“I don’t have enough clients,” one of my students told me. “I’d love to put more effort into marketing, but I’m so busy, I don’t have the time.”
This independent professional’s dilemma might seem humorous, but it’s no joke. I’ve heard this complaint repeatedly from professionals and small business owners. You’d think the solution would be easy — just drop whatever else you’re doing and spend more time on getting clients. But making that adjustment is often not so simple.
Here are five too-busy-to-get-clients situations that you may encounter, and what you can do about them:
1. You’re too busy serving existing clients.
This is probably the most common reason named by independent professionals for not spending time marketing. On the surface, it seems like a good excuse. If you’re busy with paying work, why should you take time away to market? But the work eventually comes to an end, and there you are with no new clients lined up. Now you have time to market, but it always takes a while to land something new. Meanwhile, there’s no money coming in.
The only way to break this feast-or-famine cycle is to go shopping before the cupboard is bare. Even when you have plenty of work, set aside time on a weekly basis to focus on marketing for new clients. When agreeing on project or appointment schedules with an existing client, factor in this set-aside time, just as you would if it was another client you were serving simultaneously. Your business deserves the same kind of care and attention you give to your clients’ businesses.
2. You’re too busy working for peanuts, or even for free.
One reason you might have trouble finding enough time to market is that you’re working too much for too little. Perhaps your fees are too low, you are giving away too many free consultations or sample sessions, or you are doing too much work “on spec.” Or perhaps you are spending a great deal of time volunteering for a professional association or nonprofit.
Try keeping a work diary for two weeks, where you record every hour you spend working for someone else and what you got paid for it. If you don’t like what you see, start making some changes. Place a ceiling on the amount of time you give away for free. Set your rates based on the true cost of doing business, which includes unpaid time spent on marketing and management. Don’t let under-earning rob you of the time you need to market your business.
3. You’re too busy networking.
Not all networking “counts” as marketing. Attending meetings and workshops, having coffee or lunch, and spending time on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn can have a worthwhile business purpose… or be an enormous waste of your precious marketing time. Be honest with yourself — when are you networking with important business contacts and when are you just socializing?
Limit your networking to people who are either in your target market, or who come in frequent contact with your target market. Sure, anyone might refer you a client, but the point is to spend the majority of your time with those who are most likely to either become prospects or refer them. And limit the time you invest in networking to an amount on which you might reasonably expect to see a profitable return.
4. You’re too busy marketing unproductively.
Networking isn’t the only type of marketing that can consume more time than it’s worth. Another common misuse of marketing time is putting all your effort into filling the pipeline with new prospects, but rarely following up with them after the initial contact. Or concentrating on making cold approaches by phone, mail, or email to people who have never heard of you, instead of using your network to ask for introductions and referrals.
If you feel like you’re spending a lot of time on marketing already, but still don’t have all the clients you need, you probably need to revisit your approach. What do you think are the three most effective ways for a business like yours to get clients? Now, are those three ways how you’ve been spending the majority of your marketing time? If not, change your strategy.
5. You’re too busy with a day job, school, or family responsibilities.
Trying to squeeze a business into an already full life doesn’t always work. It’s a common mistake to consider only the time you’ll need to serve clients, and not the time needed to get them in the first place. But to have a successful business, marketing has to be part of the picture.
It may be that your part-time business will need longer to get off the ground than you thought. If you don’t like that option, perhaps you can negotiate fewer hours at your job, take some time off from work or school, or share family responsibilities with someone else. Don’t get discouraged; most new business owners face this same issue. We like to believe that time is infinitely expandable, but it’s not so. When you add time in one area of life, it must come from another.
So the next time you find yourself thinking you are too busy to get clients, think again. If you don’t have enough time for marketing, something about your business needs to change. Stop what you’re doing, and take the time to figure out what it is.