A friend of mine is an IT consultant. He’s been an independent contractor for the 20-plus years I have known him, and gets all his consulting contracts through agencies. Even when he works a year or two for the same client, the agency takes 15-20% of what the client is paying for his services. I once asked him why he didn’t find his own clients, and he said he didn’t know where to look.
I was puzzled by this answer. After more than 20 years in the business, you would think he knew who his clients were. But then I listened more closely. He wasn’t telling me he didn’t know WHO they were; he was saying he didn’t know WHERE they were.
Since then, I’ve noticed this query come up over and over. Whenever an independent professional meets a successful person in his or her field, the professional inevitably asks, “Where do you find your clients?” It seems that where the clients are is a bit of a mystery.
But in fact, clients are just people like you and me. They do all the things that people normally do and can be found wherever people are. Let’s suppose for a moment that your clients are professionals or managers who work for a corporation. Where are they at any given moment?
1. Working alone at their desk
2. Attending a meeting
3. Talking to someone in the office
4. Talking to someone on the phone
5. Corresponding with someone by email (or postal mail)
6. On the commuter bus or train
7. At the gym
8. Eating a restaurant meal or getting coffee
9. Attending a business function
10. Taking a class
11. Participating in a sports or leisure activity
12. Going to church
13. Attending an entertainment or cultural event
14. At home with their family
15. At the home of a friend or relative
16. Driving somewhere
Look at how many possibilities this gives you to find them! Your prospective clients spend a significant percentage of their time either talking to other people or gathering in public places. When they are not doing one of those things, they are usually at their home or office — also places they can be “found” with a little detective work.
When you look at it this way, finding clients really boils down to three possible activities:
1. Talking to people who can put you in touch with clients.
2. Going to places where clients gather so you can meet them in person.
3. Getting names, phone numbers, and email addresses of clients you can call or write.
Start the process with a simple description of who your ideal clients are. The more specific you can get, the better. For example:
- HR Managers in growing midsize companies
- Marketing Directors for health care providers
- Small business owners in the Boston metro area
- Midlife professionals in career transition
Then use your description to ask everyone you know these three questions:
- Do you know any _____ you can introduce me to?
- Do you know someone who knows lots of _____?
- Do you know any places where many _____ go?
For many independent professionals, just that one step will provide you with enough names and places to keep you busy for quite some time. Just keep talking to people and going to places where clients gather. As long as you keep asking the same three questions of every person you meet, your prospect list will continue to grow.
To expand your list even further and faster, you can look your clients up. Business clients are listed in hundreds of directories, in print and on the web. Consult the Yellow Pages, association membership lists, sites like http://www.business.com, or your favorite search engine.
Individuals can be found in alumni directories, club rosters, and online communities. Start with the groups you already belong to. Although direct solicitation from these sources is not advisable, they are excellent for finding people to ask your three network-expanding questions.
You don’t even have to do the list-building work yourself. If you want to reach your clients by mail and phone, you can purchase names of businesses or consumers from list brokers like or http://www.namefinders.com.
Finding clients is really a bit of a paradox. They are everywhere, but you have to look in order to see them. Don’t be so overwhelmed by the forest that you forget to notice the trees.