January 18, 2021 6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Service providers in certain industries — like travel and leisure, for example — have been hit hard by the pandemic. According to an August 2020 survey by the National Federation of Independent Business, 21% of business owners say they’ll permanently shut down if the economy doesn’t improve within the next six months.
Regardless of industry, service professionals need to acquire multiple revenue streams to weaken the financial risk, given today’s economy. It’s also critical to operate with the right mindset about one’s work.
Whether you’re an employee, consultant or gig worker, see yourself as the owner of your own professional services firm. Because whatever one’s work classification (W-2 or 1099), service professionals are absolutely proprietors of their own labor.
Your name, reputation and brand are inseparably tied to service quality and professionalism. As CEO of You, Inc., the following are four quick, yet effective ways to acquire new clients:
1. Connect to a hidden job market
Gig workers, job candidates and other independent professionals who randomly send introduction letters are at a huge disadvantage. Recruiters and hiring managers have little time for them, opting to merely discard the majority of the all-too-popular time-wasters in a digital (or literal) trash can.
A better approach is to tap into undisclosed open projects by instead speaking with social-media contacts, business associates, friends, family members and people who are already in your existing personal and professional circles. Networking is a powerful tool for finding new business opportunities.
The hidden job market is a huge part of the economy. In fact, an August 2020 LinkedIn poll found that 36 percent of recruiters say unposted jobs comprise 51 to 75% of the economy, while 29% say it’s between 26 and 50%.
Furthermore, according to career coach Adele Leah, “Advertised jobs only make up 20 to 25% of roles that are actually available. That means 75 to 80% of jobs aren’t advertised.” Leveraging the hidden job market makes it more likely you’ll find a better opportunity that matches your skillset.
2. Touch base with past clients
If you’re like most small businesses, the bulk of revenue comes from a few clients while the rest only provide infrequent work or one-off projects. The 80/20 rule says that 80% of the effects (i.e., revenue) come from 20% of causes (customers).
Because of this, there’s a natural temptation to ignore past clients who didn’t previously provide consistent cash flow. However, times and circumstances change. Remember, decision-makers are also routinely replaced.
Do some digging in your inbox and create a mailing list that allows you to touch base with former clients and associates. Remind them of who you are and what services you offer. It only takes one or two resurrected accounts — in addition to current clients, of course — to create a new pipeline of work that’ll keep you busy year-round.
When reaching out, personalize your email (or letter, if you’re old-fashioned) and show what you’ve done for similar clients in the past. Since former customers have paid you once, assuming they had a positive experience, they’ll be more likely to pay you for your services again.
Related: Sales Tactics to Survive the Extended Effects of the Pandemic
3. Fight for strategic accounts
It’s a good idea to separate regular prospects from potential high-value clients. High-value targets are ones that make you very profitable, have many projects and are easy to work with.
In contrast, struggling solopreneurs work with low-margin accounts which often supply more in the way of migraines than actual revenue. Bad customers imprison service professionals in a cycle of paycheck-to-paycheck dependency, as they’re unable to devote enough time to landing more lucrative accounts.
“To have a sustainable service business, you’ve got to fight for and retain high-value clients, since these drive growth and profitability,” said Luke Acree, President of Reminder Media, a Pennsylvania-based content agency, during a recent phone conversation.
“You get these clients through old-fashioned networking, as well as by having an effective website, great content, a stand-out reputation and competitive pricing,” says Acree. “Providers should prioritize client relationships, over-deliver on expectations and improve cycle times. You get recurring profits from big-budget managers who want to continue working with you.”
This leads to our next (and final) tip.
4. Stay connected with decision-makers
In many cases, it’s a matter of timing. You may have a shot at landing a lucrative gig but just not right now. Hiring managers routinely go on maternity (or paternity) leave or vacations, attend weddings or come down with an untimely illness — any number of things, really. By constantly networking with decision-makers, you can be first in line when new projects do come up.
With social media, connecting with decision-makers is more convenient than ever. It’s never a bad idea to become well-acquainted with popular networking sites like LinkedIn or Facebook, which allow users to connect with high-value prospects, as well as join relevant industry groups.
For example, if you’re a copywriter or digital marketer, don’t only join advertising-driven groups on LinkedIn, but make your voice heard — be an active participant and provide regular value. The more colleagues, fellow entrepreneurs or talent scouts within your industry view your profile and the expertise you readily share, the greater the chance you’ll be considered for new work.
Yes, putting in the effort to be top-of-mind can seem daunting, but not everything you do has to have an immediate return. Being predominant with decision-makers can lead to securing a contract when a business or online acquaintance is suddenly in need of a particular service you offer, even if your relationship may not seem very strong at the time.
Will each of the above methods immediately lead to a constant influx of new, exciting work? If that’s your expectation, prepare for a letdown. What is likely, however, is that one or two of them at least give you a shot with a new client. From there, it’s your job to keep your new client satisfied. Fortunately, your growing bank balance will be proof of the right, targeted effort.