One of the stories I hear the most often from struggling solo professionals or small firms is that they did well for a couple of years after starting up and then just kind of plateaued.
Usually what's happened is that work came in easily in the early days. Ex clients and colleagues heard they were now out on their own and sent work their way. They did a good job and got repeat business and a few referrals.
But eventually, they ran out of steam. The close circle of people who knew them well enough to feel confident sending work to them ran dry or was hit by recession, retirement or other factors.
Sometimes the steam runs out after 12 months. Sometimes after 18 months. Sometimes it can be as long as 2 or 3 years.
But eventually it will run out, unless you start actively marketing yourself and widening your network.
Clients buy for meany reasons. With clients who know you well, who like you, and who trust you and your capabilities, you don't have to do much active marketing or selling to them.
But this can trap you into complacency.
You see, the potential clients who don't know you so well – the ones outside your close circle – they see a different picture.
They don't have that history with you. That experience that tells them you're a safe pair of hands. So they look for external indicators that you'd be a good choice to work with them.
Are you a recognised leader in your field? If they google your name do they see lots of articles where you share your expertise? Are you presenting on your topic frequently? Can they find lots of testimonials saying what a great job you did? Does your website inspire them that you know the area they need help in like the back of your hand?
For most professionals who've been getting all their work from existing relationships and referrals, the answer is usually no.
Many of them are incredibly talented – but they've never had to showcase that talent to the world before. The clients who hired them already knew they were good.
And it takes time to build your reputation. To build your website and fill it with content. To build a portfolio of testimonials, published articles and successful speaking engagements.
So you need to start on this early.
When you first start up the majority of your business is likely to come from people who already know you. Ex clients and referrals. You need to focus and actively work these channels.
But you also need to adopt a parallel strategy of building your authority in your field. Writing, blogging, speaking. These are the things that will bring clients to you in the future and prove your capabilities for people who don't already know you.
In know this from my own personal experience. I went through the exact same pattern with the business from ex clients and colleagues largely drying up after a year or so.
But thankfully (and I have to admit, somewhat luckily as I'd done it out of interest rather than as a deliberate strategy) I'd been writing and blogging for over 12 months by the time that happened and was beginning to bring in leads via my website.
If you're just starting your own business make sure you do something similar. Don't rely on people who already know how great you are to keep you in business forever. You need to start working on building your authority and market position from day 1.
Image by the real kam75