I have a secret weapon that I use to market my business. It's so secret, in fact, that sometimes I forget I have it and don't take full advantage of it. Is it my superior intellect? No, but thank you. Perhaps it's the band of merry elves who live in my attic and attend to my every need? Still a pipe dream, I'm afraid. No, my friend, I'm referring to my relationships and, in particular, my natural tendency to stay in touch with people. I don't know why I like emailing, talking on the phone, meeting for coffee, sending texts and just interacting in general, but I do. If I could do nothing but that all day and still make a living, I would. But here's the secret weapon part: This kind of decidedly non-strategic, random connecting invariably leads to positive outcomes for my business, like invitations to speak, new newsletter subscribers, word-of-mouth buzz, requests to reprint things I've written, referrals and, without question, the majority of my clients. All the result of simply keeping in touch for the sake of keeping in touch. What I've noticed, however, is that while most solo professionals are quick to acknowledge the value of networking and staying connected, it's almost always done from the perspective of, How can this guy help me? For many people, it seems, it's not really about building relationships; it's solely about getting clients. One is simply a means to the other. I don't approach it that way. Not because I'm so wonderful; it''s just that I keep in touch with the people I like keeping in touch with. The funny thing is, though---and this is the part that's particularly relevant to your own marketing---somehow, by not trying to predict who will be most valuable to my business, I end up with more business. For example:
- One of my current clients is a former client who I happened to have coffee with last summer.
- Another is an old work colleague of a guy who was in one of my classes two years ago whom I've kept in touch with.
- A third is my wife's old boss, who's now working as a solo professional and whom I've gotten together with for lunch and coffee for years.
Interesting, don't you think? Somehow, by focusing on the relationship aspect of networking---as opposed to just the business goal of "keeping my name in front of people"---I generate more business. And it's not just because most of my clients are individuals, rather than companies. I spent my first 10 years as a solo professional with companies (some of them huge) as clients and all the business came to me the same way: Real relationships with people inside these companies. Here's the bottom line. There's nothing wrong with being strategic about who you know and how you spend your time. It's just that in my experience, it's really, really hard to tell beforehand which connections will ultimately be most valuable. So I have one simple recommendation: Stop chasing clients. Start chasing relationships. Not only will you have more work, you'll have a whole lot of new friends too.