditionalists, but will ultimately have  successful practice businesses because they are meeting clients where they are at and addressing the realities of people’s every day lives. Innovators also do not rely on one income stream (i.e. insurance) and are aware that they can help more people and make more money utilizing the new technologies available to them.

So, what are you?  What kind of practice do you want to develop?  How can a successful Traditionalist move to a more innovative practice?

Dr. Susan Giurleo is a licensed psychologist who owns her own successful private practice and teaches other mental health professionals about private practice success. She is the author of The BizSavvy Therapist Blog http://www.bizsavvytherapist.com where you can find tips on how to help more people, make more money and enjoy life as a mental health professional.

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