“How can you win your own clients?” This is the question I’m usually asked by clients who have just realised that if they want to make partner they need to win their own clients and build a client portfolio from scratch. Perhaps you’re earlier in your career and have realised that to be noticed as “one to watch” you need to be seen to be networking and making contacts at your level, and as you progress, start bringing work into the firm.
Before you start attending any networking event you can find, take a step back, and make some decisions about what you are trying to achieve and what specific choices you will make. Here are the 4 choices or decisions to consider when working out how you can win your own clients.
To win your own clients, what type of clients will you target?
Being successful at winning your own clients, your business development activities need to start with you deciding on what clients you will target.
Whether or not you choose to focus on a niche, if you want to be able to win your own clients your marketing needs to be ultra-focused.
And I mean ultra-focused. Too often I see professionals deciding to target board swathes of the marketplace, e.g. ‘ultra-high net wealth individuals’ or ‘SMEs’ or ‘mid-market’ companies. This is far too broad! Ideally, you will start targeting one type of client that you have narrowed down from a list of many. I’m sure many of my peers thought I was mad to focus on helping people make partner. I think, given the health of this side of my business, I’m having the last laugh. Indeed the more focused my marketing to not just people who want to make partner, but people who value coaching to help them make partner, the more effective my marketing efforts have become. See how to choose what to specialise in
Given that I am in a 4 person business, I’ve been given a huge amount of freedom to decide on who and how I will develop business. When you are part of a firm you may not have that level of flexibility. Indeed you need to be very strategic about not just what is happening with the external marketplace but also the internal marketplace with your firm. The client you decide to target will need to fulfil most elements of this brief:
- Be seen as strategically important to the firm, otherwise you really are choosing to make life hard for yourself. This is part of the ‘fit’ test I talk about when I am talking about choosing your niche.
- Broaden or deepen the range of expertise in your department so that you come out of your partner’s shadow. OR that there is more than enough work for referrals to come to you AND your partner. After all, the last thing you want to do is plug away with your marketing just for all the leads to automatically go to your partner.
What work are you are going to delegate?
I’m guessing that you don’t really have time to take on extra stuff like building a large client portfolio from scratch? But that’s the reality of what you need to do if you are going to progress your career from manager or associate up to the dizzy heights of partner. This means that something needs to give, or be delegated! Your partners are looking at you and seeing how well you can balance the multiple calls on your time. If you can’t do this at manager or associate level, then it isn’t going to become any easier at partner level to do this. In fact it’s going to get much, much harder!
What will you prioritise?
Can you win your own clients? Of course you can! But when it comes to developing business, there are an infinite number of ways to do it. From the safe stuff through to the wild and wacky. If you try and go for every single client, guess what? You are going to run out of time very quickly and spread yourself far too thinly. This is why prioritisation (or careful choices) is key. Here are some of the calls you will need to make on your time. Decide how much effort will you put in to:
- bringing new clients into the firm vs winning work from existing clients?
- winning the hard stuff, e.g. the bigger £100k+ pieces of work vs the easier £5-50k smaller pieces of work?
- offline activities such as networking events and lunching vs writing and circulating blogs?
- Will you aim to go direct to prospects or develop strong and deep relationships with intermediaries?
When you are prioritising, you are often having to make a choice on investing in the easy short term stuff vs the hard longer-term investment needed to bring in the big fish.
How much time will you allocate to winning new clients & business development?
This is probably the hardest of all the careful choices you need to make. Obviously, the more time you have available for business development, the more you can achieve. However, the reality is that none of us has a completely empty diary with nothing in it apart from business development (I wish!) If your chargeable time targets mean you need to bill 6 or 7 hours a day, that doesn’t leave much for anything else. This means prioritisation is absolutely key. If you are serious about being able to win your own clients and building your own client portfolio, you need to do something every day to help build it. Yes, every day. I also think you should spend a minimum of 3 hours a week on business development in one form or another.
The 5Ps model
Much of this article can be summarised with the 5Ps model. I.e. to make time for business development:
- Have a plan
- Prospect list
- Push down
- Pace yourself
For more on the 5Ps model see The 5Ps that always give time for business development